You can’t beat someone who never gives up.

— Success is a combination of: Chutzpah, Sisu, and Grit.

There is a cluster of books, all soundly based on scientific research that seem to support those pearls of wisdom our grandparents knew long before social science research had been invented.  “You can’t beat someone who never gives up.”

Grit by Angela Duckworth, Mindset, by Carol Dweck, and How Children Succeed by Paul Tough are directly targeted, at least in part, at those of us in Education, and speak specifically to the development of tenacity.

It is impossible to read very far into these texts without offering up a silent “well, duh…”. Or “I’ve been saying that for years, the harder you work the luckier you get.” But stopping at that point would be not only presumptuous it is also, well, less than gritty. These titles all have something to offer teachers.

The latest thinking shared by those that study these ambiguous traits is that while natural talent and great teaching are common characteristics of the “best of the best” in any given field, the most prominent trait, and therefore the strongest indicator of success is what the Finn’s call sisu, what John Wayne called Grit. It is a learned skill, or at least a trait that can be fostered.

All of this tenacious research builds on those ancient bits of wisdom and explains them; why developing grit is important, what can happens to those that fail to acquire a stubborn streak, and perhaps most importantly how can this powerful life skill be developed.  This is handy knowledge for those of us that needed a bit more from Grandpa than:

“Just keep your nose to the grindstone.”

  • Students that participate in extracurricular activities develop a more dogged mindset, and are 3 times more likely to go to and succeed in college.

In the elementary school extra-curricular, has a different look than it does in secondary ed.  They are however, no less important.  Along with nurturing that chutzpah, extra-curricular activities of every kind increase a sense of belonging, connection between student and school.

  • Students who view “failure” as temporary, rather than a value judgement are also more likely score well on a grit scale.

As a byproduct of our own success, it is now quiet possible skate through life with little or no failure. It turns out that this is a less than ideal plan for personal growth and meaningful learning. My literacy teachers’ are right a story without a problem is not a story at all.

  • There is also a very clear link between passion and learned persistence.

My grandfather didn’t get the memo on this one.  Grit is not blind obsessive determination. It is rather the relentless and thoughtful pursuit of a personal goal.  If what I am teaching is not important to my learners than it’s not a pathway to grit.

As an educator, these statistics serve to both justify and propel action in my lessons. I want my students to be as gritty and resilient as a Rocky Balboa- Indiana Jones love child, because in ways that a both selfish and noble, their success is a measure of mine. Yet, I am reluctant to add another item to the litany of things a teacher is responsible for developing in our youth. As a result my work with classroom teaches will explore ways to; seed our lessons with moxie and temerity, help our students explore and find their passions, and encourage them to try so hard that they stumble.

Brian Cleary
Brian Cleary
myerscleary@gmail.com

<p>Mr. Brian Cleary works for the Evergreen School District of Vancouver, WA. He has been in elementary education for almost 25 years, as a teacher, librarian, and currently as an Elementary Instructional Coach. He received his BA in Elementary Education for the University of Puget Sound, and an M.Ed. in Leadership from City University of Seattle. </p> <p>“I believe in the teacher, the student, and learning; the small start of big things, and the teachable moment. I believe in rigor, connecting, and real assessment, that the books of Rowlings, Seuss, and Curtis change lives. I believe that learning to fail is more powerful than learning to win. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing high stakes testing and merit pay. I believe in reading out loud, project-based lessons, and number 2 pencils and teaching children how to learn rather than what to study – and I believe in long, slow, deep, conversations that last more than one period.”</p>

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