Here is a letter I wrote to another teacher today:
Your feelings are quite understandable. Your deep level of concern reflects the love you have for your students and your intense yearning to see them fulfill their potential in life. I agree that grit is essential in order for them to accomplish this.
I would like to see all students believe they are powerful, gifted with unique talents, and given an individual voice and perspective to share with the world.
I would like them to all claim their place in time and space and shout out to the universe that they were here and made a positive difference.
I would like to see each one of them fight valiantly and tirelessly to end injustice, hate, violence, poverty, hunger, and every other scourge on humanity.
I would like them to really know that we care deeply about them, appreciate them for who they are, will advocate for them, and want the best for them.
I would like them to ignite the passions in their lives, instill curiosity and self-directed motivation that will propel them into lifelong learning.
Just like growth mindset, grit requires students to change their way of thinking about themselves and their circumstances.
They must believe that success is not just luck; they must prepare and put forth the effort that will increase their chances of success.
They must be encouraged to feel capable in their endeavors, to reach confidently towards their goals and to get up when they fall and try again, learning something new each time they fail and understanding that they are one step closer to success.
They must truly see the meaning in their lives and embrace the possibility that they can change the world and offer something special.
They must cease viewing themselves of victims of circumstance and instead view themselves as overcomers who rise like a phoenix from the ashes of defeat, pain, failure, abuse, and every other horrible thing our students must endure.
They must see themselves as survivors who are tough and strong despite fear, opposition, discrimination, institutionalized racism and prejudice, people who hate and judge them and who would love to see them fail miserably.
They must acknowledge that skills can be improved, but it takes time and practice and disappointments: no one is great at anything the first time they try.
They need perseverance and hope that will endure in a world where people would exploit, profit from, steal from, scam, silence, harm, abuse, deceive, addict, use, and sacrifice them for their own selfish gain.
We live in a world where enemies can gain internet fame by broadcasting a stunning defeat to the world so everyone can laugh in unison at them. With the deck so stacked against them, it is easy to be discouraged.
But this world also offers so many opportunities for challenge, change, disruption, questioning, and conquering failure against all odds. Students must learn wisdom, discretion, common sense, kindness, respect, love, and so many other skills – but are they listening to us? Probably not. How do we provide opportunities for them to see what they need? How do we design activities that help them sharpen these skills they need? How do we get them to work together to construct learning from the readings and discussions? Do we ask ourselves? Do we ask them?
I believe that we must practice letting go and giving students the control of their learning, guiding them along when necessary, but allowing them to research and struggle and question and wonder and discuss on their own. Yes, we teach the standards, but we gently hand off the learning through the gradual release of responsibility so that they are the curators of their knowledge and understanding. Chromebooks can help realize this goal if they are used as a tool and not the solution to the problem.
We must purposefully plan to use technology to enhance our instruction and not overwhelm or distract. We must harness the power of the tool and use it when most appropriate for the situation. Most of all, we must first believe in ourselves and our training. We teach and use our own professional knowledge of pedagogy and effective strategies. We commit to lifelong learning and agree to learn and change and adapt. Computers cannot replace us – they do not love, nor comfort, nor touch a student’s heart, though we may incorporate digital tools for those goals.
[A particular curriculum] is replete with menial tasks, but the tasks are based on teaching those skills of analysis that they will need for critical thinking. Teachers can still incorporate their own creativity and sources and experiences. Why are the menial tasks tied to their GPA? Must all the menial tasks be completed? If so, could they be combined? If so, could students design a task more interesting to them with the same criteria? How can we relate them to what the student actually cares about? How can we engage them?
Some immediate thoughts: we could meet them where they are – we could use Instagram to teach, or Snapchat, or any other tool that is out there. We can flip our classrooms, or have discussions, or go outside for a QR code treasure hunt. We could create simulations, produce podcasts, create games, author apps, write PSAs, interview members of the community, collect photographs as evidence of the problems in the community, bring in speakers who can inspire and discuss with students, even have students tell their stories.
If you would like to plan with me or another instructional coach, we can assist in supporting student engagement or any other concerns you have in your classes. I would love to sit with you and listen to your ideas, or if you would like, I could share some strategies that I have seen used successfully within the district. We can design tasks together that you think will inspire and motivate your students. I can just listen if you want to vent. Remember that all meetings are confidential and that we will not disclose the content of our meetings to anyone else.