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The grit to say ‘Watch me!’

Posted: August 14, 2017 4:47 p.m.
Updated: August 15, 2017 1:00 a.m.

In my old age, I’ve been re-asking myself questions that I asked myself a lot when I was younger. Meaning of life kinds of stuff. The question I’ve been asking myself again recently has to do with actual purpose of public education, and education in general. What are we trying to do? What’s our end game? What should students leaving us after 13 years be prepared to do in the 21st century that is now almost 17 years gone?

My brother’s career got me to thinking more about this. He is a retired computer guy who spent the better part of his career doing technology infrastructure for Capital One. (Remember Y2K? He was telling me about it in 1998.) He graduated from Virginia Tech with a computer science degree in 1978. I remember him doing his programming projects on punch cards for a mainframe computer that was the size of classroom. Really.

I asked him not long ago how much of his degree work remained relevant as his career progressed and technology changed. He told me that there were a lot of fundamental concepts from his training and education that remained relevant even as the technology changed at an unbelievably rapid rate. He also told me that the key to succeeding in this environment was the ability and willingness to adjust to continuous innovation, absorb new knowledge, develop additional skills, embrace new ideas and ways of doing things and not be intimidated by complex problems and challenges.

My brother’s experience is not all that unique if you think about it. Almost all of us can talk about how our work environments have changed over the years. Consider the changes physicians, for example, have seen because of new medical, pharmaceutical and technological breakthroughs. As another example, teachers today have to be able to use technologies that were unimaginable even 15-20 years ago.

We’re teaching lessons today that might seem perfectly reasonable and useful in 2017, but may not be as relevant in even 10 years. I remember hearing a futurist speaker say that we’re preparing kids for jobs that haven’t even been thought up yet. I agree. Think about it. The kids who come to kindergarten this year will enter the work world in the early 2030s with working lives that extend to the 2060s and 2070s or longer. Pretty mind-boggling.

So in terms of education, what’s our ultimate purpose in a world where increasingly rapid and unprecedented change is a given? I’ve been trying to find something that gets at this in a succinct and impactful way. 

Then I saw it. There’s a commercial that played during the various football bowl and playoff games last December and January that really nailed it for me. The commercial was for a smart phone. The guy who did the talking described people who, when told that they couldn’t do something or that something wasn’t possible, responded by saying “Watch me!” and did it. Click here to watch the video. It’s worth the time if you haven’t seen it. 

What hit me square in the face was that while it is undoubtedly our job to help our students master academic content, it is just as important, if not more so, to nurture our students to be curious, innovative, persistent and confident enough to say “Watch me!” when a really difficult challenge is on the table. In education circles over the past several years, this quality has come to be known as “grit.” 

“Grit” has been defined by researchers as a “combination of passion, resilience, determination and focus that allows a person to maintain the discipline and optimism to persevere in their goals even in the face of discomfort, rejection and a lack of visible progress for years, or even decades.” (Back in the dark ages of my youth, my high school football coach called it “desire and determination.”) Researchers have identified grit as being as important a factor to success as knowledge and skills, if not more so. 

I believe that a tremendously important part of our work in schools is helping students to develop grit. This can be done in the classroom, on the athletic field, through extracurricular activities and through community service. Families need to be a partner with us in helping students grow in this area. I think sometimes as educators and families, we’re a little too quick to intervene to resolve a problem for young people versus helping them learn to figure it out on their own. Long after our students and children leave us, grit will be the quality to enable them to be the best they can be.

I hope that in Kershaw County, we are helping to develop a generation of young people who have the grit to say “Watch me!” when confronted with a seemingly insurmountable challenge.

School starts on Thursday! Let’s have a great school year!

I’m always pleased to talk with folks about our schools. My direct dial phone number is (803) 425-8916 and my email is frank.morgan@kcsdschools.net. Citizens can also contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district website. I also invite community members to read my “blog,” which can also be reached through a link on the homepage of the district website. In addition, I do a podcast after each school board meeting summarizing the meeting. This podcast can also be accessed through a link on the district homepage.

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