The Principal's Principles

A Middle School Principal, striving to make the world a better place, one day at a time.

We’ve Named it, Now What?

In her TED talk, Angela Lee Duckworth gives the name “Grit” to an idea that all of us in education have wrestled with for some time.

The notion of resilience, or a willingness to spend more time on a task, is one that schools across the country are thinking about. As educators focus on application of content, perhaps one of the most frustrating outcomes is when students, after a few seconds, stop and ask for guidance in search of “the right answer” or quit altogether with the unpopular phrase “it’s too hard.” Parents can sometimes exacerbate the issue with a claim of “the teacher not helping my child” or instructions that are “too vague.”

I agree with Angela Lee Duckworth, those who are willing to spend more time and effort often end up being successful in school and in life. Her term “grit,” coupled with the ideas of the growth mindset from Dr. Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, are important steps in defining how to meet what I call “the application challenge.”

Duckworth’s term and Dweck’s philosophy are clear examples of “getting our ducks in a row.” However, they are only the first steps in a long journey. Seth Godin writes “getting your ducks in a row is a fine thing to do. But deciding what you are going to do with that duck is a far more important issue.”

As educators, if we are to develop grit and the growth mindset in our quest to help our students build resilience and be willing to spend more time on task, we are going to have to abandon some practices that have existed for generations of education.

– We will need to shrink the volume of content we teach to make our curriculum maps more flexible.
– We will have to allow students to rework assignments multiple times.
– We will have to develop tasks that ask one good question or pose one complex problem, then let students struggle with the answer.
– We will have to rethink how we assign grades and report progress to parents. Is it better to “get an A” or “hold the ability to solve complex problems.”
– At times, we will need to give less directions and parameters to see what students are capable of. Sometimes, rubrics confine more than expand creativity.

Some may say “what about the facts and correct answers?” Correct spelling and multiplication skills are the base for the application work we will seek to do. No longer can they serve as our end game.

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