Got Grit? Leading and Teaching for Success

By Hayward, Michelle Owens | AMLE Magazine, October 2015 | Go to article overview

Got Grit? Leading and Teaching for Success


Hayward, Michelle Owens, AMLE Magazine


The term "grit" is being touted as a critical element of student success. We hear it often. What does it mean to have grit?

When I hear the word, the first thing I think about is True Grit, the story about a 14-year-old girl from Arkansas, Mattie Ross, who asks U. S. Marshall Rooster Cogburn to help her find her father's killer. Rooster repeatedly refuses Mattie's requests, but she is persistent and finally he agrees to help her. Throughout their journey, Cogburn doubts her ability to persevere, but her persistence-her grit-proves him wrong and in the end (spoiler alert!), they catch the outlaw.

In many ways, I identify with Mattie Ross. Not only was she tough, determined, and in pursuit of justice, she was "born in Dardanelle in Yell County," as was I. So, it seems fitting that I am writing about a characteristic she exemplified.

I have been enamored with this concept of grit, reflecting on my own life and thinking how I might better understand this trait, model this characteristic, and teach it to others.

What's Your Grit Score?

To foster grit in our students-persistence and resolve-we must be aware of our own level of grit. Do you know what motivates you to persist? Do you know your threshold for failure or success? It took me a while to understand this myself and even longer to articulate it.

Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, developed a tool to help us answer these questions about ourselves. Complete the survey online and generate a grit score that you can use to model for students: https://sasupenn.qualtrics. com/jfe/form/SV_06f6QSOS2pZW9qR.

When I completed the assessment, my high score surprised me. It also made me reflect on my life, particularly my upbringing and school years, to better understand how those factors affected my grit.

My brother, an assistant professor at Purdue University, completed the assessment, and his score also was high. We discussed how our experiences at home, as well as our educational experiences, influenced our grittiness. From our conversations, we determined that the small school we attended, our family dynamics, and our own personal goals influenced our level of grit. We realized how much the support we gave each other during our own personal journeys motivated us to endure life's ups and downs.

Tell Your Story

Telling your story makes your "grittiness" personal for students. I was born to an unwed mother in the 1960s. My parents eventually married, but that did not change the fact that I was a child who lived in poverty. I understand what it means to go to bed hungry, to have no money for school supplies, field trips, gym shoes, or the latest style in clothing.

However, what I lacked in money was made up in the support and love from my extended family, particularly my grandmother. My family modeled traits such as hard work and a caring spirit.

Education was important and I made decent grades in high school; many times I was placed in leadership roles. As I neared graduation, though, neither my parents nor the school counselors talked to me about college. A few teachers who saw my potential encouraged me to pursue higher education, and I am forever grateful to them. I was the first college graduate on my dad's side and am proud to say my children are following this path as well.

By taking the risk of telling you this-my story-I hope I have built a level of trust between us. It is this same willingness to be vulnerable to your students that will build trust between you and them. This trust will help you develop their grit.

Here are some other strategies to bring the concept of grit into your school.

Integrate Grit into Advisory and Content Classes

Advisory is a perfect place and time to nurture grit. At McNair Middle School, we are developing a Google Drive library of advisory lessons, video clips, and other resources for teachers to access during advisory and, when possible, during service learning and content classes. …

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