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The world of education is chock-full of buzz terms. There’s accountability, differentiation, scaffolding, progress monitoring, datadriven, college ready, and rigor… to name a few. The latter holds a special place in my heart since my former blog was “Raising Rigor and Readers” That said, GRIT is now on the list, and in all honesty, I sometimes cringe when I hear other educators speak about it, ESPECIALLY when speaking about children of color and/or from low income communities. Let me be clear, I am not a “grit hater,” but I L-O-V-E provoking a little thought and nuance when it comes to how we speak about our classrooms… and by WE, I include myself.  So what is grit? Seminal researcher Angela Duckworth boils it down to ” the perseverance and passion for a long term goal.” Meaning, driving towards a specific outcome, and working through obstacles to achieve the goal no matter how long it takes. Many school districts have adopted the character trait of “grit” as something to teach students and develop within students. I taught in a school that did this, and below are my takeaways. 
1) GRIT DOES NOT EQUAL NO EXCUSES

 This is one the most common misconceptions about grit, and something I can honestly say I adopted.  Everything was about being “gritty” and not making excuses. We celebrated students who were “persevering”, and to some degree shunned those who made excuses, no matter how valid their claims. I have to mention that the majority of students served were from low income communities  and/or students of color. I mention this because many of my students demonstrated grit simply by showing up on time daily in spite of the challenges they face. My eyes were opened as I continued to research about correlation between no excuses, and grit. It started with this article, which delves into the issue with taking a no excuse approach to grit, and how condescending it could be for students in our neediest communities. I would never want to send the message that their life circumstances are insignificant, or irrelevant. I also never want my students to believe that working hard will always lead to the given outcome because we know that structural and institutional racism are real insurmountable barriers.

 2) LEVERAGE STUDENT STRENGTHS
 Directly related to the aforementioned topic is the fact that students come to us with strengths and

experiences that demonstrate their ability to persevere over time to achieve outcomes. Think about students living in poverty, or with parents whose work schedules do not align with the start of the school day. There are students who wake up siblings, get them dressed, walk them to school, or the school bus, and for some, fight through other markers of poverty… just on their way to school. Many have been doing this years, and a countless number do it so well that their teachers don’t even know they are doing it because they make it “look easy.” If that’s not grit, perseverance, and character then I don’t know what it. I would say some students have more “grit” than their teachers. #letskeepitreal The big question is, “how to harness this in school?” I don’t have the answers (sorry), but I do have a few thoughts:

– Get to know students and THEIR stories versus creating your own narrative.
– Ask students about THEIR goals and why they matter.
– “Call Your Shot”: Make connections between student actions and the resulting outcome. Narrate for students how their actions over time impact their progress.

– Never invalidate student circumstances as a “non factors” in their educational journey. 
 3) TAKE CULTURAL BIAS INTO CONSIDERATION 
Conversations about grit should not be used to force compliance into a certain norms. This means, talking about grit in a way that simply recognizes students for meeting expectations grounded in the dominant norms of society. For example, when *some* students are recognized for completing homework assignments, paying attention in class, or taking a test seriously it might be praised as them being “gritty.” I’ve done it myself. The issue is whose goal is it? Why does this goal matter to students? It this the right thing to praise as grit, or is it just celebration of compliance?

As it stands, my personal jury is still out when it comes to grit and the classroom. I will continue to learn more, and check myself when I start engaging in practices that water down the intent of teaching grit or masks it as something as the result of effort (not privilege) without fully delving into the realness that overburdens so many of my students.

So what do you think? I’d love to know! Lets connect in the comments!

Here’s what other educators are saying about grit:
Teaching Grit
Grit Video
The “Grit” Narrative, “Grit” Research, and Codes that Blind
Testing for Grit and Joy

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Tanesha B. Forman

Tanesha B. Forman

I'm a current middle school administrator who loves breaking down complex topics and providing opportunities for educators learn, reflect, practice, and implement methods that foster equity and anti-racism. I believe we win together!

Behind the Blog

Hi, I'm Tanesha.

I’m a current middle school administrator who loves breaking down complex topics and providing opportunities for educators learn, reflect, practice, and implement methods that foster equity and anti-racism. I believe we win together!

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1 thought on “Rethinking Grit and the Classroom”

  1. I like what you are bringing to this conversation. Sure, I like the idea of “grit,” but the overall message and implementation can be problematic. There is no possible way to know what our students experience outside of our classroom. Plus, many mental and physical health conditions are under-diagnosed. I think a blanket statement to encourage all students to have grit will harm many of our students.

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