GRIT. That little word invokes some powerful imagery. John Wayne. The defenders of the Alamo. The “rough”, hardworking, self-sufficient people. It would probably surprise you if I suggested adding a Highlands fourth grader to that list. What does grit look like in a 4th grade student? I’m glad you asked.
The 2017- 2018 Highlands’ school year began with forty-three rising fourth graders entering their homerooms and a new academic world. Their desks were piled high with the necessary supplies: binders, notebooks, pencils, markers, index cards, etc. All in addition to their backpack, lunchbox, and water bottle.
Once their supplies were gathered, they left the security of their homerooms (no more contained classroom!) and ventured out onto the Highlands’ campus. This year would include mastering logistics as they traveled between 3 buildings for core academics (6 total buildings throughout the day). The first week, our fourth graders looked like they were preparing to invade Omaha Beach. As the weeks went on, each student determined what equipment was vital for their everyday use. Most whittled down their travel essentials to what would fit in a backpack or binder. Even so, it is no light load. Ask anyone who helps at carpool!
There are 3 key elements that make up grit. All 3 are fostered in the Highlands community.
GRIT needs Purpose.
Learning requires grit. The purpose of learning is not rote memorization but to develop our critical thinking skills. Learning incorporates the ability to ask good questions, engage creativity, foster curiosity in the world around us, and learn how to interact and communicate effectively with others. Highlands integrates project based learning to allow students an outlet to demonstrate each facet of learning. Through project based learning, students produce tangible understanding of a topic.
Students also develop social skills through teamwork. Our students learn this during project work. Highlands’ 4th graders have to work in teams of 3 and 4 in their STEM missions. Each person has a role with several responsibilities to perform during a mission. Students have to learn how to communicate effectively and share information efficiently to successfully complete experiments, assignments, and group projects.
GRIT is Perseverance.
One of the most powerful words a student can learn is “yet”. I do not know the answer yet. I am not able to accomplish this task yet. Who we are is not set in stone. That includes our intellect and skills. We all must face adversity in order to experience growth. Highlands’ students address challenges throughout their day. Success is sweet but some efforts are met with failure. The evolution of resilience is in how they choose to respond to failure. Do they give in to their frustration or are they determined to find a solution? There are times a little guidance and motivation are needed but determination usually wins out.
GRIT is Passion
It is important to meet a student’s enthusiasm with encouragement. Letting them know you believe in them. You know they can do it. The joy of every teacher is to discover the topic a student enjoys. Thankfully, grit doesn’t exist in one form. Just like our students’ personalities, each has their own grit identity. There are students who show it in their attention to detail, striving for that immaculate presentation. Others show their determination on the athletic field. They fall down, get back up and learn how to deal with success and loss. Some students show their grit in their strategy and focus in a chess match. There are also the pieces of artwork that reveal a vision through many erased lines. And then we have the outliers, those who can envision a different way to complete a project and blaze their own trail.
Children have a tendency to learn more from what you do than what you say. We have to keep that in mind every day.
I entered the education field because I see learning as a valuable adventure. I wanted to share that passion and help instill that love of learning in our future generations. I have a passion for history. I have a passion for teaching kids. I have a passion for making a difference. Teaching takes perseverance. Perseverance is crucial. When I see how hard our students commit to and focus on a task, it inspires me.
I never would have predicted 9 months ago, 43 students would teach me how to be a better teacher. I would fight for these kids. They helped me find my true grit. I want to see them succeed.
Success takes purpose. It takes perseverance. It takes passion. Success takes grit.