The founders of the excellent, pioneering KIPP charter schools noticed that many of their students were not graduating from college despite having the academic chops to do so. A whole New York Times story later, they realized that the students lacked important "non-cognitive" traits and adopted one in particular, "grit."
Grit is a modern rebranding of an old term; essentially it is a mixture of resilience, determination, and perseverance. The history of its synonyms traces the history of the education of "non-cognitive" traits. Perseverance and resilience have been extensively studied by psychologists and were cornerstones of the various "character" education movements through the twentieth century. In the nineteenth century and the colonial era, grit would have been known as "long-suffering."
Whatever the word, it is an important idea. Here are three easy ways, ripped from the pages of From Rebel to Ruler, to improve your students' grittiness (and other important "non-cognitive" traits):
- Stoic Reflection: Like Emperor Marcus Aurelius, use a journal to confront difficulties. Encourage them to think about negative emotions. A good prompt: "Anger reveals your values. For example, if someone makes fun of your family and you get very angry, that means you value family highly. When was the last time you were angry? What values were revealed?"
- Hero Worship: Encourage students to find people in history that they admire and to learn everything they can about them. A few interesting assignments could be, "Who was your hero's hero?" Or, "What was your hero like when he was your age?" George Washington, as a youth, looked up to the Ancient Roman hero Cincinnatus, who was famous for stepping down after being granted absolute power. After Washington won the Revolutionary War, he famously stepped out of public life for a few years, just like his hero.
- Hobbies are Passions: Encourage your students to think deeply about their hobbies, be they sports or creative pursuits. A good assignment would be for them to teach their hobbies. Where would a beginner start? Why should anyone pursue this hobby? Who are some of the best/most skilled/most admired at this hobby? When did you realize you loved this hobby?
If you want more activities like these, to help you turn your rebellious teenagers into worthy leaders, click here.