“The struggle is real.” A phrase that is often seen or heard when describing a challenge. When someone is going through a hard time, we describe it as a struggle. I have to be honest, this past week was a struggle for me. The struggle was real. The winter cold/flu that everyone has had finally caught up with me. It kept me home, off the road and finally after six full days of taking it easy, I was coming around. Down time gives you time to rest and reflect. And, as I was catching up on some reading, I thought about many of the conversations during this past school year that I have had in schools about what we expect of students.
Do we expect enough? Do we actually let them struggle with their work? Are we letting them figure things out? Use critical thinking skills, strategies and their own ideas to solve problems? Maybe, just maybe, we jump in just a little too soon to give them the answers. To lead them to the answer that we want? And, sometimes, I know that we lower our standards. Present reading text that is easier, change our questions to reflect where we think that they are at in their learning. I understand, as an educator, the need to meet students where they are at and work from there, however, the more I work in schools with low performing students, the more I notice that we often are teaching below what we really know should be our expectations.
I was reading some posts this week that referenced “leveling up our lives”, “shooting for the moon”, “working towards the ceiling instead of the floor.” It seems to me that these type of messages are all about expectations and the importance of seeing and keeping the end in mind. Work ethic often means that we have the GRIT to stick with something, to see it through, no matter how hard it seems. I am amazed when I see the performance of athletes who have come back from serious life-threatening injuries only to reinvent themselves and reach or exceed their potential. You can only imagine the struggle of their experiences. They might make it look easy to us as they perform but the hours and days of struggle are not as obvious.
The same can be said for our students. A common discussion that I have had with teachers this year is about the lack of stamina that students seem to have to stick with their work. They “won’t” read a long text, they don’t “want” to finish a project and they quickly turn to the adults in the room to give them the answers. Our conversations require a mindset shift on our part; instead of pointing a finger at what they, the students, can not do, it is necessary for us, as the adults, to think about what we can do differently to build the stamina, create a culture of GRIT and to develop a positive attitude about “struggle”.
A teacher recently talked to me about how difficult it is for him to pause and to create space and time for a student or students to think. He is a veteran teacher and recognizes in himself that he has developed a habit of asking a question and then not having any wait time for students to come up with the answer. The students have him figured out. They know that if they don’t answer, he will do it for them. He confessed to me that he loves his students and has always felt the need to jump in and help them. He now recognizes that he is actually enabling them by not providing an opportunity for them to struggle a bit or a lot… to actually create an opportunity for them to feel challenged and then the success that comes from doing something difficult. He is working hard to change so that the students are experiencing more of the thinking and the doing. And, he is being very clear on what he expects and that he can not lower these expectations just because they are struggling. And, despite not wanting me to talk about him here in this blog (well, at least not identifying him), he knows that I am very proud of how he continues to grow and learn in our profession.
School improvement is about people improvement…adults and students. It really is about continuous learning and this might have to involve a bit more struggle. It is ok for things to be challenging, to cause us to think differently and for solutions and strategies to be generated from effort. About a year ago, I used a theme that I had seen with the Toronto Raptors NBA team and I bring it back here again… GRIT over GIVEN. It says so much about the amazing benefits of sticking with the work, seeing a project through, doing the heavy lifting, struggling…
Have a great week. Remember to make mindset adjustments as needed when you think about building stamina, raising expectations and encouraging others to think for themselves.