Teaching Perseverance and Grit (1)

Teaching Perseverance and Grit
Posted on 03/02/2020
Essential Skills and Dispositions

During the past decade or so educators have been using a collaborative framework written in 2012 called Essential Skills and Dispositions to guide our work in helping students be successful. This set of developmental frameworks was created to facilitate discussion within communities of practice and to enhance a shared understanding of the dynamic nature of four essential skills – collaboration, communication, creativity, and self-direction in learning. 

My mind is consistently drawn to the idea of finding new ways to help students understand self-direction. It is very closely tied to our current use of goal setting and personalization with students. I believe we need to focus heavily on the need for students to embrace the uncomfortable feeling of working through a difficult problem. We must encourage them to keep working without giving up or asking for help until they have exhausted all possibilities. When I was growing up we called it “stick-to-itiveness.”

Grit comes from a combination of effort, passion and commitment or perseverance toward a goal. Most of what I have read about grit is that it isn’t a fixed trait. It can be fostered by providing an optimistic environment that emphasizes a Growth Mindset. I believe grit and perseverance are two of the most important social skills we can teach our children to help them be successful, self-directed learners.

“Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.”

Julie Andrews
Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

I have read a multitude of books during the last thirty-five years of my career on the topic of what students and adults need to be successful. My favorite is Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. In her book and throughout her Ted Talks, Brené explains the connections of vulnerability, courage and perseverance. The gist of her research is that we all need to be vulnerable (willing to take risks and fail no matter what others think), have the courage to think differently and try new things, and persevere no matter what difficulty comes our way. My take-away from her research is that we need to be purposefully teaching these skills to our students every day and providing enriching opportunities for students to struggle toward success.

“We can do anything we want to do if we stick to it long enough.”

Helen Keller

A few months ago I was invited by Amy Hamblett to join the Springfield community band. I was resistant because I hadn’t played my flute in fifteen years. She talked me into going by offering to drive and promising me it would be joyful. Well I can tell you there has been a lot of vulnerability, perseverance, and grit involved! There is no hiding your mistakes when you sit inches away from your section mates in a band. Being part of the flute section also means sitting right in front of the conductor who also hears all of our mistakes very clearly. I have been practicing diligently to re-learn some very difficult fingerings and to get my endurance back. My finger muscles have been really sore and I have continually reached the point of frustration every time I have practiced. I made the choice to persevere and to play my very best by the time our concert comes around in April and so I am slowly becoming comfortable in the uncomfortable place of “struggle”. Amy was right, along the way it has become very joyful to make music with an amazingly talented group of musicians!  I am also finding joy in the progress I am making through hard work and grit. As an educator it has been fascinating to be sitting in the learning seat and to be thinking about how our students feel during the learning process.

Last year, our fourth-grade teachers, Sara Metzler and Kathy Cherubini, performed an inquiry cycle to study the effects of directly teaching students to “stay in the struggle” of difficult math problems. As educators we know that this is the place where real learning takes place. Sara and Kathy gathered data around the time students spent on difficult math problems and then spent time teaching them that the feeling of struggle was a good thing. It is what makes you self-reliant and builds self-esteem. It’s hard and it’s messy, but in the end it’s where learning and growth take place. Once the students clearly understood the concept, and that everybody struggles, they began to spend more time working on the problems at hand rather than giving up or asking for help. The teachers were able to gather data to show that increased time “in the struggle” improved student performance.

A couple of weeks ago we had our school GeoBee (an annual Geographic Bee). After the event I went up to one of the younger participants who didn’t make it to the last round. I congratulated him on his courage and content knowledge and he was quick to tell me that he was excited to know he has two more years to study and two more chances to reach his goal of winning the Geo Bee. I couldn’t have been any prouder of him in that moment, knowing that he possesses perseverance and grit at such a young age!

Katherine Fogg
Chester-Andover Elementary School Principal