October 17, 2013

“I have grit. I can do it!” – Character Education at its Finest

2nd and 3rd graders showed grit
this week building boats -
more photos on our Facebook page 
Two boys in Beth Huennekens’ first grade class were building a house last week out of blocks, using a "blueprint" that one of them had sketched. They were having a tricky time putting the building together based on the drawing.  They worked at it for more than 20 minutes and were building and problem solving the whole time.  At one point one of the boys turned to the other and said, "Don't give up.  Don't you want grit?  I wanted to stop one time, but I kept going and it felt so good to finish it.  We can do it!"

Beth has been reading to her students books that feature characters who overcome the odds, or who keep persevering until they find success.  Titles include well-known favorites like The Little Engine That Could, Are You My Mother? and The Hare and The Tortoise as well as newer books such as The Dandelion Seed and Crickwing. In her classroom, she has created a ‘Grit Wall’ where the tenacious fictional characters are highlighted.

She has invited parents into her class to share stories of when they had to persevere.  One father came in and talked about a mountain climbing trip in Nepal.  We all have stories from when we had to summon the strength of our character to overcome something difficult and we succeeded.

Six of our Friends’ School Trustees joined me in Vail last week for the 25th Annual Heads/Trustees Workshop of the Association of Colorado Independent Schools. It is a rewarding time for school leaders to gather and to learn from experts, and from each other, about the latest trends in independent school education.

Character education is clearly one of those trends. I am very proud to say that Friends’ School is ahead of the curve when it comes to teaching our students the skills that our children will need in a global economy. You may have heard the term “21st century skills” – these are the ‘intangible’ skills that are creativity, innovation, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and character.
1st grade teacher Beth Huennekens
already required in a complex, interconnected world:

Following our hugely successful Gratitude Project last year, Friends’ teachers are focusing on different elements of character education this year.  We began the year concentrating on grit or perseverance. As 3rd grade teacher Diane Bramble highlighted in a recent article for the Happenings, on behalf of our newly formed Culture Committee, future character traits that we will focus on include: self-reliance, optimism, gratitude, conscientiousness, kindness, courage and curiosity.

All of our classrooms, from preschool to 5th grade, are incorporating formal lessons on grit as well as finding teachable moments.  Yesterday, I enjoyed my time in Mary Pearsall’s 4th grade class reading a story and incorporating character education into a drama activity.

Our Kindergartners, following a discussion on grit from teacher Laurie Nakauchi, created their own chant “I have grit.  I can do it!”  This proved eminently helpful later on, in P.E. class, when Kathy Sherwood gave the class a ropes challenge.  Kathy reported that these five year olds completed the tasks quicker and more easily than other classes in the past because they used exceptional teamwork – and because they brought out their chant and supported each other in reaching their goal.

Earlier this week, our elementary teachers were discussing all the different learning opportunities and character lessons that are happening in their classrooms. Several teachers commented that they were seeing a better attitude towards academics because of this stick-to-it-ness on which they have focused.

Math specialist Erika Norman observed that even when we are willing to put in the time and effort to persevere, we don’t always get what we aim for, but we almost always learn something new. Helping our students persist is helping them to succeed.

1 comment:

shelpaw said...

I'm so happy to be part of a community that actively discusses, integrates, practices, and reflects on grit and other important learning dispositions. The reminder that children have power and internal resources for persevering in challenging situations is a great gift.