Building Grit is NOT an Option – Just Remember the Key Link

During my first years of education, I had the opportunity to teacher students math at the high school level.  After teaching, in my most humble opinion, the best lesson on various algebraic concept, I would allow students to get started on their homework before the bell rang (I’ll share a post later on what I would now do differently).  Without a doubt, students would begin to ask me questions after a initial confusion.  I longed for students to spend time trying to think through the problems on their own or with another classmate.

In my role as a curriculum director and unpacking the Common Core State Standards a few years ago, I jumped out of my chair with excitement when I first learned of the 8 Mathematical Practices embedded in the Common Core State Standards.  After six years of teaching math and witnessing students give up after initial struggles with a new concept, I was pleased to see Standard 1: Make Sense of Problems and Persevere.  Any skepticism I had in the standards when they were first unveiled was quickly eliminated – these standards had to have been written by math teachers!

When I first shared the Math Practices with a group of math teachers for the first time, I felt more like a preacher in a church hearing shouts of “Amen” and “Hallelujah” from the audience.  While I continued to share information, I was nervous by the reaction of teachers ignoring the rest of the Standards while plotting the size to enlarge Math Practice Standard 1 into posters for their classroom to mark the beginning of a new era for students that schools shall now promote the notion of perseverance.  Teachers would now be validated to tell the students to think through their own questions.

At the same time we were unpacking the Common Core State Standards, the concept of grit was also being introduced.  Principal Bobby Dodd (@bobby_dodd) shared great information about the concepts of grit and resiliency in his blog Grit Starts with Believing In Yourself.  I quickly made the connection to the core premise and philosophy behind the development of grit and a direct connection to Math Practice 1.  Yet, similar to the math practice, I witnessed educators bastardizing the use of grit as a simple opportunity to tell students to “toughen up”.  As we consider the impact of developing perseverance and grit in our students in the classroom, it is imperative educational leaders involve the key link in the learning environment – the parents.

As we consider the benefits of raising students in the classroom who are able to persevere and exemplify grit towards problems, we have to be realistic to this drastic paradigm shift in the journey.  Without scaffolding with students and parents, confusion and anger could set in if educators change overnight without proper dialogue in advance.  I could already imagine parent phone calls to the building principal inquiring why the teacher is not helping their child when he asked a question and was redirected to try on her own or with another student.  What could appear like “teaching perseverance” could look like laziness or indifference to student needs.

While promoting professional development experiences with educators on the development of grit in the classroom, consider involving parents in the experience with these opportunities:

Be careful of the “one-and-done” parent night or newsletter informing them of grit.  This transformational initiative is not meant to be part of a checklist – it will require continued dialogue to share insights, lessons learned, and the journey.  Through collaboration with parents through this learning paradigm, a true sense of community can be built to provide the necessary support for true student learning.

One comment

  1. Neil,
    Thanks for posting some of your thoughts and insights regarding grit. The dialogue needs to continue for all teachers and parents, as this is an important issue, but one that still creates a lot of questions. Paul Tough’s book is a great introduction to the concepts of grit and character, yet he still leaves you asking questions.
    “How do we ‘teach’ grit?”
    “What does grit look like for a 8 year old versus an 18 year old?”
    I think pulling from the research of Angela Duckworth and Carol Dweck would also be a great starting place with parents. They both have some very informative TED talks that could easily be emailed to parents.
    Another book worth considering (short and more prescriptive) is Thomas Hoerr’s “Fostering Grit: How do I prepare my students for the real world.”
    Let’s keep asking the tough questions on this topic. The research is profound…but there’s more to do! I love it!

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