Grit and the Critical Skills Program: a Disposition, not a Predetermination

I’ve already said my piece on “Grit” over at Edweek Teacher, or at least grit so far as it’s used as a litmus test for whether or not one should be a teacher. (Or perhaps better said, whether or not one should actually prepare to be a teacher rather than just jumping in after 5 weeks of summer prep, but I digress.)  There’s been one aspect of the whole grit conversation that actually sort of sticks in my craw a bit.  It causes this conversation in my head that goes like this:

Me: Grit is good!

Also me: Yes, yes.  It’s good. And your point is?

Me: It’s good- and we should teach kids how to have it!

Also me: Hmmm…yes I suppose, but…can we?

Me: Well, don’t you say you can teach kids to be problem solvers and leaders and critical thinkers?  How is this any different?

Also me: Good point. Let me think about that.

(this is the part where I wander around Antioch University New England, scratching my head and looking for chocolate on other people’s desks. Pro tip: There’s always a bowl in the VPAA’s office.)

Image So yes.  Grit is good.  It’s also known as perseverance, which is a word I prefer.  And yes, we can teach it in the same way that Critical Skills teachers have been teaching all kinds of skills and dispositions for the last 30-odd years- by co-creating clear, observable expectations for what it looks like and sounds like, and then by creating opportunities for kids to practice and demonstrate those expectations in action through meaningful, contextual problems to solve.

Where the “Grit” narrative breaks down for me is when we start talking about it as either a magic bullet that will keep us from having to figure out how to level the playing field or as an internal, inherent quality that allows some folks to just not need training, support, resources or allies.  Everyone deserves those things- teachers, kids, leaders- no matter how much “grit” they may have.

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2 responses to “Grit and the Critical Skills Program: a Disposition, not a Predetermination

  1. Art Costa and I have been working on Habits of Mind for the past 25 years. We have named 16 habits (one of which is persisting) and have considerable work that shows that these habits or dispositions can be taught, assessed, and we can all get better at using these habits. However, we need to be intentional about that in our curriculum. Although I respect the new work that Duckworth is doing around “grit”, I would suggest that the picture is larger. It is a cluster of dispositions, each used in response to situations, that creates a pattern of behavior that eventually becomes a habit. Check out our new book, Dispositions: Reframing Teaching and Learning, Costa and Kallick.

  2. Thanks, Bena. I agree that “grit” is more complex than many realize AND that it is a product of ways of thinking and being- many of which we can develop and learn through practice. We’ve been working with many of the same ideas in our Critical Skills Program since the late 1980’s. I think we’ve probably discovered a lot of the same things in our work over the years!

    I’ll be sure to pick up your new book as soon as I can. Thanks for commenting!

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