Welcome back to – what we hope will be for you – a great new year! Resolutions aside, the beginning of a new calendar year is an opportunity for everyone to review and take stock of those things that matter most. For parents, our children top the list, which means that their experience in school is not trivial. In our future-focussed stressed-out culture, academic success as measured by standardized tests and examinations is increasingly seen as a harbinger of success in life. However, as we begin 2020 together and prepare for a new term of studies, let’s consider this question: Are there differences between success in school and success in life?
Most schools operate as if these are the same, but that’s not the case. Many graduates who were strong students go on to find success in life, but often the students who find remarkable success in the real world aren’t those who were at the top of their class. That is certainly the case in my elementary, high school and university cohorts! The correlation between success in school and success in life is not as strong as one might think. To ensure a better correlation, increasing numbers of thought leaders are arguing that, in addition to developing academic skills and knowledge, the development of essential life skills is the real “difference maker”.
Of course students must able to read, write and calculate – and be competent in the use of technological tools. But mastery and understanding are not sufficient. If, as our mission states, our goal is “to prepare students for a successful future” (…not to settle by only preparing them for success at the next level of school), then we need to ensure they have the attitudes and attributes that are essential in the adult world (…remember folks, we’re raising adults, not kids!). These qualities are crucial, whether success is defined by earnings, by being a good significant other or parent, or by making a positive difference in the community and world.
And so, enter “grit” once again. Authentic teaching for success in life embraces the fact that everyone is going to “hit the wall” at some point. Whether at age 8, 18, or 28, there will be times when everyone will fall short. To ensure these “good failures” have a chance of being transformed into “good successes”, our students and children will need to be learning in schools and homes conducive to an environment that fosters grit, empathy, self-control, integrity – and an appreciation for diversity, properly understood.
As we prepare to embark on the next term of learning, let’s ensure that our students have what they need to practice and demonstrate real grit. To make this happen, they will need us to applaud effort and tenacity (not prop them up in an effort to promote a false self-esteem); we need to be comfortable with setting and maintaining high expectations (not looking for someone to blame when laxness yields poor results); we need to use a common vocabulary to articulate our goals for students (not rely on time-tested platitudes and excuses); we must create a caring and supportive “frustration” that accompanies students beyond their comfort zones (not “carpet the world” in an effort to ensure there are no obstacles); and we must monitor closely, and reflect and learn with them.
Some schools – and parents! – are uncomfortable with the process of fostering grit in students because it means that students must experience frustration. But we can do this in a setting of deep care. Effective schools understand that this work is necessary to prepare students to succeed in the challenges that lie ahead.
In the words of academic and science writer Angela Duckworth “let’s agree to be really, really demanding and really, really supportive!” as we begin Term 2 together!
Ric Anderson, Head of School