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Smart Strengths: A Smart New Toolkit

written by Christine Duvivier 6 September 2011

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.

In their new book, Smart Strengths, positive psychologists and educators, John Yeager, Sherri Fisher and Dave Shearon offer a framework for helping students use their strengths:

S → Spotting strengths in self and others

M → Managing your strengths as a family of traits that can be used (and over-used) together

John Yeager

John Yeager

A → Advocating for yourself and others using your strengths

R → Relating to others, even when different strengths put you in conflict

T → Training others to spot and manage strengths, advocate for themselves, and relate to others

The book is full of examples of how one can use this “SMART” model as a parent, a teacher, and a sports coach, including quotations and highlighted stories from professionals, parents, and students that showcase the ways they have used strengths and the benefits they have received.

As the authors point out, not everyone reads a book from beginning to end, so they have structured it so that you can turn to specific chapters and to get the information you need.  Throughout each chapter, they include exercises and “mindful moments” that help you apply the ideas to your own situation. Thirty-eight exercises and activities for youths are gathered into an Appendix at the end for quick reference.

In particular, this book reflects their work at different kinds of schools, including Culver Academies (a private school), Triton School Corporation (a rural public school), and Christel House Academy (an urban charter school). The stories from these schools show all of us how we can use strengths to our advantage in a school setting, whether we are teachers, parents, or coaches.   

The authors acknowledge the difficulty of teamwork and demonstrate how one can use strengths across a team or family to improve interactions.  Yeager, Fisher, and Shearon model their own use of strengths as a team in writing the book, explaining where their strengths overlap and what each brought to the effort.

They also offer several options for reducing stress, and in the second half of the book, they offer ways to build resilience and improve relationships.  Throughout, they share research with the reader and then show how this research can be applied in a school or family setting.

Sherri Fisher

Sherri Fisher

Different Views of Strengths

In speaking of strengths, the authors use both the VIA and Strengths Finder.  The VIA assessment looks at inherent character strengths, while StrengthsFinder looks at ways that an individual works in the world.  An interesting way that the book talks about strengths, is when it gives examples of  “pushing strength buttons” — that is, pointing out when someone is irritating a coach or a teacher because the student is not valuing a strength, for example fairness, that is so important to the adult.

Pragmatic and Research-Based

Smart Strengths is a pragmatic, example-filled book that makes it easy to pick and choose what is most useful to you. You can pick it up over and over again as a reference when you come upon new situations that you would like to address from a strengths perspective.  Yeager, Fisher and Shearon bring to light much research on strengths, resilience, and relationships. and they serve it up in a straightforward, easy-to-read manner.

I love the many inspiring quotations and cute cartoons that fill the book.  The authors have done a fantastic job of finding and sharing thoughts that are not cliches and that spark awe, hope and humor.

Dave Shearon

My only concern with the book is its occasional emphasis on hard work and perseverance as the holy grail for students.  I recognize that this is, in many cases, the prevailing view of the ideal student, but I take issue with what can feel like a nose-to-the-grindstone, puritanical approach to education.  

However, the authors do acknowledge many strengths in students at all levels of performance, and they balance the school-of-hard-work view with a clear understanding that some wonderful students will not fit that mold.   In addition, the authors demonstrate a balanced view as they point out the difficulty of maintaining a “growth mindset [the idea that one can learn even when one’s current performance is poor]… in a high stakes standards-based environment.”

Smart Strengths has taken fresh research and boiled it down into practical, ready-to-apply processes.  I know that educators and parents will want to read Smart Strengths and keep it on hand as a valuable resource you can return to many times over the years.

Author’s note: Christine Duvivier is a positive change leader/speaker/mentor whose mission is to unleash the hidden talents in every young adult. Two of her upcoming talks: “Eight Gifts that Hurt Your Child in School” and “Beyond the Myths of Education™” at Bay Path College on September 19-20 are open to the public.


Yeager, J., Fisher, S. & Shearon, D. (2011). Smart Strengths: Building Character, Resilience and Relationships in Youth.  New York: Kravis Publishing.

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