Much of my professional time in the past decade has been researching, observing, and studying why some students - particularly low-income, Latino youth are successful in school, while many others are not - and what can be done to change that paradigm for the neighborhoods in which we serve.
My findings have been that some students reach a critical juncture in their schooling & life experiences - they had developed a rich sense of resiliency. That is to say that despite difficult life-circumstances, some students are able to overcome, and achieve at a high level in school - despite what they face in life. By doing so, these students take the first step towards changing the paradigm of their futures, and the status quo's of their families.
I have discovered first-hand that students who have developed this resiliency have certain critical factors in common with one another. They share a set of "protective factors." These protective factors include: Institutional Agents (important adults, certain programs, and other connections within a school), Motivation (high self-efficacy, desire for a better life), how they are treated by White peers & teachers, and Belonging (school connectedness, and an essence of family amongst other high-achieving students).
As someone with this background, the seeming recent rise in the use of the word "grit" to describe a trait within students has interested me greatly. On the surface, "grit" seems to be an edgy replacement for its more academic-sounding cousin, "resiliency," but as I will explain briefly in this post - the two are indeed powerful cousins, but not synonyms.
Some quick examples of places that grit is being used as an important, and even measured trait within education today include: the highly successful Charter School system, KIPP. They use "Grit" as one of their character development traits (click here) that is reported on a special report card. The Realm Charter School in Berkeley, Ca uses "Grit" in its Expected School-wide Learning Results (click here), and the founding faculty of the new magnet school we are working to open came to consensus on using the term "Grit" as part of our own Core Values (click here) that students and adults will aspire towards.
Most people familiar with the term "grit" in relation to education have probably heard Dr. Angela Duckworth's TED Talk (click here). If you have not seen it, please talk a few minutes to enjoy it - it is very intriguing. In her TED Talk, she discusses the importance of students having grit, and explains that grit is the passion and perseverance to achieve a future reality. In her talk, she admits that she doesn't yet know exactly how to grow grit in students, but we both give a lot of credence to Dr. Carol Dweck's work on Growth Mindsets (click here to read my blog post entitled "No, I'm Not Smart" from Feb 28, 2013).
So how did I derive the title for the blog post: The Power of Grit. Grit is what I call, a "power" trait that we would do well to build, foster, promote, and replicate in ALL students. Grit is edgy. It fosters the "stick-with-it-ness" that we are hungry to see in students - especially as we transition to the greater depth, and higher cognitive demands of the Common Core State Standards. We do not want students to give up, rather we want to empower them to struggle, to collaborate, to ideate, and to bounce back from failure as they tackle unique challenges. We want - we need - students to be risk takers. For their own sake, we need them to indeed be gritty. There is a lot of power in grit.
But this is why I maintain that grit and resiliency are cousins and not synonyms. Resilience is what some students need, just to get to the place where they can be gritty. Resilience gets them to the table, past the critical life circumstances working against them, and grit carries them home alongside their peers.
In next week's post, I will explore the "Genius of Creativity & Grit" and share how schools can foster grit in students through curriculum & adult expectations. It will be a snapshot into our new school and how we will empower students to reach success through innovative efforts at problem-finding and solution-designing.
"Critical Resilience" This work is dedicated to the equal and fair education of all children, locally and globally.