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The Foundation

There are a number of skills and dispositions that have been found to be the most predictive of future life success that really have nothing to do with IQ or academic achievement: emotional intelligence, executive functioning, and self-efficacy to name a few. Unfortunately, we rarely teach these types of skills, because they aren't found in any standards document or on any standardized test. Recently, some schools have started implementing programs related to mindfulness, which may support and build these skills. However, in general, this is very limited. Perhaps one of the most important of these is the concept of perseverance, determination, resiliency, and grit.

While slightly different constructs, each are related and reinforce one another. In general terms, this is the ability to persist in the face of challenges, obstacles, and difficulties. This disposition is at the heart of learning new skills and improving performance. Learning and improvement are challenging and if we quit when things get difficult, we don't learn and we don't improve. This is true for athletes. It's true for students. And, it's true for those in the workforce.

One of the main ways we develop perseverance, resiliency, and grit is by being in situations that require those skills. This is the hard part. No one likes struggle. No teacher or parent likes for their child or student to struggle. We try to eliminate struggle for ourselves and for others. This is a natural part of being human--we constantly seek to make things simpler, more efficient, and more comfortable. Unfortunately, if we want to get better at something, we have to actually practice/experience whatever it is.

This is tricky. We want things to be challenging, so that they provide some amount of struggle, but they can't be so challenging that we quit or don't even try. In education, we call this productive struggle. Here's where the art of teaching is so important. There is no set formula for determining how much struggle anyone one student can handle. We have to intimately get to know our students, believe that they are capable of great things, challenge them to get better, and then provide just the right amount of support to make that happen.

Think about this as the +1 Principle. This principle is true for all learning. We diagnose what students already know and then teach them the next step (+1). We do this when we teach content and we have to do it when we teach perseverance, resiliency, and grit. Everyone has a certain capacity for those concepts already--it maybe huge or it maybe tiny. Here are some examples of how we use the concept of +1 to build that capacity.

Elementary students can barely sit still for 5 minutes of independent reading time and we want them to be at 20 minutes. We don't just jump to 20 minutes. We set a goal of 6 minutes for tomorrow, 7 minutes for next week, and 10 for the week after. We build their capacity to preserver. Students who struggle in math may give up when we give them 20 questions to complete. Maybe today they do 10, next week 15, and the following week 20. This doesn't mean that we are lowering our ultimate expectations and it doesn't mean that we use this as an excuse to not let them struggle. We need to find the right amount of struggle that leads to growth.

We are facing many challenges to learning. However, the current situation also provides a great opportunity to build resiliency, determination, grit, and perseverance for students. The trick is to find what +1 looks like for our students in our current situation.

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