January 10, 2013

Tough, Grit, and Dinner in South Denver


Welcome back to school and a very happy New Year to everyone in our Friends’ School community.  I trust you had a restful and restorative break and spent some magical time with your children.

Last night, Thursday, I was lucky enough to experience something extremely rare at my house.  So rare in fact that it was unique. A first.

Many of you know that I commute into Boulder daily from my home near the University of Denver, a 52 mile round trip each day. Because of the distance between my home and Friends’ School, there isn’t a great deal of overlap between my home life and school.  This Thursday, however, it was my great pleasure to welcome nine Friends’ School teachers into my home to eat and drink at my kitchen table.

What were carloads of Boulder-based teachers doing in south Denver on a school night, you may ask? 

The answer: to attend a talk at St Mary’s Academy (where my elder daughter Emma is a high school sophomore) from one of the leading educational thinkers of our time.

Paul Tough was in town to talk about his latest book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity,and the Hidden Power of Character.  Tough is a dynamic speaker who has forward thinking ideas about character education.  

Best-selling author Paul Tough and his latest book
You may have read Tough’s essay, which appeared in the New York Times Magazine (where he is a regular contributor) in September of 2011.  Entitled What if the Secret to Success Is Failure?, it quickly made the rounds among educators and parents on social media.  Its central argument is that “overindulging kids, with the intention of giving them everything and being loving…. is a central paradox of contemporary parenting…..we all know - on some level, at least - that what kids need more than anything is a little hardship: some challenge….that they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.”

At our faculty in-service day earlier this week, our teachers discussed the major themes in Tough’s article and the broader issues of character education.  Among the questions we tackled were:

     What is your understanding of good character?

     How do Friends’ School students demonstrate that they are developing good character?

     What parts of your work here at Friends’ support our students to develop good character?

     Is good character something that can be taught in a formal way, in the classroom, or is it something that is inculcated gradually over years of experience?

     Which qualities matter most for a child trying to negotiate his or her way to a successful and autonomous adulthood?

Dr. Christine Carter of the Greater Good Science Center, in her visit to Friends’ School in October, discussed character education with our teachers.  She specifically highlighted the character trait grit, which is the topic of Tough’s new book. Based on her research, she told us that grit is the best indicator of how well our kids will do in college.  She defined grit as resilience or perseverance

In Paul Tough’s NYTimes article, he quotes leading researcher Angela Duckworth who discusses grit in this way: “People who accomplished great things often combined a passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.”

It’s what makes us get up and keep running after we fall and scrape our knee. It’s what makes us keep reading a book until the final chapter even if it’s a challenge for us.  It’s what makes us keep shooting baskets when we’re 20 points down.  It’s what makes us climb the last 1,000 feet of a Colorado 14-er. It’s what our Friends’ School teachers encourage in our students every day as they solve problems academically, socially, creatively, and physically.

And grit is what makes a dedicated group of educators (and a few parents!) drive 52 miles on a school night in the pursuit of education.

1 comment:

Marjorie Alexander said...

Friends' School is so lucky to have you. Hug.