Thursday and Friday of last week, I had the pleasure of being part of Hamilton County’s Middle Schools for a New Society coaching meeting. It is the first gathering this school year of the 20 middle school academic coaches who take on some of the district’s most difficult work in an effort to increase student learning. The meeting included time where academic coaches and principals collaborated on developing a shared vision for the year.
The agenda items, overall, were not surprising. We discussed performance data and how we did in 2013 in terms of academic proficiency and value added. We talked about the new Common Core Standards and how the Hamilton County Department of Education plans to address the more rigorous standards. But what really grabbed my attention were discussions about relationships and grit.
The nitty on gritty
If you Google the word "grit," you get 25.5 million results. Among the first of these results is a resource on the topic, as it relates to education, shared by one of the MSNS meeting attendees. In the clip, Angela Lee Duckworth provides great insight into grit and how it is often the difference that makes a difference where academic and eventual life success are concerned. Common Core Standards discussions move from content to relationships to grit rapidly. Grit often shows up in academic achievement, and academic achievement is often a reflection of what a student knows and can do. Further, what a student knows and can do is a combination of what they perceive they can do based on external factors and what they perceive they can do based on internal factors. Educators are shooting for an internalization of grit based on repeated exposure to situations in which "grit-like" behavior is reinforced and/or rewarded.
We’ve written about grit, among other nonacademic contributors to success, a few times before. Specifically, the PEF blogs on how children succeed and college and career success address grit. If you are into academic periodicals (and who’s not, right?), you should check out some recent editions of Educational Leadership for more information on grit.
Squishy + squishier = concrete
Grit, as a standalone concept, is difficult to measure. This is where we sometimes get derailed. It is hard to accept and understand that concrete outcomes are often the product of intangible inputs and interactions. Understanding this idea, however, holds the key to authentic learning. The reason why grit floats to the top is because it is so highly associated with higher-order thinking skills and the visible habits that result. More explicitly, to enjoy authentic success with complex cognitive tasks, students and educators need to understand and foster the relationships between content and skills and habits of mind practices and academic success.
These represent a lot of "stuff," and it is essential to be aware of the connection (relationships) between the two bundles. The companion piece to the previously linked Duckworth talk was also shared during the two-day MSNS coaches meeting, which was an insightful and brilliant TED Talk featuring the late Rita Pierson, and it helps to contextualize a trait like grit. In Pierson’s monologue, she provides an explicit reminder of the importance of creating a classroom and/or school culture in which educators serve as students’ champions (advocates).
A teacher by any other name would work as hard
By the end of day two, I was exhausted. Middle school academic coaches, principals and district content experts do not take breaks. They work hard. Educators in Hamilton County and across the country have been asked to do more than ever before with fewer resources than ever before, and we are fortunate to have a district with strategies in place to overcome the "more with less" challenge. We have some of the nation’s best educators serving Hamilton County students, parents and communities. Their titles vary—educator, principal, district director, academic coach—and they are the embodiment of grit and positive relationships. Regardless of their official titles, they all describe themselves the same way. They are teachers.
Keith White is PEF Chattanooga’s director of research and effectiveness. Feel free to reach out to him by email with any questions, comments or requests. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
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