No single character trait alone determines the success of a teacher. A broad and complex set of skills is needed to be effective, especially today in light of ongoing budget cuts and changing instructional mandates. However, growing evidence suggests that “grit” is one quality that stands out as teachers face the challenge of navigating the rigors of teaching—and not quitting.
We’ve heard a lot about grit and how important it is for educators to encourage students to persevere and reach their goals. But qualities such as tenacity, optimism, and resilience are just as critical for teachers to develop as students. In this article, we’ll look at ways to develop and strengthen grit in our teachers.
Grit, Not a Line on a Resume
During the hiring process, school districts typically do not collect data on a potential teacher’s “grit” characteristics. Yet, studies suggest that teachers with grit outperform teachers without grit. In addition, they are more likely to stick with their job and with teaching as a profession. Naturally, we want “gritty” teachers who will weather whatever storms occur in the extremely difficult profession of education. The problem is, grit can be hard to define—leaving administrators asking: How can we identify gritty teachers in the hiring process?
Fortunately, there are signs to look for on a resume that may suggest a teacher has a higher level of passion and perseverance. For example, an applicant may have played a team sport for four years or served as class president. Or perhaps the candidate may have a demonstrated track record of service work. By looking closely at an individual’s resume, school districts may find these types of observations a reliable way to inform hiring decisions.
How to Get Grit
Is hiring gritty teachers upfront the only way? Certainly not. New hires and other teachers can develop grit qualities. It boils down to practicing grit-building behaviors every day. But, like anything else, it takes hard work. Teachers will get better, refine, and revise as they become mentally tougher. One inspired action at a time will get them to their goal.
Here are a few other ways to begin developing this most important trait:
- Find grit role models. The positive energy and motivation found in other teachers and administrators can fuel long-term momentum. Teachers who surround themselves with can-do people will find that grittiness is contagious. In addition, it’s a good idea to read about and find inspiration in famous “gritty” people in history, such as Ben Franklin, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, and Mart Luther King.
- Create a list of traits to develop. There is no magic list of grit traits. Each teacher must decide which grit traits may be helpful in driving their own professional growth. For instance, a teacher dealing with behavior issues may need to focus on self-control. Another teacher dealing with budget setbacks may put optimism at the top of their list.
- Identify 1-2 grit traits each week to emulate. Easy does it is a good slogan when developing grit. Teachers can break down this daunting task by focusing on a couple of important grit qualities each week to practice. Practice makes perfect. It makes us tougher and better equipped to face the ups and downs in the classroom and outside.
- Create a grit genealogy map. Throughout our lives, various people shape our thinking and direction. It’s important to think about those people and the lessons they successfully taught us. There may be people who were models of work ethic, courage, or open-mindedness. By thinking about how they overcome obstacles and challenges along their path to achievement, a teacher can find the stamina to stay the course and win the marathon, not the sprint.
For a deeper look at grit and its role in a teacher’s success, check out SDE’s webinar Modeling Grit: Developing Educator Perseverance Skills (Grades K–12) by educator and author Jim Grant.