Building grit in the next generation

The word ‘grit’ always made me think of grit in my mouth, something unknown, unwanted. You can be in the middle of your favourite meal and suddenly, bam! A stone agitates its way through your teeth, setting every nerve on end and ruining the rest of your dining experience. It took many years of being an educator to finally see ‘grit’ for what it was.

The word grit conjures up a sense of unpleasantness and discomfort. Rather than focusing on the negative connotations of the jargon, I began digging deeper into the true meaning behind the word. Grit was not just an irritant to a person’s day; grit was a term used to describe the character of courageous and resolute people.

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Those who surmount intense obstacles to go further and succeed possess the quality of grit. Walt Disney was fired from an assortment of jobs as his employers did not think that his cartoons were creative enough to engage a young audience. He is now a household name and beloved by children around the world. Albert Einstein never spoke a word till he was four and could not read till he was seven. His parents and teachers believed him to have cognitive issues. He was also expelled from school and denied entry to prestigious colleges. It was grit and determination that propelled him to be the scientist that we know today.

Do we expect every young person to become Albert Einstein or Walt Disney? Certainly not! Instead, we should look towards equipping the next cohort of children to build the grit needed to conquer obstacles that they will confront in their lives. My husband once told me, “There will always be trials in life. They will be overcome. The actual pitfalls are the ones that come alongside the trial- despair, the loss of self-confidence and shame. These feelings do the most damage and leave a lasting impression on one’s whole life” I believe that to be an accurate outline of how learners feel when they fail unless we teach them how to rise above it with their heads held high.

An educator may wonder how to begin this herculean task. After all, our objective as facilitators is not to keep knocking out students with failures until they stop caring! The key is in commencing with small steps, showing students that they can accomplish what they have set out to do without getting disheartened.

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At DPS International, children have the opportunity to decide on their ‘Edge Activities’. These range from dabbling in artistry such as puppetry to athletic sports like cricket. They choose their Edge activity at the beginning of the year and can only change it once we reach the second term six months later. In my first year as a Form Tutor, I received a call from a parent who was exceedingly disgruntled that their child was not relishing her Edge classes. She had elected to take table tennis for that term and had discovered that her buddies had abandoned ship and chosen visual art and badminton. The child’s mother requested an audience with the Principal when I explained that she could not switch till the beginning of the next term.

My heart was in my mouth as the conference with the management team started as I was anxious about how to pacify the enraged mother. The Principal heard the parent’s viewpoint, after which she gently asked the parent if the child would truly benefit from dropping the classes. If she were to comprehend that her parents would bail her out from nasty situations in her life, she would continually be reliant on them rather than her capabilities. If the child got her way whilst others toiled through their sessions, she would begin to believe that rules are meant to be broken. On the other hand, if the young one was made to fulfil her Edge activities for the necessary six months, she would cultivate a skill she would otherwise not have had access to. She would make brand new friends with a shared interest in the lessons. She would build a wider viewpoint and make the world around her a bigger place. The parent was satisfied, and the child concluded the first term with fond memories of her days playing table tennis. This was a great example of how we as educators and parents can ‘come to grips with grit’ (it’s a tongue twister, give it a try!)

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We come across so many opportunities that seem minuscule but can teach our students about grit. Whenever they want to quit, rather than acquiescing, ask them to think about their end goal. Give them a timeline of how long they need to stick with a project before they can call it a day. Ask them to break their work into doable bits so that they can work towards handing in their work on time and display the skills that they excel at. Every learner has strengths and should use them to their advantage when pursuing a target.

Collaboratively working towards a target

A wonderful way to build up grit is to have the young ones participate in collaborative activities. Working with a team permits every child to be engaged in the discovery process. Mentor-mentee groups can be designed for peer bonding and review. Every time a learner intends to quit, the mentor and friends are present to help raise his or her spirits and cheer them on. The desire to quit diminishes as one realizes the entire teams’ work is at stake.

Brainstorming on a mind map together

I keep ‘grit’ in mind when dealing with my children. They dive headfirst into projects that they find interesting and turn passionate overnight. When we enroll them into a class for the same thing, they discover it is not fun, they get hurt or simply lose interest. In cases like this, we cannot turn authoritarian and proclaim that there is no room for quitters. However, we can let them realize that they need to continue till the fee cycle ends in a few months and then have a conversation about it again. I have noticed that big changes take place in attitudes given time, and whether mindsets change or not, young ones understand how to chase a project without abandoning it at the drop of a hat.

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Keeping their chin up even when the going gets tough!

We need to construct a wall of grit around the next generation so that they do not believe themselves to be failures when they fall short. Our young ones need as much social and emotional security as they can get, and adults need to realize that we are not doing them any favours by giving in when the going gets tough. We must foster in them the feeling that we will be there for them when it is challenging and will keep pushing them to succeed despite those setbacks.

Building grit through self control and self discipline
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Walter Elliot said, “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other”. This quote recalls my own introduction to grit when I was seven years old. I had enrolled myself in a cycle race that did not seem very arduous to begin with despite being many kilometres long. The sun was beating down on us when the race began, and after a few kilometres, I had run out of steam. I saw all my friends ride past me and conclude the race. I was exhausted, so I dismounted and sat down for a breather as all was lost. It was then that my father drove up and told me that I needed to cross the finish line. It did not matter if I was on the cycle or off, but I needed to finish what I started. Every muscle ached, I cried tears of pain but I crossed the finish line with a sense of achievement. This memory has stuck with me to this day, and it speaks volumes about the values that my father imparted to me.

As educators, let us cheer on the young ones running in the race of life and give them the skills to reach the ribbon at the end with the ability to congratulate their friends if they do not emerge victoriously. Their grit will allow them to be winners no matter what they do.

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Have you found other ways of building grit in your students or children? Tell us how through the comment below. Follow me to get regular updates on new posts!

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