Hello!  My name is William Nicholls-Allison and I’m a graduate student in Adler University’s Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology programme in Vancouver, Canada. In 2019, I had the amazing opportunity to complete a 6-month internship at the JUMP! Foundation office in Vancouver.  Given my background in teaching, I primarily worked on making educational resources and collaborating with the programme management team for the Greater Vancouver and Vancouver Island programmes.  I also helped to support the Educo Adventure School’s 50th year of operation.  In the summer, I had the idea to put my research skills to the test.  I proposed the idea of reviewing academic publications on positive youth development and student-centred learning, which are both relevant to JUMP!’s mission and vision.  Monica Davis encouraged me to try and make something that would be useful to JUMP!’s programme managers and facilitators.  This article contains the fruits of that labour.

This article contains two discussions: one on positive youth development and the other on student-centred learning.  Both of these topics are summaries of publications made by other people (psychologists and researchers) and are not my own original ideas.  A list of references used in making these documents is available at the end of this article.  I encourage you to read these publications for yourself if you find the information in this article interesting.  You may discover something new in coming to your own conclusions.

~ ~ ~

Developing and Delivering Powerful Youth Programmes: Grounding Curriculum in Psychology

We all strive to develop and deliver a powerful experience for the youth that we serve.  There are steps that can be taken by programme managers and facilitators to promote positive youth development.  These steps include supporting psychological needs and providing the conditions that help youth to reach their full potential.

Psychological Needs

What supports the motivation to grow, learn, and live a healthy lifestyle?  Psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci have found that Autonomy, Belonging, and Competence are the three basic psychological needs.  Satisfying these needs enhances mental health and motivation.

Autonomy – the sense that one’s actions are self-determined. 
“I can choose for myself!”

Belonging – the sense of connection with others and feeling accepted by them.
“I feel cared for and respected!”

Competence – the sense that one has the ability to control the direction of their life and take on problems that come their way.  “I can do this!”

Developmental Assets

Developmental assets help youth to reach their full potential.  Psychologist Peter Scales has studied these attributes, conditions, and values for more than 45 years and has found 40 developmental assets in two groups (external and internal assets) that can be seen as a “checklist” to increase school achievement, self-esteem, social skills, and reduce risky behaviours.

A person wearing glasses

Description automatically generated

Student-Centred Programming

Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was a psychologist at the forefront of the humanistic movement in the mid-20th century. He saw all humans as capable of positive change and growth.  His theory of personality and relationships has influenced many disciplines, including education. Rogers’ philosophy of “student-centred education” seeks to support students as they progress toward autonomy, cooperativeness, creativity, critical thought, flexibility, individual purpose, responsibility, and self-initiated action.

Student-Centred Programme Design

“A person learns significantly only [what is] seen as being [relevant] to the self.”

Individuals will differ in their aims. Student-centred programming involves activities that assist the student in clarifying their own goals, interests, and selves (what is relevant to them) and encourage sharing these topics. A great programme both encourages individuality and enhances cooperation and support by bringing awareness to the commonalities between students and their uniqueness.

At the core of student-centred education is the belief that we can trust the student. Given an environment of minimal threat (no evaluation or judgment; lots of encouragement and support), students may come to express and explore their own purposes and self-initiate learning.

Students must have choice.  Experiences that have a lasting impact on a person’s view of themselves are built on occasions when they decided for themselves what to do and how. A wide variety of resources are provided (the facilitator is a resource, too), but not forced.

Student-Centred Facilitation

“The facilitation of significant learning rests upon certain qualities which exist in the personal relationship between the facilitator and the learner.”

The facilitator sets the environment for learning through their attitudes.  The attitudes which facilitate significant learning within a safe and supportive relationship are authenticity, empathy, and trust.

The authentic facilitator does not present a façade, they are who they truly are, they communicate their own attitudes and feelings and accept these as they would anyone else’s. The empathetic facilitator seeks to understand the experience of learning from the student’s perspective.  They are accepting and warm, providing both clarity and safety through the use of empathetic reflection (see back). The trusting facilitator does not evaluate nor judge the attitudes, ideas, nor feelings of the student.  They accept the student as an individual person with inherent worth, prizing them for who they are and for their potential.    We can trust the student to grow and learn what is most relevant to them.

Endings and Conclusions

When the programme ends, the facilitator must permit the group to come to their own conclusions. The “up in the air” feeling at the end of a programme can be uncomfortable, but this feeling is what stimulates continuous learning.  Furthermore, programme design should avoid creating pre-baked conclusions. If a contrived conclusion is provided to the students, the learning ends.  Let them take it home.

A student-centred approach is a process, not an endpoint.  It is something to strive for but never to be totally achieved.

“We cannot teach a person directly; we can only facilitate their learning.”

Examples of empathetic reflection

Student: “This sucks. None of this works. I don’t know what to do!”
Facilitator: “You’re feeling frustrated and stuck.” OR “You’re angry because nothing is turning out the way that you want it to.”

Student: “I really want to help them and make things better, but I know that I’m not supposed to do that, and I feel useless.”
Facilitator: “It’s really difficult for you to not feel emotionally involved with people who need help.” OR “You really feel useful when you get to help people.”

Student: “When we were working on the trail I totally lost track of time.  We were like some sort of tornado.”
Facilitator: “You felt like a force of nature!” OR “I could really see how joyful and engaged you felt when you were working on the trail.”

~ ~ ~

My time at JUMP! has been empowering and engaging.  I have been inspired to continue my own learning in these areas and have been left with many questions: am I willing to allow the youth that I serve to determine for themselves what issues are important to them?  Can I allow them to discover their own purposes and plan their own solutions?  How will I empower them to engage in what is meaningful to them?  How will I use my privilege to facilitate meaningful change in their lives, our community, and the ecosystem?

Acknowledgement: thank you to Amber Keith, Kash Izydorczyk, and Monica Davis who empowered me to pursue what I find meaningful with their encouragement and support.


Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2008). Self-determination theory: A macrotheory of human motivation, development, and health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 49(3), 182.

Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and research in Education, 7(2), 133-144.

Rogers, C. R. (1951). Student-Centered Teaching. In Rogers, C. R. (Ed.), Client-centered therapy (pp. 384-428). London, UK: Constable & Company, Ltd.

Rogers, C. R. (1969). Freedom to learn: A view of what education might become. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American psychologist, 55(1), 68.

Scales, P. C. (1999). Reducing risks and building developmental assets: Essential actions for promoting adolescent health. Journal of School Health, 69(3), 113-119.

Scales, P. C., & Leffert, N. (1999). Developmental assets. Minneapolis, MN: Search Institute.

Thank you to William Nichols-Allison for his research and writing! We are grateful that you shared your time with us at our office in Canada! Wishing you well with the rest of your studies and beyond!

Share This