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Grit, Growth Mindsets, and Technology

Today's guest post is written by Zachary Walker, a faculty member at the National Institute of Education (NIE) in Singapore.

We need teachers who are a little bit crazy. And brave. And gritty. Dr. Angela Duckworth's work on grit and Dr. Carol Dweck's work on growth mindsets have received rapt attention from educational leaders and policy makers. Educators are considering how we can teach our students grit by saying the right things, asking the right questions, or giving them feedback using the right phrases.

I think it is much simpler than that. 

In a world where students will constantly be faced with learning new tools and overcoming challenges, the best teachers are often the ones who model what it is like to try new technologies in class. They are willing to stand in front of a group of students and, sometimes, fail. And, sometimes, succeed. Either way, they can model growth for their students through these experiences.

When I was student teaching, my student teaching supervisor said to me, "You have to be what you want to see."  That was his first lesson to me and one that has stuck with me throughout my career. If we want students with a growth mindset who show grit, we have to model it for them.  When we use new technologies and try innovative tools or ideas in class, we have the opportunity to model three important things.

1- We are brave
The teachers who use technology are usually the bravest teachers in school. In today's world, we have to model the willingness to take a chance and try new things. We can't settle for old lesson plans just because that is always how we have always done it. Teachers who try new things understand things will go wrong (and they will) but they model persistence and resilience through those experiences. Modeling a "no fear" approach to learning is critical for students in a world where things are changing rapidly. Teachers who use tech attack life and teaching by pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. If we want students who adapt in life and continue to push themselves, we have to model it. That is bravery. 

2- The key to grit is how we respond
We all have the colleague who tries something new with technology but tosses it down, sighs loudly, and gets frustrated when it does not work perfectly. When we respond to challenges this way, we are giving permission to our students to act the same way when they struggle in math or when they do not understand how to conjugate a verb. We are telling them it is okay to toss the homework down and give up. 

We all know that using technology in class will sometimes go wrong. The most powerful lesson we can teach our students about grit and growth is not about the technology itself, but about how respond when things do not go right. It is looking at your class, smiling, and saying, "Well, that did not work; let's try that again tomorrow."

3- There are multiple ways to solve a problem
When it does not go the way we expect, we also have the opportunity to find "work-arounds" that solve the problem. Maybe that app did not have the feature you though it did... but you found a different one that a student suggested.  Maybe that tool did not support everyone on-line at the same time... but you paired students up and found it actually worked better as a group activity.  Maybe the mobile devices were reaaaalllllly slow that day... so you had them sketch everything out on paper first. 

By saying, "Well, that did not work; let's try something else instead," you are acknowledging the failure but not accepting it. The point is that there is ALWAYS a solution...finding it requires persistence and resilience. And those are the characteristics we want to see in our kids. 

Be Brave. Be Bold. Be Gritty. Use Technology
As has often been said, using technology is a mindset, not a skillset. It is a willingness to go outside your comfort zone and try something anyway. We ask students to do this every single day in class- learn something new, go outside what they know, stretch themselves mentally. But we also have to model that behavior. Grit is something that cannot be taught through a phrase or a comment or a question. Having a growth mindset has to be modeled. Using technology is one great way to show students that when we are brave and try new things, sometimes we are going to fail. And when things go wrong, we can bounce back up, show some grit, find another solution, and succeed anyway.  Remember, we have to be what we want to see.


Zachary is the author of Teaching the Last Backpack Generation

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