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How Do We Teach Grit?

By: Rabbi Aharon Assaraf, TalentEducators North America Regional Director

In my years of teaching in Jewish schools and camps,  I’ve often encountered the question: “How do we teach grit? How can we model grit?” Well, the short answer – the year 2020!

What exactly about this past year has allowed us to grow in our personal grit? For starters, the pandemic hit everyone so hard and fast, that naturally everyone was forced to go into crisis mode. Through muscle memory, we began training our minds and bodies to adjust to the new reality. This is a vital step. There are those who thrive under these circumstances. Over the last year, I once again was allowed to witness the greatness of teachers and school leaders. While pedagogical skills may vary, all teachers who have remained in the field for more than the first two years become outstanding representatives of grit. 

In my role as TalentEducators North American Regional Director,  I have met with and profiled over 80 heads of school, principals, directors of education, and chairs of Judaic Studies departments in the US and Canada. The message was essentially the same: running an educational institution during these uncertain times is “touch and go” at best. No two days are alike, yet these educational leaders were, as a whole, moving forward and making strides. At the start of Covid, like health care professionals, teachers were referred to as heroes. I would like to draw a parallel between the two fields regarding grit as well. The around-the-clock hours the teachers put into their classrooms builds a rough and resilient callus, namely grit. The same can be said about counselors in sleepaway camps. These teenagers who devote twenty-four hours, seven days a week to their charges return home completely different people, those who are equipped to face most challenges that life throws their way.

Educational leaders have been hit with multiple challenges this year:

  • Dividing classes into two groups, requiring immediate doubling of staff
  • Transitioning from remote learning to in-person instruction to hybrid classrooms and vice versa
  • Costs rising while tuition remains constant
  • Adopting and implementing hospital grade sanitation standards
  • Staff absences, quarantines, and sudden resignations
  • Parent body and board expectations

Most of the educational leaders I spoke with were addressing those challenges and not buckling under the pressure. Where did these leaders get this training from? The military? Crisis management courses? For some, the answer may be “yes,” but the vast majority learned these skills when they were teachers or camp counselors.

That is how they obtained grit. 

In his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell introduces us to the 10,000 hour rule: asserting that the key to achieving true expertise in any skill is simply a matter of practicing, for at least 10,000 hours. In the case of teachers, based on my simple math, if a teacher works full time for 5.5 years, he or she will reach the 10,000 hour mark (10,000 divided by 9 hours daily, on a 200 work day per year schedule). A camp counselor gains a whopping 1300+ hours in an 8 week period.

So if someone learns to deal with crisis, emotional and physical hardship for an extended period of time, they become good at what? According to Gladwell, they become better or even an “expert” at rolling with the punches.  By our estimation, educators do this within their first five years of teaching.

At TalentEducators, we are tasked to create support for these institutions and educational leaders. Although they all have exemplified grit, it does not mean they won’t accept help in recruiting and retaining excellent educators. As our team are all former educators and educational leaders, we are uniquely attuned to the sensitivities involved in leading an educational institution. 

I tip my hats to all of the heroes who are working diligently and resiliently to support our community needs. If you are looking for a way to grow your grit, embrace the challenge. When you are faced with an obstacle, do like your teacher would do: assess, adjust and proceed.  And grow your grit hours!

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