I'm rereading Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I'm only through chapter four at this point and one thing that has struck me during this read is Joe Rantz's resiliency. Teaching growth mindset and encouraging kids to have grit have officially been added to the long list of things teachers need to accomplish inside of every school year. I'm fairly sure that Joe's teachers didn't teach him how to be resilient. I'm not sure, actually, despite our best intentions and very good efforts, that resiliency is something that can be taught. Maybe it is something that we can help students to develop, if they are willing participants?
There are people in my life who have demonstrated extraordinary resilience despite horrible luck and devastating blows, one after the next. I also know adults who have been given every opportunity in life to succeed, yet, they falter time and time again and are quick to blame their misfortune on a cruel and unfair world. The handful of people that I know like this always think that their teacher is out to get them or that their boss has an ax to grind. They are never willing to take any responsibility for falling short of the mark.
I do think that creating a space for reflection in our classrooms is a helpful first step in facilitating the building of a growth mindset. I think that having conversations with students about their success and what led to it is helpful. Having the opportunity to see their success as an outcome that happened after he or she attended to an interest or passion, made a series of good decisions, followed through, experienced failures and began again, sought out advice or information or counsel, and saw something through to the end, is truly helpful in developing resiliency. Having similar conversations with students who fall short of their desired outcome is helpful too. Allowing kids to see what stopped them and encouraging them to push through by developing action steps that are reasonable helps students to see that failure may simply be a temporary status on the way to great success. Undoubtedly, our students will face setbacks and loss that will not seem fair. In fact, sometimes, the stuff that happens to our kids IS cruel and unjust. Helping our students to realize that while they may not be able to control some of the crap things that happen to them, they can, over time, control how they respond or react.
Children's literature, at every level, provides parents and teachers with opportunities to make connections to growth mindset and resiliency. Taking the time to share a story or book and then chat about the characters' responses to challenge can create powerful learning experiences for our children. Taking time to reflect on how strong characters work through difficult situations can provide important social learning opportunities. Finally, resisting the urge to participate in the blame game when things don't turn out quite the way we wish they had in our own lives or in the lives of our children is one way that we can model self-reflection, growth mindset, and resiliency. Of course, we are all working hard to find our own way. It is important work that we can begin to do together.