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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. 

 


 
References

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.

 

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16 comments

Lola Rokni February 21, 2007 - 9:32 am

Christine!

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.

Thanks,
Lola.

Reply
Dave Shearon February 21, 2007 - 11:04 am

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, daveshearon.typepad.com. 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, http://www.shearonforschools.com. And it’s an area Sherri Fisher, John Yeager, and I are working on, http://www.flourishingschools.org.

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.

Reply
Sherri Fisher February 22, 2007 - 8:15 am

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 🙂

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debbie cohen February 22, 2007 - 9:22 am

Christine,

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

Debbie

Reply
Elona March 9, 2007 - 7:48 pm

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.

Reply
Kathryn Britton March 10, 2007 - 6:13 pm

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!
Kathryn

Reply
Sherri Fisher March 14, 2007 - 9:06 pm

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

http://www.ascd.org/ASCD/pdf/Whole%20Child/WCC%20Learning%20Compact.pdf

🙂 Sherri

Reply
Jeff Dustin March 30, 2007 - 1:00 am

Sherri,
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.

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