SMART Strengths: Building Character, Resilience, and Relationships in Youth

Step 1 – Adults and Students take the VIA

  • Chapter 2 suggests that you have students from 5th grade on taking the student version of the VIA test. It gives examples of how teachers use results to get the most out of their students. The authors recommend that you read the test to make sure students understand each question. For younger students, you can have them look for strengths in the characters they read about and in each other. There are several specific activities you can use to develop your strengths-based curriculum.
  • The bottom line is that when we help young people know and understand each other, it can be intriguing and empowering. When staff builds relationships by understanding each other’s strengths, they achieve a collective efficacy that should result in higher student achievement. It’s also likely to curb teacher turnover.
  • It is also key that young people feel and think they matter to others, which is synonymous with caring. Adults, however, cannot fake a caring attitude as young people can smell a phony. (Doug: It seems that it should be easier to like all students if you know their strengths.) Predictors of success in school include relationships with people who care and giving something back to the community.

Strengths at Home

  • Chapter 3 is written from the parent’s perspective and contains case studies of how a focus on strengths can help children be more successful. One trick is to see strengths broadly rather than just in terms of academic success and classroom-friendly behavior. Parents should think descriptively first by focussing on observed behavior before making prescriptions about how a child should be taught. Separate your opinions about why children behave the way they do from what they do.
  • Schools feature delayed gratification. For this reason, self-control is the only personality variable that predicts grades. We also know that no one can be successful without hard work. Self-regulation failure is at the heart of most personal and social problems. Working with children’s interests can help sustain focus and ambition over time. Look for interests, curiosity, care, and abiding values to promote internal motivation. (Also read my summary of Drive by Daniel Pink for more on motivation.)
  • When dealing with teachers, record what works and try to do more of it. This is especially important with the special education system that focuses on deficits. Keep in mind that some strengths are liabilities in schools. Avoid social comparisons. Beware over-scheduling kids.

Strengths in Sports

  • This chapter starts with the story of an autistic team manager who gets in the last game and scores six three-pointers. (Here is a link to a YouTube Video on Jason.) This is a fine example of the power and joy that sports can bring when done right. One can learn about their strengths and limitations. Working cooperatively you can develop confidence, trust, and humility. To make the experience truly worthwhile, it is vital for coaches to know their own strengths and to become strengths-focused mentors.
  • Wise coaches combine the three basic coaching styles: commander/controller, servant leaders, and composer/conductor. All coaches need some control, but they should also serve the needs of each individual and play to their strengths and interests. Finally, they should get to a point where they can wave the conductor’s baton as their players do what they know how to do. The chapter ends with a SMART worksheet for coaches.

Dimensions of Wellness

  • Now we come to managing strengths for overall health, which includes: physical, emotional, mental, moral, social, and spiritual dimensions. (Doug: For me the metal piece includes all of the others save physical.) The chapter focuses on resolving real and imagined challenges and demanding experiences (stresses) that can compromise wellness. Take a look at your strengths and see how they can be used to help you manage the stress in your life. In addition to coping with stress, you also need to enjoy the good things you experience. The authors include many tips here. Keys include getting enough sleep and avoiding over-scheduling. A healthy diet and regular exercise are also important. (Doug: In my experience, you need to schedule the exercise first. If you do, you will have more energy for everything else. You will also be less likely to overeat. The authors are right on in thinking that if you can manage stress, exercise, and eat a healthy diet, you are likely to be happy and successful.)
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