Building Resiliency/GRIT in Kids

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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?

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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?

Granger Model

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Some other Excellent Resources

 Healthy Coping

Colleges confront lack of Grit/Resiliency

MGH Resilient Youth Program

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Personalized Learning – Bring Out The Genius In Kids

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So what is Personalized Learning and how does it differ from Individualized Learning and Differentiated Learning? http://education.ky.gov/school/innov/Documents/BB-KM-Personalizedlearningchart-2012.pdf Differentiated instruction is adapting to the various learning styles of students, but the learning goal usually remains the same. Individualized instruction is explicitly designed to accommodate individual learning needs, but students are dependent on teachers to support their learning. Personalized learning allows the student to choose what they want to learn and the method in which they want to learn it. There can be some 1:1 help by the instructor if the student needs it but it is not required. These students learn according to their preferred method which helps improve engagement. All three instructional strategies have their place.

It’s no secret that engaged students tend to do better in school and have less attendance and discipline issues. Students that are not engaged tend to loath school and are more likely to become a drop out. This can significantly reduce their chance for success. This is a segue from my last article on blended learning which tends to be more student centered and thus more engaging. Teachers need to use multiple modalities including using technologies, PBL, flipped classrooms, and collaborative problem solving to reach a wide audience of students.

Google was one of the pioneers in creative thinking by creating a Genius Hour for its employees. Google dedicated 20% of the work time so employees could brainstorm, be curious, and develop new ideas which helped improve Google’s status as a technological giant. So what is a Genius Hour? This is an hour set aside during a class once a week where students can work on anything they are interested in. A couple of questions teachers have regarding using this strategy are; what about all the content I have to squeeze in, and how do I get ready for those standardized tests if I allow students to choose what they want to learn? Genius Hour can be used many different ways by teachers and students. The big question is “how do you engage more learners and make their education more authentic?” By using a Genius Hour, students can become experts in anything they want or are interested in. It allows them to explore their passions and helps them realize that failure is a part of learning. This helps develop true growth. Several schools have already implemented a Genius Hour into their curriculum. http://www.greenwichschools.org/page.cfm?p=11586 By no means am I suggesting this is the only relevant activity, but it definitely helps engage students and gives them a deeper connection to their learning. I believe balance, creativity, fun and defined expectations helps students stay engaged. Here are some excellent links if you want to learn more about implementing a Genius Hour.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/09/living/genius-hour-education-schools/

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/genius-hour-essentials-personalized-education-nichole-carter

http://www.thenerdyteacher.com/2013/10/20time-makes-difference-edchat.html

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NMFQUtHsWhc

http://cybraryman.com/geniushour.html

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How Much Homework Is Too Much?

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Homework: What a giant issue that has been such a hot topic and such often a heated debate. I decided I wanted to try to tackle this MONSTAH, (Boston version). Why did I choose to write about a contentious issue? Because people need to look at the data before they pass judgment, and this data should be used to benefit student learning. I have enjoyed discussing this topic with several colleagues over my twenty something years in education and have changed my viewpoints as a result of looking at relevant data and the proverbial “Big Picture.”

So the most frequent questions I have heard are; Why is homework needed, does homework improve learning, what does quality/relevant homework look like, and how much homework is too much? The positive aspects of homework are it can help students learn responsibility, practice skills learned in class to help maximize learning, students learn to use more resources like reference materials, the internet, and libraries. Homework can also help students become more independent when they work on assignments on their own. Parents can become more involved in their child’s education by helping them with homework assignments and also seeing what they are learning in school. These are some of the positive aspects of homework.

There have been several studies on the efficacy of homework and most state that at younger ages, homework does not show a definite correlation between the homework and improved test scores or improved academic achievement. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/02/high-school-homework-are-_n_1071973.html Homework used in middle and high school has proven to have some positive impacts on learning as long as it was meaningful and relevant. http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/research.htm What does relevant homework look like? From my experience and what I have read, it should be based on skill development and not just memorizing content. Marzano has some great examples of relevant work in his instructional strategies document  http://www.palmbeachschools.org/qa/documents/Handout5-MarzanoHighYieldStrategies.pdf The NEA (National Education Association) created some recommendations for assigning homework. It basically stated that a student should receive no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level a night. An example is, an eighth grader would have no more than 80 minutes assigned in a night. This is tough to measure and police in a school, but it helps establish some kind of a norm for homework. This might also help educators understand how much homework is too much.

What is the negative impact of too much homework? I believe students need to go outside and play, be active, and socialize with their friends and family. Excessive homework can stunt a student’s growth in these areas. We want students to develop in many different areas not just in rote memorization. Also, is the homework equitable? What if several students don’t have the support at home to help with their homework while others do? Will this homework be graded? A family of well-educated parents certainly have an edge over those without, but all students are held accountable for the same graded homework. Something to think about! Should the majority of homework assignments even be graded or is it more about the effort in the process of completing it? If a student doesn’t understand the homework, won’t they just be performing the same imperfect tasks over and over which can be detrimental? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for the homework assignment to be based on areas that need work from class that a teacher noticed during some kind of formative assessment? What if the teacher also provided a link on their web page to help them work through the problems, material, or skills? Just a thought!

Does excessive homework prevent students from enjoying school because they feel overwhelmed, and is any of this adding to the excessive mental health issues we are seeing in our schools today? I would say it might play a role. Students definitely have a lot on their plate which is fine as long as we all know how to take some off when they are getting full. Did you know the US gives more homework than almost any other country in the world, but our test scores are not as high as say Japan and Finland? More doesn’t always mean better.

So, to wrap this up, I have learned that balance is the key to success in education, and we want to help students learn by using many educational sources and strategies. I feel homework has its place and can be beneficial if it improves skills that will translate to real-life learning.  I suggest using more technology and project based learning where students take the skills they learned into application. We want students to enjoy education and have fun in the process while also understanding that they must work hard and show responsibility. That balance word again!

Assistant Principal’s Corner #4

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With November already upon us and students receiving their report cards for the first grading term, I wanted to touch upon the importance of effort and support. What steps should we take to help students reach their full academic potential in schools? We often start panicking when a student doesn’t do well and sometimes even point fingers in many directions. So who is responsible? I would argue many people, starting with the student. My first questions are always how hard have you worked in your classes and did you seek out extra help from your teachers? Can you believe I actually expect high school students to be in charge of their own personal growth? Such a draconian idea! Next is the teacher’s responsibility of providing engaging, fun, rigorous, and relevant instruction that meets the needs of all their students. Sounds easy, but I assure you it isn’t.  Great teaching is an art and takes many years to perfect. Having teachers discuss what is working and what is not with peers is invaluable and in turn will help provide students with quality lessons. No two students learn exactly the same, so differentiating materials is also a must in most classes http://ascd.org/publications/books/108028.aspx

Where do the parents fit into this equation? This is such an important part of the student’s success in school. Parents/guardians have a very difficult job raising children in a society that is sometimes overly demanding. This is why they need to partner with schools to help improve academic, social, behavioral, and emotional success for their child. I firmly believe it is in everyone’s best interest to improve respect in schools. The parents need to see teachers as professionals that have spent many years obtaining educational degrees, so they can provide quality teaching to their children. With that said, I am not suggesting it is a perfect system, but it can always improve with appropriate dialogue.

Now for the administration. Another equally important role in student achievement. There is a delicate balance that must be achieved between all parties involved, and a good administrator helps facilitate these discussions and provides guidance and feedback when they stall. Our decisions must always be in the best interest of the student even if they are sometimes unfavorable. The administration must make these decisions using common sense, experience, integrity, and in collaboration with several teachers, counselors, and other administrators.

So what to do when a student struggles? Take a look at the big picture, ask what skills do they need to be successful, what steps have been taken, and what interventions need to be in place to help rectify the situation? Too often the answer is pull them from class or lower the expectations, but is that really going to be in the students best interest down the road? Will they have the necessary skills for college and career readiness? Is the grade the most important thing or is it the mastery of content and the process of learning? My belief is most students should remain in a challenging class with some students needing to make changes in order to have success.

What ever decision is made, it is important that students, parents, teachers, counselors, and administrators are all on the same page. What good is it if a student graduates with decent grades and a diploma only to take remedial courses in college because they weren’t challenged enough or were able to quit every time it became tough?

There is nothing more gratifying than watching students succeed and grow as young adults but it takes many hands to lift them to success.