Grit is an important success skill for school and life. Determination and the ability to continue through failure and challenging moments are elements of grit. Listen as Steve is joined by author Tom Hoerr, to examine ways to build your child’s grit.
Get in touch with Tom: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Announcer: 00:01 Hello and welcome to the Parent Wellbeing and Student Learning During School Closures Edition of the Steve Barkley Ponders Out Loud podcast. With the extended closing of schools, we as parents have entered into a new territory regarding what we have known as “school learning.” With this and future podcasts, I’ll look to share my experiences as a teacher, educator, parent, grandparent, and continuous learner.
Steve: 00:34 Examining learner grit. I had the pleasure of recording previous podcasts for educators with Tom Hoerr, a veteran school leader, and author of the book, “The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills That Every Student Needs.” I was delighted when Tom agreed to join me on these podcasts for parents. So we’re going to do a two part series this first one, looking at grit, and then we’ll do a followup one on empathy. So welcome Tom.
Tom: 01:06 Hey, it’s great to be here. Thank you.
Steve: 01:08 Tom. I’m wondering if you’d begin by giving an explanation of of your term, success skills and what got you interested in that?
Tom: 01:18 Well, it’s interesting, you know, as you said, I’m a veteran that means I’m old. And I run schools and worked in schools for lots of years and what has come to me is that, the kids, the adults who are successful, however you define success, I’m not talking about making the most money, that it could happen, but however you define success. It’s not because they read and write better than their counterparts. It’s because of who they are as people. It’s because of their fortitude, their caring, their ability to work with folks. And so when I think about social, emotional learning, I came up with the formative five and those are the five skills that I think we consciously intentionally need to teach. Those are empathy, self control, integrity, embracing diversity and grit. And I call them the success skills because mastering those skills leads to success in life however you define that success.
Steve: 02:12 So Tom, I’d like to to spend our time on this call, looking at grit. And in the intro to the chapter on grit, you had a quote from Winston Churchill that said “successes, the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” So can you start us off by giving us a definition of grit?
Tom: 02:35 Yeah. I mean, Churchill said it best as he said many things well. Basically, you know, Angela Duckworth talks about grit being passion and purpose. And to me, grit is simply not giving up. It’s hanging on, it’s having the tenacity, having the thought ahead of time that I’m going to get this done, even though it’s hard. And I have to add to your listeners and they know this, grit has always been important. I would argue that it is even more important today because we’re living in a trophy culture. Every kid expects to get a trophy, whether or not she plays, whether the team wins a game we’ve got lots and lots of praise and kids are conducive I think, to seeing things as being easy. They want to see the simple route. I had a friend who was an attorney and he and I were talking about grit and he ran a big law firm.
Tom: 03:25 And I said, talk to me, are there differences in grit among the attorneys? And he said, oh, absolutely. And from his perspective, while all of the attorneys on his farm are competent, the people without grit tend to choose the easiest cases. They take the easiest routes if you will. He said, you know, they’re successful but I don’t think they grow, I don’t think they find life as rewarding because they’re not challenging themselves. So implicit in that is probably they’re not making as much money either. But I think the point when we think about grit is we want kids not to be determined by difficulty not to be dissuaded when they initially fall flat. In fact, I would argue, and maybe this is jumping ahead, but as educators and as parents, part of our job is to put kids in situations or they don’t succeed so they can learn how to develop grit.
Tom: 04:14 In my book, I talk about high flyers and high flyers are the kids we all know them who tend to do everything well. They do well on every subject matter, they’re good athletes, they get elected to the student council. Well, that’s a problem. Because we’re all going to hit the wall at some time. And it may be at age 13, it may be in these kids’ case, age 22 or 32, but we’re all going to hit it. And if you’ve not had that experience before, if you’ve never confronted failure and frustration, you’re really going to have difficulty grappling with it and knowing how to respond.
Steve: 04:53 So there’s an attitude I need to develop about failure and I can’t learn that attitude without having had some failure experiences.
Tom: 05:02 Exactly. It’s interesting Steve, in my school, we’re talking about grit years ago and I took the issue to the board of trustees meeting. And one of my board members was sitting in the corner and she was nodding very vigorously. And I said Deserie, let me just stop here, this seems to be really appealing. Well, she teaches at the local university and it’s a very prestigious university. And she talked about the fact that she gets all these kids who were in the top 10% in their high school. Well guess what? 50% of them are not going to be in the top half of the class. And she went on about how difficult it is for these kids who’ve never had a grade below a B to all of a sudden get a B- or maybe even a C and they don’t know how to deal with it.
Tom: 05:48 And then a woman next to her interrupted her. And she said, oh, that’s nothing. Well, that second woman works at the university’s medical school. And of course gets the kids who’ve made it through the one hurdle, but now once again, they’re in premed and they’re finding difficulties and so forth and so on. And we as educators, I think have some responsibility because we’ve not prepared our kids to deal with frustration and failure. As a teacher, you think, well, I really did a great job, everybody aced that test. And if you were demanding and you’re expecting high things, and everybody gets an A, you think, wow, I’ve really done a good job. And in fact, you have done a good job at delivering that intruction and dealing with their curriculum. I would argue let’s step back and look at the purpose of education. It shouldn’t be just for kids to get an A in class or be on the honor roll. It should be to be successful in life. And if that’s the case and everybody’s getting A’s and everybody’s doing well, then are you really preparing them?
Steve: 06:45 I heard something in your description there Tom, that I think I’m catching for the first time. So it’s not about not getting frustrated. It’s about dealing with the frustration.
Tom: 06:58 Yeah. And in fact, if you can say to me, I’ve got a life and I never have frustration, I never failed. Then I’m going to kind of roll my eyes even if I don’t let you see me rolling eyes. Because that says to me, you’re doing the same thing. You may be successful, you’re not learning, you’re not growing. You’re not making a difference in the world. And so from my perspective, teaching kids grit is teaching them how to handle that inevitable frustration, that inevitable failure. Years ago, when I was working at the New City School in St. Louis, every year I have a staff t- shirt and it was given out to the staff in August at the start of the school year. And one year, the front of it said “grit” on the back of it said “good failures.” And the point – a good failure is one from which we learned. That kind of a lot of reaction, you know, talk about an oxymoronic phrase. Well, you don’t want kids to fail. Well, no, we don’t yet. If we’re preparing them for the world, we need to teach them how to respond when they have that inevitable failure as did Winston Churchill.
Steve: 08:02 So Tom, one of the things you mentioned in that chapter in your book was about the value of kids having a vocabulary for grit. I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about what that means.
Tom: 08:14 Yeah. In my book, The Formative Five, I’ve got a chapter on each one of those success skills. And in every one, I talk about the importance of kids, knowing the term, knowing the vocabulary. It needs to be something that we talk about at school. I would suggest that in classrooms, you have a rubric posted on the wall for grit, for example. And what you don’t want to do if you’re a teacher is to have all five of these at once and overwhelme kids. But you want to have that rubric up so kids know the term grit. Depending on their age, they might know the term tenacity, stick to itness. Likewise at the dinner table, I think it’s important to talk about grit. And I know Steve, if I can, because some of your listeners are parents too. And I think a mistake we make as educators and as parents is we may embrace grit.
Tom: 09:01 We want our kids to have it, but we don’t let them see how we’ve used it. Too often, children, whether they’re your children at home or whether they’re children in school, somehow think that the adults do things easily. They don’t see all the sweat, all the hard work, all the grit that we have experienced getting there. It’s a little like when I watch the Olympics and I see these gymnasts and I think holy cow, how great they are, look how easy that is. Well, it’s easy because they, you know, spent 19,000 hours in the gym and I don’t see that. And likewise, I think we, as educators need to do that. When I’m doing presentations, I will often ask group of educators, raise your hand if there was time this school year when you had a bad night, maybe you had a child that was sick or the pet was sick or you’re upgrading papers to 1:30 or you weren’t feeling well and you came to school and you were really grumpy and you were really not feeling well.
Tom: 09:57 Everybody raises their hands because we’ve all had that. And then I’ll say, okay, hands down now, raise them again if you let the kids know that. Virtually nobody raises their hand because we’re conditioned to believe that when we walk in, everything’s good, we’re smiling. And I think there’s a lost opportunity. I think there’s power in coming and saying to the kids, hey, I hope we have a good class. I’m going to do my best. You all need to know I’ve got about four hours sleep. And then when they see you persevering, they recognize that it isn’t always easy for the people around them who are successful.
Steve: 10:30 So Tom, in most of this series for parents, there’s kind of two themes that ran through regardless of the topic and I think I’m hearing both of them here. So help me help me label it for the parents listening. One of the themes that ran through was the need for the parent to model whatever it was that we were dealing with. So we did one on time management. How as a parent do you talk to your son or daughter about how you make time management decisions. So modeling it was one. And then the other one was being able to debrief situations with kids to understand the components of where that feeling is. So kind of connecting here, debriefing would be your child’s frustrated by having failed at something, the the ability to empathize with what that feels like, and then talk about how you refocus it and how you use it. So could you talk a bit, a little bit about both those things of both modeling and kind of debriefing?
Tom: 11:37 Yeah, absolutely. They’re both spot on. And as we all know, kids pay much more attention to what we do then what we say. And so seeing us for time management to use your example, show evidence of what we’ve done, bringing our account or talking about it, letting them see that we really believe that. And then to come back to kind of the debriefing and let me talk about it a bit differently. And I again want to emphasize the point that I made a few minutes ago. When I give presentations, and sometimes I do them to parents, often to educators, I say to people, you know, you’re embracing the formative five. You think they’re all wonderful, but you’ve got to do this slowly. The last thing you want to do is jump into all five because you’re not going to be successful and of course are going to be frustrated.
Tom: 12:21 So to come back to your point, Steve, let’s suppose we’re talking about grit. And so grit is going to be the topic this month, whether it’s the school was going to look at grit in October, or whether we as a family are going to talk about grit. And so maybe we talk about that every night at the dinner table. When did you use your grit? What does it look like? And I would say depending on the age of the kids, it might be fun to have everybody look through the local newspaper and cut out an article where somebody has demonstrated grit and put it on the refrigerator, put it on the bulletin board. What we’re really trying to do is raise kids consciousness about it so they can formally work through it. Too often, I think, with social emotional learning, with success skills, we assume that kids either have it or they don’t. You know, you’re tall, you’re not quite – it’s great that you’re six foot three, you can play basketball, sorry that you’re five foot nine, that’s not going to happen. Well, these skills, these success skills, aren’t like that. We all have different levels walking into the room, but we can all improve. We can all develop. And that begins with articulating what it is, tying it into the vocabulary, and then as you say, modeling it, debriefing it at home, at school.
Steve: 13:35 Tom, to kind of pull us to a close here, I’m wondering if there’s some common mistakes we might make as parents that get in the way of kids getting the right message about grit. Anything jump out at you there of – my kind of thing is when I make those mistakes, the buzzer goes off in my head and I can’t undo the one I made, but it helps me stop from making the next one.
Tom: 13:59 So it’s interesting, Steve, you mentioned my book, The Formative Five, thank you. I’m going to put a plug in for my newest book and I’ll tell you why I’m doing it. The new book is taking social, emotional learning, schoolwide. Produced by AFCD. And the reason why I mentioned it is one of the last chapters in that book, I talk about the pitfalls of pursuing the formative five. And in my last book, I talk about the formative five, I use school culture as the lens. And one of the things I talk about is where you can go wrong on each one. So for grit, for example, when you’re teaching grit, you need to also teach kids good grit and smart grit. Good grit means that they’re using grit for the right means the right purposes. Grit can be used in a negative way, so that needs to be embedded in it.
Tom: 14:46 Then the other thing is smart grit. You know, we’ve spent the last minutes talking about tenacity, talking about hanging in, talking about purpose and passion. However, the reality is there comes a time for all of us when we say, you know, I have given this my best, I’ve given it my grit, the smart person says, that’s enough. I’m going to walk away. I’m not going to be Sisyphus. I’m not going to beat my head against the wall. And it’s a fine line because you don’t want to empower kids to quit when it’s difficult, that’s what grit’s about. But you want them to understand that they are their own agents and it’s up to them to be looking at what’s the best use of my time. When can I make a difference? When should I say, hey, I’ll come back another day or I’ll come back to another task.
Steve: 15:29 Well, thanks a lot Tom. I really appreciate it. We will put your books and your your email in the lead in to this podcast so folks can follow you up and track you down.
Tom: 15:40 Great, thank you. This was fun.
Steve: 15:42 Thanks again for listening, you can subscribe to Steve Barkley, ponders out loud on iTunes and Podbean. And please remember to rate and review us on iTunes. I also want to hear what you’re pondering. You can find me on twitter @stevebarkley or send me your questions and find my videos and blogs at barkleypd.com.