“A pilot has hundreds of instruments but, in times of crisis, is trained to focus on a few critical indicators of a plane’s condition. A physician has available thousands of tests to diagnose disease but begins with any patient by taking the ‘vital signs.’ In like manner, the Circle of Courage [Essential Elements of 4-H] marks the critical indicators, the vital signs for positive youth development. However complex our curriculum or counseling systems, we must never lose sights of the basics: All children need opportunities to experience Belonging, Mastery, Independence, and Generosity [emphasis added].” – Brendtro et al. 2005
With a plethora of youth development research and theories to scour and assess, deciding how to best support Positive Youth Development (PYD) can be daunting. However, a review of numerous frameworks proposed and validated by researchers and practitioners highlights that many seamlessly converge within the same basic foci: belonging, mastery, independence and generosity. This particular terminology was coined by Brendtro et al. in 1990 and combined within a framework called the Circle of Courage. Roughly a decade later, the Circle of Courage was adopted by 4-H Youth Development, and internally rebranded as the Essential Elements of 4-H (Kress 2003). By aligning program focus with the Essential Elements framework, 4-H Youth Development professionals are employing PYD indicators supported by a century of respected research and practice.
In order to more clearly understand how existing indicators of PYD align with the Essential Elements, a detailed table (see Figure 1) was developed, which demonstrates the connections between over a dozen youth development frameworks and illuminates their alignment with the Essential Elements. Further information about the frameworks highlighted in Figure 1 is detailed below in chronological order of each framework’s introduction to the field of youth development.
The Four Hs
The 4 Hs of the 4-H Youth Development program were coined early in the 20th century by pioneering program leaders striving to define core program values.
Self-Esteem & Self-Worth Research
Long before the Circle of Courage, Stanley Coopersmith, a renowned pioneer in the field of self-esteem research, concluded that one’s self-esteem is based on his/her feelings of significance (acceptance, attention, affection), competence (mastery, success, self-efficiency), power (self-control, earned respect, influence), and virtue (worthiness, value to one’s cultural and community; Coopersmith 1967). In 1983, Susan Harter, a developmental psychologist, built upon Coopersmith’s four antecedents of self-esteem, adding control (power and control, as one dimension) and restricting virtue to moral virtue alone (Gonzalez-Mena 2009; Harter 1983). Alfie Kohn, a well-known voice in progressive education and self-worth research, also postulates the existence of four basic youth needs: collaboration, content, voice, and virtue (Kohn 1993; Jones 2011).
The Circle of Courage
The Circle of Courage was developed by Larry Brendtro, Martin Brokenleg, and Steve Van Bockern, who first showcased the model in Reclaiming Youth at Risk (1990). Their combined backgrounds in psychology, children’s behavior disorders, Native American studies, theology, and education lead to a simple, yet profound, PYD framework that integrates traditional Native American child caring wisdom with positive psychology and resilience research.