Monday, April 24, 2017

Grit versus Resiliency

There is this new meme for discussions in public education circles about helping kids - especially those in crisis - find "grit."  To me, this sounds much like a sports idea when a kid gets hurt; "throw some dirt on it and get back up."

It'sa good thing to encourage kids to learn how to rise up against issues and outcomes, big and small.  But we all remember what it feels like - as a child - to not know just how you were going to climb over, dig under or just plain outwait a problem.

A very good op-ed appeared in this morning's New York Times from Sheryl Sandberg: How to Build Resilient Kids, Even After a Loss.   As you may recall, Ms. Sandberg, Facebook COO, suffered the sudden loss of her husband two years ago, leaving her with two young children to raise alone. (bold mine)

As parents, teachers and caregivers, we all want to raise resilient kids — to develop their strength so they can overcome obstacles big and small. Resilience leads to better health, greater happiness and more success. The good news is that resilience isn’t a fixed personality trait; we’re not born with a set amount of it. Resilience is a muscle we can help kids build.
Adolescents who feel that they matter are less likely to suffer from depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts. They’re less likely to lash out at their families and engage in rebellious, illegal and harmful behaviors. Once they reach college, they have better mental health.
And every kid faces challenges. Some stumbles are part of growing up. Forgetting lines in a school play. Failing a test. Losing a big game. Seeing a friendship unravel. Other hardships are far more severe. Two out of 10 children in the United States live in poverty. More than 2.5 million kids have a parent in jail, and many endure serious illness, neglect, abuse or homelessness. We know that the trauma from experiences like these can last a lifetime; extreme harm and deprivation can impede a child’s intellectual, social, emotional and academic progress. As a society, we owe all our children safety, support, opportunity and help finding a way forward.
Then she gets to a point that cannot be said enough in our technology driven society:
We can start by showing children that they matter. Sociologists define “mattering” as the belief that other people notice you, care about you and rely on you. It’s the answer to a vital question that all children ask about their place in the world starting as toddlers, and continuing into and beyond adolescence: Do I make a difference to others?
What can you do?
As parents, we sometimes feel helpless because it’s impossible to solve our children’s problems. In those situations, we can still provide support by “companioning” — walking alongside them and listening.

When children grow up with a strong understanding of their family’s history — where their grandparents grew up, what their parents’ childhoods were like — they have better coping skills and a stronger sense of mattering and belonging.

Talking openly about memories — not just positive ones, but difficult ones, too — can help kids make sense of their past and rise to future challenges. It’s especially powerful to share stories about how the family sticks together through good times and bad, which allows kids to feel that they are connected to something larger than themselves. Studies show that giving all members of the family a chance to tell their version builds self-esteem, particularly for girls. And making sure to integrate different perspectives into a coherent story builds a sense of control, particularly for boys.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where's the news in this? Everything Sandberg is saying just uses different words to describe the well established truth that intact families that provide positive role models create better outcomes for kids.

It's not about the schools, it's about the families and the values. Expecting schools to completely make up for missing families and missing values is completely unrealistic.

Duh

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think you missed the point that there are steps a parent(s) can take to support their child thru hard times whether at school or at home.

Zorro said...

Kids need more than "intact" families to thrive. A two parent family can still provide kids with a life of abuse or neglect or substance abuse or untreated mental health problems or serious disease. Kids do best with non-dysfunctional families. But that ain't how the world works. Although Seattle's median income was up to $80,349 in 2015. Up $9,374 from the year before, that's no panacea for the city's kids.

No amount of money prevents your father from dying. Rich people's kids get cancer. The children of rich people are orphaned by car accidents. The ten leading causes of death in the U.S. (heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, accidents, stroke, Alzheimer's, diabetes, flu and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide) afflict the parents of school children at every level of the income spectrum.

Resilience is a muscle. And schools owe children help finding a way forward. Children do best when they feel like they matter, when they can put words to their stories, when people notice them.

We should be doing this for all children unconditionally. Whether their mom is the COO of Facebook or a homeless bipolar unwed single mother with diabetes and boyfriend trouble. A school's job is the students, not the parents.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you, Zorro.

Anonymous said...

I bought into the grit deal (even most of read the book) until I figured out it was just another way to blame kids for failing. Oh well, too bad, guess you weren't gritty enough, nothing the school or politicians or anybody could have done about it. They talk about encouraging kids to be gritty but they're awful short of the details. How many people can change their personality just because they've been told to? It's like telling depressed people to just be happy. Good intentions but then what? Some kids just require a lot of help and there's cheap shortcut around that.

The Sandberg essay at least has concrete advice that widowed billionaires can use.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting to me because I'm a teacher who has become more indifferent to my kids this year. A grade level change. Students who demand so much more and are among the most misbehaved and disrespectful I've ever taught. My history is that I've always been nurturing and understanding. But not this year. And it shows. My kids are having harder times and I recognize it but couldn't put my finger on why. This article changes that.

I realize I haven't made each one a friend, someone special to me. It makes a difference. I know that. But without denying my own culpability in this, really part of the blame is the system. I and my two co-teachers as well as other grade level teachers are overworked and burned out. You wouldn't believe how much I have to teach in three hours a day. Sounds like a lot? Not when you consider what is on our plates and the plates of young children today. A co-teacher and I were discussing it tonight. We rush them through everything. Oh, how I long for the days when I actually had a two-hour literacy time. Now I literally scrape together a few minutes a day for read aloud which is hugely important in keeping my struggling readers engaged and all my kids inspired to read with expression and understanding.

My perfect day would be what it was when I started teaching: two hours for literacy including writing, 45 min. to an hour for math, and the rest of the time filled with small dabs of science and art activities not to mention simple class talks, social tasks, celebrations, and many more read alouds and discussions. I guess you had to be there to understand how it has all changed. Nobody is winning today. Stressed out kids, burned out teachers, and chaos in many classrooms. That's what I see today in Seattle.

Thanks for this post. Tomorrow I will go in with the intention that all my kids will know that I am there for them and that we are a family. BTW, our school does Ruler but Ruler only works if you have time to put it into practice. We are Ruler school in name only I'm afraid. It looks good on the surface. But it is just a veneer.

Thanks again.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Teacher, thank you for those insights. I think it is tougher than ever to be a teacher and I know most teachers long for more actually interaction with their students.

But I'll just say, a lot of this needs to happen at home. Once again, every social issue cannot be laid at the feet of schools to solve.