Laila Sanguras, author of Grit in the Classroom, defines grit, shares the misinformation about grit, and talks about developing it in our students.
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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.
Grit in the Classroom
From Audio 183-Laila-Sangura
Vicki: Today we are talking with Laila Sanguras about Grit in the Classroom.She has a book by the same name and subtitled Building Perseverance for Excellence in today’s classroom. Now, Laila, grit is a term that is used a lot. And some might say it’s overused. But how do you define grit?
The Definition of Grit
Laila: So grit is a combination of passion and perseverance. Most of the time when we think about grit we think about stick-to-it-ness. So, someone sticks to a certain thing, they don’t give up, they just keep working and pushing. Which is definitely the perseverance part.
But what is also really important to keep in mind is the passion. If you think about facing an obstacle it’s the passion that gets you to recognize and then overcome that obstacle. Without the passion or the why behind the direction you are likely to give up. So the two are really important to keep in mind and to focus on in the classroom.
Vicki: And I’ve lived and know this. I remember my first day at Georgia Tech somebody accused me of being at Georgia Tech to get my MRS degree. And it made me very angry. And my motto became, ”I may not be smarter but I can work harder.“ And I guess in some ways would that be grit?
Laila: Yes. Cause you have the determination to prove people wrong. So that was your passion and your why. And really one of the great things Angela Duckworth is a psychologist who has made Grit much more of a well-known term.
- See: Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk on Grit that started the movement
And she has done a lot of research and has found that effort counts twice in someone’s success. So, if you think about, you have your ability, your natural talents, that we all come to the table with but it’s the effort that if you think about an equation – effort is squared in that equation with the outcome being achievement or success. So, one of the great and powerful things about grit is that if we’re focusing on the effort, the passion and perseverance, then we can really have a great impact on our students‘ achievement and success and the outcome. We can’t control how they come to us but we can absolutely control what they do when they get into our classrooms. Motivate them so they continue to set high goals for themselves.
Vicki: Have you ever seen the term grit misused and it kinda made you groan?
Is the term grit misused?
Laila: Yes, well actually I’ve seen I think what it’s troublesome about it is that people want a magic key or some solution that’s going to solve all of our problems. And that doesn’t exist. Teaching is a very complicated endeavor. So, the critiques that I’ve seen about grit are that it doesn’t solve the problem.
So what happens when you have a student who really comes from a difficult home and comes to us with all these challenges. We can’t just use this method of instilling passion and perseverance in that child to help them be successful. Really, we can, it’s just going to take some other things in addition to that, just like we would normally. I think my main problem with the critiques of grit are that they are too narrowly focused on that this is going to fix everything. If we just do these things then everything’s gonna be okay. But it is much more complicated than that.
How do we build perseverance in our classrooms?
Vicki: So, how do we build perseverance in the classroom? How can we use the language to help kids who struggle because sometimes in the Google Generation, if they can’t find it in one quick search some kids want to give up.
Laila: Right. It really comes from purposeful practice. So, creating and it also comes from celebrating and looking at failure as a data point rather than a descriptor of yourself. For example, I work with a lot of students who really struggle with their identities. If they were always seen as the girl who was really good at math and then all of a sudden she struggles. She didn’t really know who she was anymore. And so, by thinking and teaching her that her identity isn’t wrapped up in just this ability or this test score, it really is more about what you do when you struggle and you fail and you overcome that obstacle. She’s going to be more successful. I think if we can get our students to see that and also parents will see that.
We don’t want to celebrate failure and talk about it like a good thing. But it is what it is. You accomplish this, which may be short of the goal. But we are going to now figure out and problem solve to get you to the next level. It’s sort of this constant moving system of towards the highest level of achievement that a student can reach.
Vicki: Life is full of problems and sometimes when you have a great big problem, you have a great big opportunity to write an amazing story with your life. Because we all have problems, right?
How to view problems
Laila: Right. And I think in my experience schools understand the necessity for perseverance. And this need for designing learning experiences that challenge students. We support and scaffold them to be successful. But I think we have fallen short on the passion side somewhat because we need to spend more time really focusing on curiosity and interest so that we can get students to get closer to that why.
For example, you may not think that … I did not like science. I went through most of my schooling thinking science was just about me checking off these boxes and getting through the class so I wouldn’t have to take that class anymore. I would have been better served if my teachers had at least piqued my curiosity in some way. I think if we can design our classrooms where we are constantly curious. T
hinking like three and four-year-olds, how they just have tons and tons of questions about everything. We sorta of teach that out of our students as they get older. Combine that with technology .. and if they’re not doing something on their phones and getting friends to respond to a text or a Snapchat then they think they are bored. Their minds shut down until they wait for the next prompt. We have to reteach them to notice … to explore the wonder in the world. So they can make those connections between themselves and content they don’t necessarily like all that much.
Vicki: As we finish up, Laila, could you give us a thirty-second pep talk to motivate us to really help build grit in our students?
How we can get motivated to promote grit in our students
Laila: Yes. So our students, we want to set high expectations for them. And we can …they will do whatever we ask of them as long as we do two things. We show them that we know what we’re doing and we do. And if we don’t, we will research and we’ll study and we’ll learn before they do.
And then the other thing is that we care about them. And we care about them being successful. We want them to achieve and do great things beyond our classroom walls. I think it comes down to those two things. Knowing what we’re doing and visibly caring about our students and instilling hope in them.
Vicki: And grit is a tricky thing. You can’t say just have grit. You have to …First of all as a teacher, you have to have it yourself. If you’re impatiently saying, have grit, then you might not be having it yourself as a teacher. This is not an easy topic … this is not a quick fix. But it is an indicator of success to learn how to persevere.
Especially because we all have those days we struggle, we all have those days where we feel like we want to quit whether we’re a teacher or we’re a student. The book is Grit in the Classroom and the author is Laila Sanguras. We’ll link to it in the show notes. As you think about your week, think about teaching that persistence and that passion.
Bio as submitted
The author of Grit in the Classroom: Building Perseverance for Excellence in Today's Students, Laila is driven to inspire, energize, and empower teachers.
Blog: And Still We Teach
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I have done a lot training for teachers on the topic of classroom management. One thing I have learned is that some teacher come into the profession very prepared to manage classrooms. Other teachers require coaching and modeling. Some teachers never get there. For those that come into the profession ready, what sets them apart is their internal toughness. I have a developed a training called Because I Said So or BISS for short. I have seen so many teachers, especially teachers with fewer years of experience nearly ask students for permission to assign work or to move on to the next topic. I have even seen teachers ask permission of their students, usually in subtle ways, to send homework home Why send the homework home, because you said so. Why should those students stop talking, because you said so. When a teacher has the confidence and the toughness to uphold this idea it make a difference in their teaching.