This blog will center on the concepts of “grit” and “growth mindset”. Both are relatively new concepts, at least in terms of research. As I began to hear about grit and growth mindset, I immediately felt a connection. Probably because I think I related to them and would attribute my own perseverance and success to these qualities.
Growth Mindset is defined by Carol Dweck as the belief that your abilities can be developed with effort and practice. The converse is the idea of “fixed mindset” which basically is the idea that you are what you are and there is not much you can do about it. My years as a diagnostician were driven by “fixed mindset”. You test a child’s IQ to determine their potential. You test their current academic level and subtract to determine if a disability exists. It never took into account that a child’s IQ could increase. After years of bursting parents’ “bubble of hope” for their child’s “education potential” by sharing and explaining IQ, I had to do something different in education. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was promoting “fixed mindset” and it was an awful feeling. Now we know that brain research says that our brains continue to grow and develop as long as we work them like a muscle. We can change that potential with effort and practice. Growth mindset gives us hope and control in our own destiny that cannot be defined by a number acquired on a test on a given day.
Grit is the ability to persist in long term goals, even when the task is difficult. This can be difficult, because today we live in a world of immediate gratification. While it is wonderful to look up facts immediately on our smart phones or have instant communication through a text, it has made us an impatient society. We want what we want and we want it now. If we do not reach goals immediately, the inclination is to believe it is impossible or to move on to something that will provide us with satisfaction on the spot. I think there is something to be said for the old saying “Good things come to those who wait.” It is the things that we work hard for and sometimes have to wait longer for that provide the most satisfaction. I spent a lot years insisting I would NEVER be a principal. While that is a topic for another day, when I finally did decide this was my professional goal, I wanted it to happen right away. Needless to say, it didn’t. I spent 8 more years and several experiences as the “runner up” before that dream would come true. Several of those failed attempts to secure a principal position were devastating. I was certain that I was most qualified or had demonstrated the effort needed. However, continued rejection makes you question your own abilities. Eventually, I was able to achieve my goal and being a principal the past two years has been the best experience of my career thus far. What if I had given up?
Obviously, working as a principal, the success of my students is an obsession. I felt that while often my students coming from impoverished backgrounds have grit when it comes to real-world survival, they often lack grit and growth mindset when it comes to academic tasks. When research shows that these can be the best predictors of academic success, and that education is the most viable tool to help someone exit poverty, the equation seems simple: Teach students grit and growth mindset so that they can achieve the education needed to determine the future the desire, rather than the one that will be defaulted to them if educational proficiency is not achieved.
So where does “grace” come in? In the last few years as I was trying to become a principal, I faced some tremendous professional adversity. Changes in leadership called into question my own professional values and beliefs. As I faced the disappointments in not becoming a principal, I was able to fall back on the idea that God had a bigger plan and His timing is perfect. I had faith that the perfect school was being prepared for me and when it was time, it would happen. It was never easy to trust in God’s greater plan, but God always gave me grace in my times of impatience and lack of faith. I have to say, two years ago, I became the principal of the most amazing elementary school in a district that supports me to grow and innovate in ways to best serve my school. I have students, parents and staff who are more amazing than I could ever imagine. I didn’t settle and I didn’t give up and I know without a doubt, this is what God always intended for me.