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School that Rocks

By on February 21, 2007 – 12:07 am  16 Comments

Christine Duvivier, MAPP '07 and Cornell MBA, is a positive change speaker and mentor who helps her clients unleash hidden talents, develop skills, and take practical steps to achieve higher levels of happiness and success. In her career at DuPont, Eli Lilly, and DEC, she learned to lead with positive alignment and release what holds us back. Christine's model builds on strengths, challenges myths, and cultivates possibility in each individual, even if they are not currently "A" players. Web site. Email. Full bio. Christine's articles are here.

What would you expect to hear from a would-be superintendent if you asked him what he wants to change in the public school system?  Smaller classes?  Stronger academics?  Improved test scores?  These are often the words we hear proclaimed when discussing school improvement, so I was surprised and delighted by the answer from one superintendent candidate in my local school system — an answer seemingly straight out of Positive Psychology.  He said he would like to replicate two initiatives he started in the large city school district he currently manages: a one-to-one adult to child connection and an expansion of both sports and arts.  These strike me as positive interventions.

Adult-Child Relationships 

People like Bertrice Berry, author of When Love Calls, You Better Answer: A Novel know the difference one caring adult can make to a teen’s school experience. 

When Bertrice spoke to over 500 women at the Massachusetts Conference for Women last year she said she had been an adolescent “with an attitude,” when a teacher turned her attitude around, insisting that she was capable of going to college and challenging her to do better at each step along the way.  To top it off, in an event that students of Hope Theory and goal-setting will appreciate, the day Bertrice’s application arrived at Jacksonville University a donor called seeking to finance a deserving student’s education!  Guess who got the financing?

George Vaillant notes in his book, Adaptation to Life, that some of the Harvard men (studied over their lifetimes) with miserable childhoods fared better as adults than others from more fortunate socio-economic backgrounds.  One distinguishing factor– for the healthiest– was a nurturing adult relationship in childhood.  Not every child is so lucky within his family, but imagine if someone in the school– where she spends nearly half her waking hours– establishes a direct nurturing connection with her and this occurs year after year. Might that make the difference that it did for Bertrice?

Expanding Arts and Sports          

Arts and sports programs often end up on the chopping block when a school feels a financial pinch.  Art and music rooms give way to regular classrooms, sport teams are limited and fees added.  The trade-off is clear: math, science, language, literature, and history take precedence over the “extras.”  

Until recently, I thought it was hard to argue with that logic, but consider this: Mike Csikszentmihalyi says that most kids today don’t have enough challenge– or resulting joy– in their lives.  Sports and arts are two areas where children can express and challenge themselves, to get relief from what too many find to be the tedium of academics.  How sad then, to limit the opportunities and how wonderful to find an academic leader like the candidate I interviewed who recognizes the importance of expanding these opportunities. 

waterloo-ny-bball-team.jpg I thought about this over the weekend as I traveled with my husband and daughter on a college visit road-trip.  I found inspiration in an unlikely place: Waterloo, New York.  The Holiday Inn  displays historic memorabilia from the area and one of the historic items is a wall plaque with a photo of enterprising high school girls   at Mynderse Academy in 1924.

They chose to challenge themselves.  Having never played basketball before, they went to school administrators and asked to form a team.  According to the press, they had three winning seasons before their teacher/coach moved on.  They had no subs… no try-outs… no cuts… no one warmed the bench!

What if it could be that easy for every teen who wanted to play a sport? 

I still remember that awful, sinking feeling in seventh grade when my name wasn’t on the final team list. I didn’t make the cut.  This followed a similar feeling in the fall, when the field hockey list was posted, and was followed by another round with the spring lacrosse list.  What possessed me to put myself through it again in eighth grade is beyond me. All I remember of that time is that I loved basketball and wanted to be on the team. 
Unfortunately, unlike kids today, I had never picked up a basketball before seventh grade gym class, and my parents had no interest in team sports so I was on my own to learn the game.   Crushing disappointment struck again in eighth grade, but for some unfathomable reason, I still loved the game and finally in ninth grade my name was on the varsity roster.  While my primary position was bench-warmer, it was still a daily thrill to practice and play a sport I loved.

Looking back many years later, it is clear that both sports and the arts are life-long activities.  While some might question that claim for basketball, two years ago a group of us in our 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, formed a pick-up group and we continue to play weekly. 

I hope someday to be playing “Granny Basketball.”     

My hope, optimism, and gratitude were boosted simply by hearing about the school district with the adult-child-connection and expanding arts/sports initiatives.  I am encouraged by the thought that we may be seeing the beginning of a positive shift in thinking (and action!) about what makes for a great education. 



Berry, B. (2007). When Love Calls, You Better Answer. Broadway Books reprint edition.

Snyder, C. R. (2000). Handbook of Hope : Theory, Measures, and Applications. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Vaillant, G. (1998). Adaptation to Life. New York, NY: Harvard University Press.


Big brother courtesy of @Photo.


  • Lola Rokni says:


    It is always a big pleasure for me to read what you write. It is a bigger pleasure to read what you write to a broader audience. Your examples and writing are inspiring.


  • Dave Shearon says:

    Beautifully written and illustrated, Christine. Thanks!

    I agree that positive psychology has a lot to say to schools, public and private. It’s a topic I’ve written about on my blog, I’d even reached some of these positions during the period when I ran for and served on the BoE for Metro Nashville Public Schools, And it’s an area Sherri Fisher, John Yeager, and I are working on,

    I’d add adult-to-adult connections to the concern of your superintendent. The quality of faculty relationships reliably predict student performance. Tom Rath’s book, Vital Friends, is a great resource in this area.

  • Hi, Christine–

    In the February 15th edition of the Boston Globe Michael Kryzanek’s op-ed “Deeper Holes in Public Education” laments the reduction of public schools to “just the basics” in an effort to meet AYP goals. Gutting the school day of highly engaging opportunities outside of academics has, according to Kryzanek, put a “hole” in educating the “whole child.” Often school districts complain about money, saying they cannot offer the “extras” beyond the academic curriculum frameworks. I have worked in schools with integrated humanities units created by teachers. This approach creates a more multisensory educational experience, more opportunities for creating flow, which is so important as you mention, as well as increasing connections beyond the teaching-testing dynamic.

    Great article!
    Welcome aboard 🙂

  • debbie cohen says:


    I completely agree with your views and really enjoyed reading your article.


  • […] School that Rocks by Christine Duvivier (2-21-07): One superintendent candidate calls for schools that rock, meaning two components: a strong adult-child relationship (benefits: Berry, Vaillant), and increased challenge – and resulting joy – in sports and arts (Csikszentmihalyi). […]

  • Elona says:

    Christine, thanks for writing such an inspiring post. I read your article after a particularly challenging time and it made me feel great to know that what I do day after day is valued. I am a high school teacher who teaches at-risk kids, and have learned that kids will loose the attitude if you can develop a good relationship with them. I work hard at the beginning of the semester to develop a good relationship with my students. I have also see how being able to pay sport at school has turned kids around. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

  • Christine,
    One of the things that made me sad about the experience my kids had in high school was the lack of space to experiment, to try out things where they might not be strong just to see if they liked them. I actually heard a high school counselor say that middle school was the time to explore and experiment, since high school is about building a resume for the next part of life.

    When my daughter went off to college, she joined her first sports team ever (Rugby, no less), tried out crew for a semester, and took an advanced print-making class without having taken the prereq because the class was in danger of being canceled and one of her friends wanted to take it. Her participation in sports and art — and her willingness to experiment made her college experience very rich. I wish more kids in high school could approach school with the same sense of adventure. Perhaps more of them would find their talents and life callings.

    Ah, well!

  • Hi Christine,
    Check out this article about educating the whole child:

    🙂 Sherri

  • Jeff Dustin says:

    Your whole child link was quite infotaining.

    Everything I’ve seen from the ASCD is unusually thorough and empirically grounded. It is unfortunate/fortunate that the books cost so much because I’d have an even bigger stack of them in my living room!

    Here’s one axe I have to grind with scientific & empirical studies however. There is an annoying tendency for educators these days to assume that anything backed by scientific jargon and the Dr. in front of a researcher’s name is 1) quality research and 2) The Thing to Do in Your Classroom.

    Studies are one form of inquiry that we can use effectively but I think we can also use them with timidity and quite misguidedly. It seems that teachers want to use Research with a capital R to protect themselves from criticism oftentimes. “I might not be an Expert but Dr.Seligman said that XYZ…” I think one way to navigate around this dilemma is by keeping good accurate data on your students and their Response to Interventions. (If the paperwork doesn’t drive you mad, that is). If your Tweaked Approach is more effective with an individual than a mountain of empirical research, I’d say use your creative method and focus on the prize: student success.

    One final hatchet that needs sharpening: Superteech Syndrome. I have seen this in myself and others. I think it happens to a lot of the helping professions, but has a few unique features for educators. It is at heart an iceberg belief about teaching that “I must demonstrate perfection as a leader, role-model, guide & instructor for these kids.”

    The sad bit is that I this belief drives so many promising newbies out of teaching forever. This one schema causes so many stressful and counterproductive outcomes, like trying to please all the stakeholders all the time. Talk about a tall order! It is not only tiring but a Sisyphean boulder. Some of my colleagues will stay up all night correcting, revising and otherwise burning the midnight oil trying to obtain perfection and unwilling to settle for excellence.

  • […] Positive Approaches to Education: Multiple Intellig … By Sherri Fisher Positive Psychology News Daily, NY (Sherri Fisher) – April 4, 2007, 11:24 amIn 1983, then relatively unknown Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner published a book, Frames of Mind. This book and its 1999 sequel, Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century  changed the way the world of education looks at intelligence. Gardner wasn’t alone in his professional world in deciding that IQ was not a single, relatively fixed entity but comprised of a set of abilities. However, his Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI) resonated with all sorts of people who now saw themselves as having areas of relative intellectual strength rather than being some point on a bell-shaped curve where only a few people could be called “very superior.” While not necessarily a “positive psychologist” per se, Gardner is surely a “strengths psychologist.” Multiple Intelligences: Identifying and Developing Your House Blend All those different ways of being smart have unique combinations in each person, and it is the “house blend” or “personal brand” for each of us that results in the right or perhaps not-so-right fit for any particular challenge. Gardner did not develop his theory with the expectation that it would change the way people teach or learn. He said, “No direct educational implications follow from this psychological theory; but if individuals differ in their intellectual profiles, it makes sense to take this fact into account in devising an educational system.” For nearly 20 years however, curriculum designers and educational pundits alike have lauded the benefits of MI classrooms. Unfortunately, the current climate of high-stakes testing in US public education has put a tight focus on only two of these intelligences. What are schools telling kids we value about the ways they should be smart? Here’s a brief primer of the Gardner theory.  I have combined some categories to give the flavor of how they can be used together. Spatial and Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligences Spatial intelligence refers to the brain’s ability to manipulate objects in space. It can be both an abstract skill (think: architects and engineers) or a more concrete one (think: interior designers and artists of all kinds). Surgeons use this when deciding where to place the scalpel. Even blind persons use spatial intelligence to mentally place themselves in familiar surroundings. Are you terrific at packing the trunk or tailgate when everything on the driveway must fit? That takes spatial intelligence. We use spatial intelligence to know how close or far away to stand from a person we are talking to, and whether we will hit that car in the next space in the parking lot, or whether we should back up and try again. Spatial intelligence works closely with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Athletes use both when sizing up both the distance to the goal and the force with which a ball must be hit, thrown, or kicked. Dancers, skaters, or gymnasts use both when spinning, jumping, or tumbling. Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence guides the fingers of a typist and the hands of a physical therapist. Musical Intelligence Musical intelligence is fairly straightforward, you’d think. There’s pitch discrimination, rhythm, pitch reproduction, singing, ability to play an instrument, memory associated with these things, reading music, composing it… The list is actually quite extensive. It may be at work with other intelligences, too. Many people who aren’t involved in music in their careers use this intelligence in their work, every day. And just because someone doesn’t produce music doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate it. Are you particularly sensitive to the tone of someone’s voice? As a public speaker your voice inflection, a musical intelligence competency, is important. Do you regularly drum on your desk or tap your feet? That’s musical and bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Do you hum or need the radio on while you do homework? Your musical intelligence is at work with you. Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Intelligences Both interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligence involve the emotions. (Gardner is considering an update to his theory which might be a blend of these: Emotional Intelligence). Those with highly developed interpersonal intelligence are often involved in providing services to others. Depending on whether a person is more introverted or extraverted they might be a priest, politician, salesperson, or mediator. The hallmark of this intelligence is that one finds it easy to get along with others, and does it as naturally as inhaling and exhaling. Intrapersonal intelligence uses the sensitivity of self-awareness. Psychologists and coaches may use this when working with clients so that they don’t allow themselves to become too involved in the emotions of the person they are helping. Similarly, a teacher or principal uses intrapersonal intelligence through self-awareness and control of emotions when dealing with situations requiring restraint, resilience, and perspective. Logical-Mathematical Intelligence The logical-mathematical intelligence is well developed in scientists, mathematicians, accountants, and computer diagnosticians. In the extreme, you might think Dr. Spock from Star Trek. Doctors, building contractors, designers, and other natural problem solvers have this as well, though they use it with other intelligences. If you barely make it through Algebra (all those symbols) but love Geometry (Oooh! Pictures!), you may be using spatial intelligence alongside the mathematical. Linguistic Intelligence Linguistic intelligence seems simple. It’s about language. Humans have the only spoken language among the higher animals, and people who do not have well developed linguistic intelligence are often at the bottom of the educational ladder. It’s all about communication. People who have this intelligence are usually identified as “intelligent.” These are people for whom words come easily—poets, essayists, columnists, novelists, travel writers, talk show hosts. These same people are often voracious readers of other people’s words. Put this intelligence with interpersonal intelligence, and you may have a smooth talker or a sensitive listener. Likewise, there are fast talkers and slow listeners. It’s all in how the human brain, which is designed to process language, does its job. Naturalistic Intelligence The last intelligence, naturalistic (an addition to the original seven), is used to describe a person with an unusual sensitivity and ability to appreciate or connect with nature and the natural environment. What We Value We Use Except in the case of disease or injury, everyone has all of the intelligences to some extent, even if they have trouble understanding the op-ed page, creating profitability solutions or landing the triple Lutz. How well they are developed in an individual is a combination of inheritance, experience, practice, and values. Gardner is quick to point out that what we value, we use. Enter NCLB: No Child Left Behind. Whether you are a student, parent, employee or boss, this public school accountability issue affects you. It hyperfocuses curriculum on logico-mathematical and linguistic intelligences, and reduces instructional time in other subjects. It also sends the message to kids that mathematical and language skills matter, but the other intelligences are not important enough for more than occasional attention. To make more time for the subjects tested for NCLB, school districts have reduced content area classes such as science and social studies, and “extras” such as the arts. (For a related article on this site, see Christine Duvivier’s column.) To be fair, differentiated instruction is the hottest topic in teacher professional development conferences this year, but its approach to meeting learning needs is in the context of standards-based curricula rather than the creative synergy of strengths. What’s Your Mindset? Carol Dweck has found that everyone has one of two basic mindsets, the fixed mindset, where you believe that your talents and abilities are either something you have or don’t, and the growth mindset, which is characterized by knowing that you have strengths and talents that can be developed, and that abilities can thus develop over time. It’s not just about performing tasks and being done with your education; it’s about learning to learn and knowing that you can get smarter when you do. Having a growth mindset can be tough in a high stakes standards-based environment. The standards are often being set by people two generations away from the current students who have not taught in a classroom for years and who set goals and standards for teachers who are then expected to use strengths they may not even have to deliver in the classroom. Teachers become stuck in the standards box and may feel a growth mindset is beyond them, too.  There is also no doubt that without literacy skills in language and mathematics students are at an incredible disadvantage in life.  The trouble with the focus on standards is that skills acquisition becomes the goal, not the means, of preparing students for their future. When what is valued is tightly focused on being mathematically, logically or linguistically smart (or only smart in a limited number of other ways), kids (and teachers) learn to perform and get it over with.  A student of mine who attends an affluent suburban high school told me last week, “I got a high fail on my Algebra test. But it doesn’t matter because there is another test next week and the teacher said we won’t be doing any more parabolas this year.”  But it does matter, because the student has missed the opportunity to learn that he can learn! He is disengaged from the process and is instead relieved by the teacher’s promise that the misery is over. He has learned to accept a fixed mindset. Building Children Instead of Repairing Adults Admittedly, our public schools have a huge amount of responsibility heaped upon them when it comes to readying students with varying strengths for a future which includes jobs that do not even exist today. In The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman reminds us that the great challenge to our institutions is developing the leadership, flexibility and creativity to adapt to the extreme pace of change in the world.  The pace of innovation has never needed to be faster to stay ahead of—or even run with—the pack. What is the emotional effect of limiting the ways in which a student can be successful at school? Students learn that they are only responsible for and limited to the expectations of their teacher/ boss.  They are being taught to value extrinsic control and to dampen expectations of themselves.  Are we actually encouraging disengagement by limiting the types of intelligence that kids are consciously using and valuing at school? Are we sending the message that being smart is something you “are”, rather than a strength that can be developed? Are we reducing the joy and meaning in both teaching and learning? When schools incorporate strengths-based approaches for both faculty and pupils, whether of learning, character or talent, they build the personal and learning resilience which is required for their—and our—future. […]

  • […] On the other hand, if you are the owner of a radio station, and you decide to run a “positive news only” radio station, then you are on solid moral ground. It’s when the government steps in to voice its position and forcibly requires new rules that change the content that it’s a violation of principle – the news staff was forced into this new arrangement.  On this site, we cover positive stories (such as great schools, praise and performance, and savoring) as well as non-positive stories (such as the Virginia shooting, cancer, and the Holocaust)  I happen to be a big fan of the Good News Network and of HappyNews – those sites are positive by editorial choice, which is entirely different from this news story about the new Russian mandate. […]

  • Music Search and Music Downloads…

    Sorry, it just sounds like a crazy idea for me :)…

  • […] 我的新年主題是希望….去年2月,我在文章指出增加學生對成年人、運動和藝術的接觸,可為學校帶來轉變(making a difference in schools)。我希望在2008年,家長和教育家能增加青少年接觸成年人、運動和藝術的機會,為我們未來的主人翁提供更多通往希望的途徑。 ~ Christine Duvivier […]

  • […] 我的新年主题是希望….去年2月,我在文章指出增加学生对成年人、运动和艺术的接触,可为学校带来转变(making a difference in schools)。我希望在2008年,家长和教育家能增加青少年接触成年人、运动和艺术的机会,为我们未来的主人翁提供更多通往希望的途径。 ~ Christine Duvivier […]

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    I didn’t understand the concept of a real estate team at first, so I had a hard time with real estate investment. I tended to be a “lone wolf,” trying to do too much myself. I have since learned that in real estate, you need a team of people you can…

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