Today I was out on yard duty and I saw a very mopey boy walking around without his friends in the yard. I asked him why he was so glum and he told me that it was the worst recess ever. So I asked him why? He told me a story about how he was told by some other kids that he sucked at basketball. His feelings got hurt and he walked away from the game.
Serendipity struck, and the best athlete in my class walked by. I asked the sad boy to tell him the story. This time the sad boy added “I’m never going to play basketball again” to the end of the story.
Without prompting, the other boy replied “NO”. He said “you just need to practice more and learn to play the game better”. Then he told a story of how he learned to play speed (a card game) at his daycare. At first he was terrible, but he played every day so that he could get better. Last week he beat one of the big kids. He said he’s still not really good, but he’s getting better.
I could have cried. Perfect timing kid.
He gave the other boy the best advice ever. It was real; it was honest. When we got to class I made the sad boy tell his story to the class. I also made the other boy tell his story. Then a bunch of the other kids offered to play basketball with the sad boy so that he could get better at the game.
It was a moment.
Then I remembered how en vogue the word “grit” was in the summer and early fall. I took a look back through some bookmarked links and found this great article about teaching strength of character to kids in school. The long and short of the article is that kids need high expectations placed on them in order to succeed. They need opportunities to fail and people to encourage them to keep trying: “If [children] don’t have an opportunity to really push themselves and struggle and overcome failure, they’re going to go through life lost.”
The advice that was given in my class today was perfect. It was a message of don’t quit, practice. Not “it’s ok. you’re really nice and you don’t have to be good at basketball.” The others in class didn’t patronize him. They offered to help him. Maybe he’ll use this help to become the next Michael Jordan. Maybe he’ll go and collect worms tomorrow instead of playing basketball. Who knows.
What I really liked though was that the class offered him the kind of help that grit specialist Angela Lee Duckworth would love. They offered him help to isolate what he didn’t know; to identify his own weaknesses and then work on fixing them. I’m hoping that we can refer back to this day the next time that something difficult comes up in class.
Ideas and resources on developing grit in students would be awesome. Share em’ if you got em’ please.