Thursday, March 26, 2015

True Grit

Yesterday, my weekly dose of Wednesday PD centered around rigor.  Then today I stumbled upon this amazing twitter #educolor chat centered around grit and rigor and the effect it has on students of color. You can read the entire chat here: March #educolor chat. I'm still not really 100% sure what people mean when they are talking about teaching rigor or grit. Initially I felt bad about that, but after some thought I've come to realize that I am not sure that everyone is referring to the same thing when using these catchy new words.  What I do know is this, rigor and grit are not new ideas, and they are not curriculum.  

I like inspiring and challenging my students through the relationships that I build with them or through curriculum that is so interesting and exciting that I don't have to teach them "Grit". They stay at a task because their interests and curiosities guide the curriculum.  They are interested in sharing their ideas with their learning community, and they know that their input is valued. Students are interested in real issues like social justice, bias in the media, GMOs and climate change.  They want to learn about the world and how it affects them.  Most of all, students like to play.  Who doesn't like playing?  Any time I can turn something into a game I am on board.  When the students make up the game-even better.  I'm looking forward to a rousing game of Headbandz with our vocabulary words right now.

I model grit and rigor without thinking about it because, although I do fear failure in real life, my classroom is a place where it is okay for everyone to take risks, including me.  People that have to overcome major challenges in their lives, myself included, are innately gritty-you don't have to teach this. I believe it is those that are starting out at the 40 meter mark that need to be taught grit, but like everything else, learning through experience is best.  I'm not sure grit can be taught through a discussion about a text or by reading aloud an inspirational quote.

We face challenges together in the classroom, and sometimes we fail.  Just today I had a rather funny fail.  I recently went to CUE15 and learned about a bunch of new tech driven strategies.  I'm trying out some of them with my class, but I am definitely not a tech master Jedi.  We are making some movie trailers about elective classes for the upcoming 6th grade orientation and I thought that it would be a great time to try out this new green screen thing. Long story short, I had a kid dancing to Pitbull's Mr. Worldwide in front of a blue background with some interesting stuff happening on his green tee shirt. I did warn them that this was something new for me and that I wasn't super comfortable with it and that I would most likely mess it up.  They were very understanding. We had a laugh about it and decided the mistake seemed kind of cool and that we might keep it, but we agreed that we're still going to try it out again tomorrow because we do want to learn how to get it right.  

A great piece about Grit and Resilience on middleweb:  Helping Kids Stick with Learning  By Susan B. Curtis

There is a second piece to this that really resonated with me on multiple levels, and that is how these concepts relate to children living in poverty.  I read this thought provoking article called:
No child has ever chosen to be poor. Children have never caused the poverty that defines their lives, and their education.
Yet, the adults with political, corporate, and educational wealth and power—who demand “no excuses” from schools and teachers serving the new majority of impoverished children in public schools and “grit” from children living in poverty and attending increasingly segregated schools that offer primarily test-prep—embrace a very odd stance themselves: Their “no excuses” and “grit” mottos stand on an excuse that there is nothing they can do about out-of-school factors such as poverty.  
In this article, Thomas explains that affluent students have the slack that allows them to fail, quit, or take breaks on their race to the top and still be successful, while students living in poverty do not have that luxury and have to work twice as hard to finish the race.  He has a vivid analogy for this race in which students living in poverty are starting this 100 meter race with a bear trap on one leg, while children of varying degrees of privilege afforded to them by their social status start at the 20,30, 40, or even 90 meter mark.  For many students just showing up at the starting line shows true grit.  When a student is dealing with late night domestic violence, not having breakfast and then gets themselves up, ready for school and to the bus stop because they do not have a parent that is able to handle this morning responsibility-isn't that showing grit? How about when a student shows up for school after spending the night in a car and going without dinner? Or when a student shows up for school after seeing a neighborhood friend gunned down in a drive-by shooting?  

These students don't need teachers to preach the gospel of grit.  These students need teachers that build relationships through understanding and taking a personal interest. These students need their school to be a safe haven.  They need curriculum that is so engaging that they forget about their real life worries for a little while.  They need teachers that have high expectations and who believe in them while offering a safe place to take risks and sometimes fail.  These kids are far grittier than any affluent kid that can work at reading a complex text for a lengthy period of time...respect.  I am not frustrated by the out-of-school factors that I cannot change, but inspired by these kids who show up eager to learn every day in spite of them.

One final quote and reading recommendation:

When teachers have a passion for the students in front of them, and not just for the subject they're teaching, everyone wins.

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