Teaching Grit, Tenacity, Perseverance, and Resilience

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I recently set up a series of questions on my Instagram account (@msmclauchlan) asking for your input on the topics you’d like me to explore on my blog.  One of the excellent suggestions that came up, was how to teach students about the six “C’s” of deep learning; citizenship, character, creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking.  Thanks so much for the suggestion Sherri 😉

In this post, I’ll tackle the “C” that most often gets mentioned when I have conversations with teachers and administrators around the needs of their students. . . Character.  New Pedagogies for Deep Learning defines Character as “Learning to deep learn, armed with the essential character traits of grit, tenacity, perseverance, and resilience; and the ability to make learning an integral part of living.” And while this is a very comprehensive definition, it’s a bit of a mouthful, and a lot for students to chew on. It is with this in mind that I often choose only one of the C’s to explicitly teach to. Character is a great starting point as it often springboards naturally into the other Cs. Here’s a few tips that I find help focus classroom conversations around the 6Cs in general, and the C of character specifically.

Use Pictorial Definitions

When discussing one of the 6 Cs with students, I find it easiest to zoom in on one part of the definition and turn it into a pictorial representation. For character, I chose to zoom in on the part of the definition that deals with grit, tenacity, perseverance and resilience. Here’s the image I created to (partially) define character: Screen Shot 2020-02-12 at 4.40.49 PM

To begin with I ask students to use the image to help them construct an understanding of character might mean.  Then, I scaffold in the language of grit, perseverance and the power of “yet”. This image becomes an anchor that we revisit on a daily basis, and it doesn’t take long before students show familiarity with the term and internalize it by connecting with personal experiences.  Which leads me to my next tip. . .

Connect to Real Life Situations and Experiences

Once we have explored the pictorial definition, I share a recent personal experience where I had to show grit in my character.  While it’s a true story of feeling nervous and overwhelmed heading into new situation, I do emphasis a few points to get the message across.  Long story short, I was heading to my first day coaching in a new school, and when I got into my car, I noticed that my husband had been nice enough to wash my car. Unfortunately the temperatures had dropped to minus 35 degrees celsius, and my door refused latch shut, meaning it was completely unsafe to drive. As I tell the story to the class, I share my complete range of emotions and problem solving strategies:

  • give up, call in sick, avoid the whole thing
  • get angry, blame my husband, even though he was doing something nice
  • risk it, drive with a door that doesn’t shut safely
  • open and close the door repeatedly, aka slamming it, because now I’m angry
  • use the button to electronically lock and unlock the doors
  • start the car, jack up the heat, hope for a melt
  • panic, call my husband
  • stick my finger in the door lock, wiggle it around, hope I don’t lose my finger*

* For the record, this is the once that worked. It was a calculated risk that paid off. And I still have all my fingers.

As I get to each of these strategies, I summarize it in a few words, write in on a post it note, and ask students to determine how effective it was. Then we place it on a strategy continuum. The higher to the top, the more effective, and inversely for less effective. See anchor chart below more details on the continuum.

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Use Picture Books to Deepen Understanding

Once we’ve analyzed all my strategies, we moved on to reading “After the Fall”.  Which is a fantastic picture book for the topic of character, grit and perseverance (see here for a post on the provocations you could potentially use for this book).  I tell the students that we are going to go through the same process again, and identify the strategies the main character uses to persevere. With frequent turn and talks, we work our way through the story, identifying strategies, writing them on a post it note, and placing it on the effectiveness continuum.  Placing strategies on the continuum often ends up being a passionate conversation as students advocate and explain how and why a strategy may, or may not be effective depending on the situation.  For instance, is giving up always a bad strategy? Is taking a risk always a good strategy?

Try it, Apply it

As consolidation for understanding I have student work with a partner to brainstorm a strategy they recently used in a gritty situation. On a shared post it note they write it down, and come to a consensus around where it should be placed it on the continuum. Once the anchor chart is full, we do a quick recap and then hang it in a prominent place in the classroom.  In the coming days and weeks, as the class encounters gritty situations, we revisit the chart to remind and debrief.

I hope this post helps to highlight some of the strategies I’ve used to cultivate classroom conversations on the 6Cs.  Looking for more picture books around character, grit, tenacity, perseverance and resilience? Stay tuned for my next post where I highlight some of my favourites!


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