Grit is a Culture

Grit is a culture that teachers can create in their classrooms, especially as schools and districts begin to implement the Next Generation Science Standards. As educators or administrators, it's a culture that we can create in our schools and districts.

If that grit is truly a culture that permeates your buildings and district, it will instill a set of values that imbues classrooms at all grade levels and informs the school's entire approach to education.

A culture of grit is a culture that supports determination and direction, passion, and perseverance. You'll find that if you value these ideals, your team will become self-aware and will begin to support itself and its members in excellent STEM teaching.


Being Psychologically Aware

In order to achieve this, we as teachers must be psychologically aware.

Consider this relatively common teacher statement: “It’s difficult to teach science because at the end of the day, students don’t want me telling them one more thing.”

This may seem like a mundane comment, but it's very telling. Educators who believe this don’t fully understand what it means to have a full inquiry environment and to release responsibility to their students. They do not know how to challenge students to develop and use their content and skills in order to solve a problem or answer a question.

The teacher sees their role as telling students “things.”

And from the student’s standpoint, there isn’t much buy-in. Why would they want to listen to the teacher tell them one more thing? They don't have a purpose for doing so, other than the dubious goals of satisfying the teacher, getting a checkmark for participation, or being lauded for appropriate behavior in class.

These teachers aren’t thinking about the goals of the Next Generation Science Standards or of the students. They also aren’t thinking from the perspective of what gets students to engage in class. Students are naturally curious, and they seek personal purpose and fulfillment. They want to discover a purpose, and they want to connect with things that matter to them in their lives.

If we want to focus on engagement, we need to ensure that students see personal relevance and value for others in the work that's at hand, and that actually feeds grit. It feeds purpose, it feeds determination, and it feeds passion. That's how students learn to love things.

When students are actively engaged as scientists and engineers, learning becomes student-centered. Each student has the opportunity to see purpose in their own work. When a student sees a connection to what they are doing—when they see personal relevance and an opportunity to manifest their own ideas—they are much more likely to invest in their own learning and are therefore likelier to take the risks that lead to true engagement with the material.

When this learning has real-world relevance, it’s even better. If students can open a newspaper and see a connection to what they’re doing in the classroom, they have an easier time connecting with that material. They begin to create concept-to-world, concept-to-concept, and concept-to-self connections, which are essential to lasting learning.

How to Measure Grit

Many people are interested in knowing the signs of grittiness or if they themselves are gritty people. If you want to specifically know about yourself, you can check out Angela Duckworth's book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

More broadly, there are many signs pointing to grittiness, and these are important to prioritize if you're hoping as a teacher to create a gritty classroom environment. These include, but aren't limited to:

  • Not giving up easily
  • Not getting discouraged by setbacks
  • Working hard
  • Setting goals and sticking to them
  • Resisting the temptation to hop from goal to goal

Passion gets many people started, after all, but perseverance is what enables people to accomplish difficult goals in the long run, and that purpose often stems from purpose more than it does from passion. Purpose is deeper than passion, which can be fleeting at times. But in somebody who is really gritty, that purpose endures.

At the end of the day, creating a classroom environment that aligns to the expectations of the Next Generation Science Standards is challenging, but it is  feasible for teachers who themselves possess grit. It requires understanding how higher order thinking relates to grit in science education, seeing a clear link between student effort and student success, and purposefully designing curriculum in ways that constantly challenge students to seek beyond their current skill level.

It also requires that we see when students have slipped back into a place of comfort, and that we design new challenges to help them move back into a place of growth.

STEM education

 At the end of the day, if we want to produce students who are able to solve tough problems like scientists and engineers do every day, grit is key.

Scientists and engineers face setbacks on a daily basis, and persevering in the face of such mistakes and failures is crucial. In any field, in any career, in any institution of higher learning, students will need the ability to stick to goals even when the going gets rough, and designing classrooms that encourage this ability is one of the greatest gifts we can give students. It starts with grit and rigor.

*This post was updated on 1/18/18.

“Growing up, I wanted to be an inventor, solving problems that would help people have better lives. Every day at KnowAtom is an opportunity to invent solutions that give thousands of students and teachers a better experience doing science, engineering, technology, and math (STEM). Providing educators with professional satisfaction and students with the opportunity to understand the world we live in is my way of helping people have better lives.”