By Harriet Clay
A lot has been said about ‘developing grit’ in children recently. What is shocking is that this ‘news’ is considered a new fact, as though developing resilience and inspiring passion in children has not been something teachers have done since the dawn of time. Can people not remember the expression, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again?”
I think the “newsworthy” part of the story is that scoring highly in one’s IQ test is not a pre-determiner of success. Rather, the ones who succeed are the ones who stick at it, the ones who “have grit” and this is the part of the story I would like parents to focus on.
I think parents who wrongly obsess over levels, marks and scores need to realize that those symbols and grades given at the year’s end are worthless when we look to answer the question, “will my child do well in life?”. What is important is inspiring a love of learning in your child, for a child who no longer wants to learn is truly lost and the only way to get children to be resilient and to keep at it, is to have them foster a goal that is important and of interest to them.
Despite technology’s many advantages, the one distinct disadvantage I have seen is its aiding and abetting children’s natural lazy tendencies. I know this, not as an observation, but from my own experience as I grew up in the age of emerging technology. Rather than work on my spelling, I would use computer spell check, embarrassingly leading me to flunk 2nd year English at university. Despite this setback, writing was always a passion, so I took the knock and completed my Journalism Degree by taking extra courses in my final year (showing grit). However, that determination to fulfil long-term goals by putting in hard slog seems to be fading fast in children.
Last year A-lined Tutors offered holiday enrichment tours, aimed at inspiring children with themed days out. Our first trip was an Art Tour with a trip to Buckingham Palace, Queen’s Gallery and State Rooms followed by a clay workshop at the National Portrait Gallery. The next tour was History themed where we found ourselves on The Lost Palace Tour, discovering the past through virtual reality! Sounds pretty exciting right? No. The children seemed bored, unable to re-imagine their surroundings and transport their minds to picture what it was like in the capital centuries ago. I asked one of the children what would have made the tour better and they said, if they could have had a headset so that they could see what was being described to them as they walked around the remains of the palace. I was stunned that a child as young as 8 now relied on technology to fully enjoy themselves. When I asked, ‘how do you picture the settings and the characters in the books you read’, they said they didn’t need to read as they could watch TV, and I think my soul died a little.
This is one example of countless others I have heard as a teacher, children simply don’t want to expend the energy it takes to put in a bit of effort. And why would they want to when they are told they are top of the class, or working above expectations by a curriculum which now has no levels.
So what do we do then you ask? How do we teach children resilience and foster grit?
I do it by asking my children how much closer they are to their goals. No one wants to expend effort on things that are not important to them, least of all children, so one has to marry the idea of hard work with the idea of the success one wants for oneself. When you have a clear path set out, the grit and determination one has to expend no longer looms like a singular mountain of work, but becomes a series of small steps on a pathway to success. In this way we take on small manageable tasks, and when we succeed it gives us the confidence to persevere in the times when we fail.
Importantly, children need to know that failure is an important part of learning and is not a setback, but a chance to reflect on how things can be done differently. Finally, children need to be taught how to problem-solve, how to think creatively to find new ways of doing things.
If children can do that they will be successful, as industry demands now, more than ever, people who can take on a challenge and find new ways of solving global issues. And maybe it’s not always about working harder, but working smarter, either way, no success will be seen without ‘work’.