by David Krane, Principal, McCarthy-Towne Elementary School, Acton-Boxborough Regional School District
Education has the somewhat unfortunate, but somewhat deserved, reputation of developing and fastening onto different buzzwords that seek to describe new ideas or attitudes in teaching and learning. Some of these are jargon-y and pretentious and never really make it into the regular lexicon, but some manage to persevere and are, in fact, strongly descriptive. Often, however, new descriptors are coined to describe practice already in place at many schools, and this practice may not have been necessarily previously named.
The newest among the new buzzwords is grit. First used by a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Angela Duckworth, it describes tenacity and perseverance as students do their required work. It means not stopping when you think you’ve done just enough, but instead to keep on going. Rick Wormeli, in an article in AMLE Magazine, described it as stick-to-it-iveness. So… at the elementary level, the onus is on the teachers to create an atmosphere where students can feel that they have permission to take chances with their learning to do the critical thinking on an individual basis that will help them grow, with teacher guidance, of course. Some of the factors that Wormeli cites from Duckworth’s work are cultivating trust in the classroom, developing student-teacher connections, providing purposeful and descriptive feedback to students, and using assessments to show growth. Seeing these four factors gave me pause: Isn’t this very much what we, as educators, should do with our students? Wormeli goes on to list four other classroom suggestions: Teachers should provide meaningful work, clearly articulate the goals, and make sure that every student experiences success. As a building principal, (and instructional leader), these are exactly the characteristics of strong teaching practice that I would expect and I see evidence of it every day in our school.
Meeting students exactly where they are as learners demands that teachers invest in who these kids are that sit in front us each day. Strong instructional practice requires that teachers are reflective about what they do in the classroom and what happens daily in the classroom. All of us, teachers and administrators, need to be emotionally invested in the success of their students, and committed to the intellectual and social growth of all of the kids in our school community. Angela Duckworth and Rick Wormeil write of the necessity of developing true grit in our students. As I see it, however, teachers must first have this grit in order to teach it and I believe that we do. Good practice is good practice, by whatever name it currently has, in whatever box it is currently placed.
Wormeil also mentions the work of Carol Dweck and her concepts of the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. It’s a good connection with true grit to make, as we think about how learners, both adults and children, need to be willing to take on new learning and the inherent risk that can be involved in taking that on.
David Krane is Principal of the McCarthy-Towne School for the past seven years in Acton, MA. David is a doctoral candidate at Lesley University, a Board member at MESPA, and he really enjoys long walks on the beach and quiet conversation in front of a roaring fire.
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