In my experience, getting outstanding observations doesn’t always correlate with getting good or even expected progress from students. I propose the following hypothesis: the teaching standards are not a one size fits all. The framework for teaching and learning needs tweaking to re-focus on student actions so that it is not simply their enthusiasm and engagement that is measured, but that in lessons students are frequently allowed to fail and try again.
A few weeks ago, I watched a video by Angela Duckworth, in which the psychologist and former teacher explored how gritty determination was the key factor of success. If you’ve not seen the video, I’d recommend watching it now:
This provokes several key questions:
How do we teach ‘grit’?
How do we measure ‘grit’?
How do we create a ‘gritty’ school culture?
The latter is especially challenging; we are all, both staff and students, inherently driven to compare ourselves against each other and ask ‘what grade did I get?’ So, the answer seems clear- we have to change the way people think. Simple? Absolutely not! How do you challenge young people and adults to no longer ask ‘did I beat you? Did I win?’ but ask ‘Did I make my best effort?’ In the classroom, it’s tough work; I can spend hours (literally) marking books and offering formative comments but, at the moment I hand back the homework/ exam question/ essay, the first question is ‘But Miss, what did I get?’ This is my conundrum: do I tell them the mark/grade in the hope that they then will be happy to move on and look at my praise of successes and targets for improvement? Or, do I refuse to tell them in the hope that they’ll magically forget what they asked for? The answer is that neither really works, which means we have to drill down into their mindset…
Suggesting that fulfillment will not come from achieving grades but from knowing that, no matter what the outcome, you have tried your best is a seemingly dangerous notion to bandy around, especially in a nation which places huge emphasis on target driven culture. However, if you can develop enough self pride in students to ensure they’ll only be happy with the highest possible expectations, this could be incredibly rewarding.
This sense of making the impossible, possible, will allow our students to achieve amazing things as we will have taken a seemingly impossible target and broken it down into ordinary bitesize chunks. Carole Dweck supports this in her book on developing growth mindsets, ‘Mindset: The New Psychology of Success':
“We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.”
So, arguably, gritty individuals get outstanding results. Therefore, why do the standards of teaching not measure this skill of tenacity? In the classroom, I get judged on pace, progress, differentiation, context, feedback, planning and preparation. Student engagement and enthusiasm is also measured but not their tenacity; their willingness to try and try again. Failure is not only an option; it is essential for learning.
My final question: how can I adapt my teaching to encourage grit in my students? I think my initial step may be to share my theories around growth mindsets with the students themselves. This intervention strategy was something I picked up from reading the following sources: