"We are living a public life on a global stage, the ones who can express themselves best, will be heard." -Laura Hill, Author The Great Story World Mix-Up, co-creator #whatisschool

Read the books I write with my children.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

True Grit

/grit/ noun courage and resolve, strength of character

Grit is a term I've heard used often and loudly in scholastic arenas.  The word itself means to have strength of character, resolve, a certain stick-to-itiveness embodied by a clenched jaw and John Wayne-esque stance.  In education arenas I have heard it used to describe desired student behavior and as a battle cry for modeling that behavior, teach students to have grit and they will succeed!  I thought I knew grit, what it meant and how to use it, but then something happened that changed my mind.

Me after my second surgery
In fact, two things happened that gave me pause for some deep reflective thought.  One was very personal, in April I was diagnosed with skin cancer, which had formed on my nose and back.  This was a very treatable cancer in which the affected area was surgically removed.  I had my first two operations in April, the last three in June and July, I won't say it wasn't painful physically and emotionally (nobody wants a surgeon cutting away at their snout) but nothing compared to chemo or radiation treatment.  At the same time my father fell and was hospitalized for months requiring surgery for a fractured hip and rehab, two friends died suddenly, one of heart failure and the other as the result of a fall down a flight of stairs and my insurance dropped me in the middle of surgery for not checking a box on the renewal form.  I was an emotional and physical mess.  If there was ever a time for grit, this was it.

The other thing that happened was a student I was working with was removed from her family.  I have been working almost exclusively with kids at risk for the past year and had gotten to know this child as an extremely bright student with a lot of potential.  I had watched this student struggle to continue excelling as home life deteriorated complicated by drugs and lack of authorative presence.

Ava and Kayla raising funds to
buy supplies for Save-A-Pet
We went down our paths simultaneously, me choosing to channel my powerful emotions fueled by pain and anxiety into creating and giving, helping my daughters get involved with Kindness Heroes a program in beta test sponsored by Misha Collins and his Random Acts Of Kindness program; my student struggling to make sense of what was happening.  I was able to channel my frustrations into a new gallery show titled the Celebrity Series, I rekindled my love of rock drumming and hiked wooded climbs everyday to get strong again.  While I poured my energy into wellness and art I noticed that many colleagues I relied on took my illness as an opportunity to advance themselves and as some doors closed I found a whole new set flung wide open with support pouring in from the artistic community, teachers and giving institutions.  My student also found an outlet on stage building self-esteem and like me, finding support from unusual sources.  We both found out what true grit meant.  It can't be taught, it is not a label, it is an experience in which you pull yourself up out of hole, that experience strengthens you and makes you grow as a person into someone who is more empathetic, determined, confident in what you can achieve and give, knowing you will succeed if your willing to go the mile.  

So what’s the point?

As you start your school year you will find yourself in challenging situations-motivating students, managing behavior, searching for funding, rethinking classroom set up, administrative differences, difficult colleagues, children at risk, cultural barriers in the community.  I would challenge you this year to not get frustrated but instead to look for the silver linings.  Use your grit to come up with creative solutions to your problems and model this for your students.  Who knows, that kid that can't sit still could be the next robotics genius, that administrator who drives you crazy could come up with funding for your pet tech project.  

I was once told the story of a teacher whose very studious class was faced with a noisy ruckus outside their classroom door.  The teacher asked her students for suggestions to quiet the noise.  Half said to yell at the noisy students while the other half suggested calling an administrator to quiet them down.  The teacher simply walked over and closed the classroom door.

We can only control our own behavior.

Use your grit this year to model by leading who knows what you will accomplish or what you will learn.