Doing well in school and in life depends on more than a high IQ. I’ve taught students who have had a range of IQ’s. Not all my students who scored high on IQ tests did well in school. Not all adults I know who are really IQ “smart” have lived up to their potential either. High IQ is not sufficient for success in school or in life. I tried to help my students in my Learning Strategies Class to understand this and would teach a unit about characteristics of successful people. We’d read about successful people to determine the characteristics they shared. I’d like to thank Angela Lee Duckworth (TED talk below) for sharing her research findings that grit is a significant predictor of success. She defines grit as the
passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Grit certainly could explain why some people who had the misfortune of being born into dire circumstances are able to rise above everything to do well in school and in life. (There I go again, wanting to challenge the definition of the good life by quoting Socrates’ and other philosophers’ definition of a good life- one of my last courses was a philosophy course and it’s still fresh in my mind.) Of course grit isn’t a sufficient condition for success either. It’s a necessary condition. Things such as having emotional support are necessary for success as well.
When I ask my students what they think success is, many say having lots of money. The more money you have, the more successful you are. Sad. But, that’s a whole other topic. Even making lots of money usually takes grit.
When I was a student, I loved being in the drama club and playing volleyball and basketball on the junior and senior teams at my high school. I wasn’t a star by any means, but I was a member of the drama club and a member of the team which was important at that time. Those extracurricular activities made my life almost bearable during my teen years. I wanted school to be more than just the 3 rs. I didn’t just want to be in a classroom living in my head during my school years. I longed to be part of something more than a class. eEtracurricular activities enabled me to satisfy my longing to part of something more than a class. When I became a teacher, I decided I would participate in extracurricular activities to enable students to benefit from extra curricular activities much the way I had benefited all those years ago. Imagine my surprise when I realized that as a teacher I was still benefiting from participating in extra curricular activities. I recognize students participate in extracurricular activities for many reasons, not just the reasons I had for participating . Extra curricular activities are important for students in many ways.
I’ll be honest here. Participating in extra curricular activities is important for me as a teacher because participating in extracurricular activities would often help make my classrooms more bearable . Over the years some of my classes have been very challenging- to say the least. Many of my academically at risk students were disengaged from school. They were only at school because the law said they had to be at school. I felt really great when I got to see students who were disengaged from the classroom become more and more engaged in the classroom because they were began participating in extracurricular activities such as basketball, football or yes even the knitting club. I’ll admit I got to see my academically at risk students in a different more positive light during extracurricular activities and my students got to see me in a different light too that resulted in a more positive student/teacher relationship. That is a very good thing.
When I think of school and the student body, I think of classrooms as the head of the student body and extracurricular activities as the heart of the student body.We need to balance the head and the heart of the student body. Life is not only lived in the head, but it is also lived in the heart. Students’ school experience and yes even teachers’ school experience needs to include developing and satisfying the needs of their heads and hearts, and when teachers are told not to participate in extracurricular activities for political reasons, students and teachers suffer.
Of course I want my students to be successful. All teachers do. But, I think the Ministry of Education and I have different ideas about what student success means. I don’t think students are successful if they only develop intellectual skills. Earning a high school diploma may be a necessary condition for student success, but it is not a sufficient condition for achieving student success. Students aren’t just one dimensional beings. Students, like everyone else, are multidimensional. We all have an intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimension that needs nurturing. Students need help developing intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually (not in a religious sense but in the sense of dealing with alienation, with sense of identity, ) . So Ministry of Education, what are you going to do to help meet the spiritual needs of students?
I don’t know how many times I’ve asked myself and anyone else who was within earshot of me why weren’t my academically at-risk students more successful. I was doing everything I could except stand on my head and yet some of my student’s still weren’t getting it. I’ve got professional development coming out of my ears. I’ve tried to keep my student-centered teaching practice fresh and up to date by including things such as problem based learning, differentiated instruction, assessment for, of and as learning , computers and other digital technology, student created rubrics etc., etc., etc. What is preventing students from doing their best?
The conventional wisdom is that students’ lack of engagement or distractability in class is due to such things as poor preparation, the break down of society, too much TV, too much time spent on the WWW, etc. Students seem to be “brain-dead” and need teaching strategies that are like IV systems that would give students the information they need because they can’t to do it themselves (Parker, 1993 ). Spoon feeding is the metaphor that comes to mind when I think about the problem. But, Parker (1993) argues conventional wisdom is mistaken.
Parker notes poor preparation, the break down of society, too much TV, etc. are not the most significant causes for students lack of engagement or distraction in class. Student fear is responsible for student underachievement. Students believe their lives have no meaning, the future has little to offer, and that adults don’t really care about their problems. Young people ” have been thoroughly marginalized by the elders of this society, and their deepest response is not an angry rejection of us but a fearful internalization of our rejection of them”(Parker, p.11). This fear causes students to hide behind masks of silence and indifference. Parker suggests educators aren’t even aware that students have this fear. Educators can’t recognize the fear in students because they don’t recognize the fear in themselves. This fear is the fear of rejection by students. Parker admits he doesn’t know any techniques to overcome the fear of rejection, but he says whenever he sees past his students silence and fear and tries to understand the inner lives of his students, his students learn more.
I have to agree with Parker when he says when we try to know and understand the inner lives of students, students learn more. In order to get to know the inner lives of students, we need to build authentic relationships with students. The bonds of trust that develop between teachers and students within a positive relationship leads to a more positive classroom climate and more student success. It’s been my experience that when students feel more accepted for who they are by their teachers, the fear of rejection no longer exists to thwart student success.
The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer