Testing, Tears and…GRIT??

Over the last four years at Sigler Elementary, the students and staff have been introduced to online sensations such as Kid President, respected authors, including Principal Kafele and Carol Dweck and TED Talks from Carol Dweck, Rita F. Pierson, & Angela Duckworth.

Carol Dweck: The Power of Believing that You Can Improve – The Power of Yet

What do all of these folks have in common?

Whether you refer to it as determination, perseverance, attitude or grit, ultimately it’s the understanding or mindset that regardless of your situation, you can overcome, you can achieve and you can be successful.

The last Tuesday of each month, over the last two years at Sigler, we have introduced the idea of Future’s Day where boys and girls in 3rd-5th grades spend the last thirty minutes of their day listening to a local community member share their story. Girls break out with female speakers and boys break out with male speakers. The stories that have been shared, aim to give students examples of successful adults who were exactly where our students are today. The stories inspire, motivate and prove to our students, what they do now at the ages of 8, 9 or 10 does matter and can impact them for the rest of their lives. The idea of Future’s Day comes directly from Principal Kafele and his Young Men Empowerment Program or Power Monday’s he held with young men as the principal at Newark Tech High School in New Jersey.

I share all of that so you better understand the questions I have…

Is it working? Have we seen a difference in our students? How do we know?

December marks the half way point for the school year and it brings a fair share of mid-year assessments along with it. As a staff, we try very hard not to beat our students over the head with “do better, you must improve, your scores must go up” but I believe it’s important for our students to understand that the time they invest in mid-year assessments can be valuable for them to get a snapshot of how they have progressed towards goals set at the beginning of the school year.

Last week I was in the hallway as our fifth graders were transitioning to lunch. I love being able to interact in the hallways with the students, but as I worked my way through the line of students, I heard the faint sound of tears coming from the grade level. As I approached the grade level doors, I encountered a young man who was in tears.  Before I could ask him what was wrong, he wrapped his arms around me just needing a hug. After getting him settled down, we were able to talk and he shared his sorrow was coming from his latest mid-year assessment in which he did not meet his goal and his score actually had gone down since he last took this assessment as a fourth grader.

My initial reaction was rage. I was furious with the high stakes testing we expose students to. I was furious that we place this pressure on kids ages 5-11. I was furious that a student could be so heart broken over not meeting his goal. So heartbroken that he was brought to tears. This is not what I want school, especially elementary school to be about!

As the days went on, I could not get the image of this young man out of my head. Seeing this young man so upset, so disappointed and frustrated that he had not met his goal. I started to share my experience with some of the leaders in the building and one conversation I had, started to change the way I was feeling and even started to answer the questions shared above.

Through this specific conversation, the teacher reminded me of where we started. The teacher reminded me of the students in fifth grade before we started having conversations about grit and having an growth mindset. The teacher reminded me that for the most part, we never used to have students upset about their lack of progress on an assessment. Four years ago, we simply wanted some of the students to actually care. The teacher expressed wanting a class full of students who grew teary eyed when they didn’t meet their goal over a group that struggled to show signs that they cared. The teacher reminded me about the power of these moments with students; students who are devastated about not meeting their goals and how their devastation can be used as a teachable moment, which serve as real life opportunities that can make them stronger.

This teacher’s outlook made me reflect and upon my reflection, I believe we have made significant progress with our students in creating grit, perseverance and a growth mind set within them.

So, is it working…YES!

Have we seen a difference…YES! Students want to do their best! Students get disappointed when they do not and they desire to do better!

How do we know…the success of our students is not measured on a test. The success of our students is measured in the daily interactions we have with them where they prove they are developing skills that will allow for a greater success in life. Small obstacles that force students to stumble in elementary school support the development of their grit and with the appropriate supports in place, relationships and connections made with students and the continued exposure to examples and speakers/presentations our students will continue to persevere, become “grittier” and ultimately turn their tears into fuel that feeds the fire burning within them.

We are not finished. I would like to say all of our students exhibit the same passion this specific student did, but not all of them do…YET. As a staff, we will keep grinding, we will keep sharing, we will persevere and our students will overcome.

Do you have stories of how you develop grit, perseverance or a growth mindset in your students? I would love to connect and share our stories.