It is a fact that educators are hearing the words positive growth mindset, GRIT, and resiliency a lot these days but what does it all mean? I don’t remember these words being emphasized so much several years ago so why now? As a child, it was instilled in me that hard work leads to success, and I was accountable for my actions which were not always positive. A phone call home meant that I was in trouble not my teachers or school administrators. It was not acceptable coming to school or work late, not doing my homework, and not studying hard. I learned that it was my actions that led to consequences. As a typical teenager, I certainly disagreed with certain decisions based on my actions, but I owned them and the adults in my life did not allow me to project them on to others. I wasn’t rewarded for not living up to certain obligations and expectations. Parenting and teaching students isn’t easy, but we must educate them about character and perseverance when things go wrong.
Students may want the best grade with the least amount of effort but what are the long term consequences for this? It seems there is a definite disconnect between high schools and colleges. Many high school graduates need to take remedial courses because of sub par reading and writing skills. Is this because they are being passed through the system so graduation rates look higher than the actual skill level of the students? We have many hard working and bright students in the U.S. that compete on a world-wide level but many students are not reaching their potential. So what do colleges say about declining student resiliency?
We also have a huge increase in mental health issues and according to the 2014 Pisa Study, students in the United States are below average in resiliency>>Study on resiliency-student input. The definition basically is one’s ability to recover quickly from misfortune without being totally overwhelmed. An example would be a student gets a C on a test that they studied hard for, discussed it with his/her teacher, listens to feedback, and then proceeds to work harder or smarter to do better on the next test. Poor resiliency would be blaming everyone for this grade, shutting down, making hurtful statements, and not working hard to make necessary changes. Teachers often complain they feel pressured not to give poor or low grades. Some do this to avoid any meltdowns or calls from angry parents which only enables the poor effort. Sometimes the teachers are wrong in their grading practices and this can usually be discussed in a professional manner, but what does it teach the child if every time they complain, rant, rave, they get their way? Does this build resiliency? Will this be acceptable behavior in college, future jobs, or relationships?
What about GRIT and a positive growth mindset? Grit is essentially persistence and sticking with difficult tasks. A person with a positive growth mindset believes they can improve their abilities through hard work. Someone with a fixed mindset believes they are born with certain abilities and they are limited by these fixed attributes and can only improve minimally. Carol Dweck has written several publications on positive growth mindsets. Another excellent resource is this video from TED Talks GRIT. Angela Lee Duckworth explains “that IQ is not as important as hard work and educators need to learn more about student motivation.”
So how can educators Improve and cultivate resiliency? Students need to learn from an early age that the process of learning and trying is more important than the immediate outcome. Failure can lead to growth as long as one keeps on trying and refuses to settle for less. Think about people that have failed the LSAT, GRE, MTEL, or other exams but worked harder and finally passed them. Those that fail after several tries can be proud of their effort but then must pick themselves up and move in another direction. What other positive options do they have?
As a school administrator, one thing is clear to me, we all have to work together and be on the same page to improve student growth and outcomes. Teachers, students, parents, and administrators all have an important role to play and consistency and follow through is key. Work together and support each other to teach students resiliency and don’t give in and bend every time a student complains or doesn’t want to work hard. My parents, teachers, principals, and coaches sure didn’t make it easy for me, and I appreciate them very much for pushing and encouraging me while being there to help when I took a step back. Don’t we owe this to our students as well?
Some other Excellent Resources
Colleges confront lack of Grit/Resiliency
MGH Resilient Youth Program