Since January I’ve taken on a new challenge. Running. Planned to do my first half marathon in April. Did it in 1 hour 59minutes. That was it, end of plan. Except somewhere along the way I’ve signed up to another half marathon in June, a full marathon in September and Tough Mudder in October. Oh yes, and the small matter of entering a ballot for another marathon! Hence finding myself on the treadmill in the garage on the hottest day half term has had to offer, plodding out 16miles. Now this blog is not all about my running exploits, nor my foolhardy, spur of the moment decision making. It is actually about grit. Yes the ‘Angela Duckworth’ popularised grit stuff!
Prior to taking up running I’d done a lot of reading, research and inset delivery on growth mindset in my own school. In the course of this I had come across the concept of grit and it’s importance in learning. I could write plenty about it, deliver assemblies on it and in the past I may even have claimed to think it was important to teach it. However with running comes revelation – genuinely.
It has been a long time since I have been well and truly challenged on a personal level. Challenged in an unavoidable way, so much so that I have had to dig deep, confront my own limiting mental attitude and overcome it. Running has done this. I’m no runner…yet. I have never run more than 1500metres, and that not since I was at school.It is through running that I have actually discovered what grit is, I’ve experienced the development of it in myself and recognised that even this is an ongoing process. As a result I think I’ve realised some important lessons to transfer over into my role as a leading learner aka teacher.
You can read about grit. You can watch You Tube videos about grit. You can teach about grit. None of these things will enable you to develop grit.
Grit comes out of genuine inner challenge and perseverance. It is something that you determine in yourself every time you make the decision to push on when it’s tough. For me that decision not to turn the corner and do 5km but to keep going or choosing to keep running because the alternative of walking still requires the same motion, only slower and therefore not an option.
If grit requires genuine experience I cannot go into my class room and teach it. I have been caused to reflect on how often in my classroom I create an environment where a)challenge is present b) the challenge is not just present but sufficiently engaging for the students c)where it becomes normal to struggle and for that struggle to be part of our dialogue about what it means to be a powerful learner.
Grit happens by chunking. I think about my 16mile treadmill run today. 2 1/2 hours monotony stretches before me. How do I keep going? I break it down. 15minute chunks, maybe telling myself that at 10miles I could stop if I wanted, then getting to 10 and deciding 2 more is not impossible and so on. I have a big picture target but to get there, to dig deep, to be gritty, I break it down into chunks. I have significant inner dialogue that enables me to push on. In class, if I’m creating genuine challenges I need to help students develop methods for chunking the big targets, and for having that internal conversation with themselves. Here lies a significant role for meta-cognitive discussions in the classroom and time for individual reflections about learning.
Finally grit can be spurred on by buddying. I run with a friend. When I run alone I share my run target with my friend. We are both aiming for our first marathon, it matters, to me it really matters because I want to do my best – whatever that turns out to be. When the running or training is hard, when Im not sure I want to get up and get running I remember I’m not in this alone. There it is, I grit my teeth (often literally) head down and I persevere that bit more. In my teaching I think I can make more of this very important element of buddying in helping students to develop grit in their learning. I’ve tried some peer mentoring, but I think this is an area to explore further and develop more.
Chrissie Wellington is a great athlete. On her water bottle she has the word “if”. This sticks in my mind and at those bored, I can’t be bothered moments when I run, or in the ‘I can’t do another mile’ moments I place that word in the centre of my mind. I remember I want to do my best. I draw on my understanding of what it means to have grit and I push on those next steps. I want to help students in my school develop grit. I now understand that I can’t teach it, but this has enabled me to reconsider my teaching and learning strategies.
Growing grit has caused me to consider the ways in which I can give my students more opportunities to develop grit in my classroom.
What have are you doing that is causing you to develop grit in yourself? When was the last time you really stepped out of your comfort zone and kept putting yourself in that place until you began to experience some progress?