While Christmas shopping with my wife this year, we passed a chocolate shop in the mall with a glossy, color poster in the window of something I thought to be a strange combination - Sea Salt Caramels. While both "sea salt" and "caramels" are good, I had never imagined them going together - and then my wife made me try one. "Genius!" I shouted as I chewed on the first bite.
Much like my surprise at the genius of sea salt and caramel, some people may be surprised to hear that creativity and grit are also a handsome pair. Creativity may spark images of calm, serene, art-filled scenes with beautiful landscapes; while grit may spark images of sleeves being rolled up, furrowed brows, and sweat on an upper lip. This is where the genius of it all lies. By taking two different concepts, such as with sea salt and caramel, and joining them together (like grit and creativity), we become witness to empowering genius!
Grit is what I call a "power trait," and it is something that we can help to purposefully foster in students.Purposefully. This power trait can be developed by allowing for what David and Tom Kelley call "Creative Confidence" (click here) to be developed in students.
For far too long, creativity has been stripped form our children's classroom experiences. Children begin school as the most curious of beings - always wondering, craving more information, seeking to understand why and how things are the way they are. Sadly, it does not take long for these children to learn what often really matters in school: compliance, correct answers, being on time, and standing in straight lines (don't forget to keep your hands to yourself!). It is an industrial model of education that resulted from the need to create good, dutiful line workers. This system was further bolstered by the era of high-stakes accountability tests that swept the nation the past few decades.
Insomuch, children are quickly trained to fear failure, to fear straying off the "right" path. Sometimes, even when we say that we want students to be creative, we will unwittingly keep them inside the proverbial box. And because they are trained to fear failure, they often lack the inspiration, or the will to take on tough challenges, and to struggle through something. This embrace of struggle is what I mean by "grit."
We allow for creativity to abound for students when they have the chance to tinker, create, explore, and design - without a lot of rules and "boxes." It is within this space that they will begin to realize their creative potential. When we add in a rich appreciation of empathy - students begin to realize both a creative might and the potential for making an impact on the world around them. This significantly impacts their academic self-efficacy. Academic self-efficacy may be explained as "a student’s expectations for him or herself in relation to school achievement; and motivation thereof" (Chagala, 2012). When students increase their self-efficacy then they "set their sights higher, try harder, persevere longer, and show more resilience in the face of failure..." and they "act with greater courage, and have more persistence in tackling obstacles" (@kelleybros, p. 10).
So how do we do this? How can we foster creativity in students, and expect that an outcome from that creativity will be grit? In the new school that we are developing, we are striving to accomplish just this by embracing the practice of "Design Thinking" as the backbone for framing our curriculum. In this effort, we hope to unleash student imagination as we push them to become problem-finders, and solution-designers. To do so, they will need to learn about empathy and to understand the viewpoints/experiences of others, we will need to spark their creativity and honor their imaginations, and they will need to have the grit to persevere - to never give up. By building on these core concepts, we know that we will be able to change the paradigm of schools for hundreds of students a year.
You may learn more about Design Thinking and our program at our website (click here).
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.