After my experiences with the Growth Mindset at the beginning of the school year, I have had my eyes wide open for opportunities to continue the conversation with my students about a goal oriented mentality. I discovered a picture book titled “Rosie Revere Engineer” by Andrea Beaty recently which I read aloud to my second graders in January of 2015. Rosie, the main character, loves to tinker with trash, design and build structures, however, her uncle, while not meaning to hurt her feelings, laughs at a fan that she made for him leading her to hide her other creations. One day, though, her great Aunt Rose visits and encourages Rosie to build a new thing. The new creation is designed to do one thing which is to fly and although it does what it is supposed to do, it also crashes. Rosie decides to learn from her mistakes and tweaks her creation with the help of her great Aunt Rose which leads to a new awakening on Rosie’s part. Rosie realizes that she can use her gift of being able to wonder and figure out how things work as she sets her mind on achieving her goals. Without determination, she will not succeed but soon realizes that her willingness to try helps her classmates to also want to try and work on their own creations. I love a phrase from the book which is “with each perfect failure” because it show us that from our mistakes we can make improvements and try again.
Following the reading of this book, I had my students develop goals for the coming year. They are learning, as second graders, how to login to their Google accounts, create a Google Document and type while changing fonts, letter sizes and colors of words. As they composed and typed their goals, I gave them the option to print it when they were done. I created a bulletin board of their goals. During the month of January, when we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it seemed the perfect time to focus on students’ dreams and goals. Students’ goals ranged from being a priest as a grown up person to improving their reading levels now as kids to not fighting with siblings. A few even have their sights set on exploring coding and engineering!
On the day that I read “Rosie Revere Engineer” to my second graders, I was feeling a bit like Rosie when she had worked hard but couldn’t get her flying machine to stay aloft. As hard as I had worked, I couldn’t play a piano piece perfectly and it mattered a lot as I would be playing piano for the local Middle School’s choral performance at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration. I took piano lessons for 10 years and have always enjoyed playing piano for school and church choral groups. I practiced the music including “Baba Yetu” which is sung in Swahili and means “Our Father” daily for about a week before I had to practice with the choral group. On my first day of before school practice with the choral group, everything went well, however,”Baba Yetu” had tricky timing. Although I had practiced it correctly according to my counting, the pace of the song changes near the end and I did not play it correctly which became apparent when the chorus sang the last note and I was a few measures behind. I noticed the choral teacher coming toward me and telling me that my timing was off. As a teacher and as a musician, I am one who plans ahead and practices my part. I do not go in unprepared. My face felt hot and I would have loved it if the floor would have opened up and swallowed the piano stool and me. It was hard for me to face it, but I realized that I had played the last few measures wrong. I humbly agreed with the teacher who came alongside of me and sang the measures where I had faltered. Because of her patience, I recognized the place where I needed to change my thinking and relearn the timing.
I realized in the process of recognizing my error that I was embarrassed, perplexed and dismayed much like Rosie Revere Engineer. I couldn’t believe that I had made such an error. The students had practiced it correctly with the teacher so me playing it incorrectly in front of them led to further discomfort in my head and stomach. I left the practice only to head to my school feeling like a failure. The teacher sent me a CD of the song which I listened to throughout the evening. I practiced for about an hour that night and began to feel a confidence when I played the song correctly. I once heard the adage that “Perfect Practice Makes Permanent”, which is not the same as “Practice Makes Perfect”. The next morning at our choral practice, I played those measures correctly once, then again when we sang it from the top. My confidence soared as I felt the joy of getting it right. You get it right first in your mind, then it comes out through your fingers. I have always appreciated the piano lessons that my parents gave to me because of how the lessons developed my abilities as a musician. Many nights as a 2nd – 12th grader, I would persevere again and again to get a song just right. I wanted to please my teacher and know that I had done my personal best. It was never about competing with anyone, unless you say I competed against my own previous performances.
It is this determination to master a song that has resonated with me. It was Rosie’s determination to keep planning and designing as she envisioned how to make a machine fly. When you combine the three G’s, gifts, goals and grit, you will always find a way. The key to success is when we give effort while building on our gifts, have our goals in mind and persevere until the goals are met. On the evening of our performance, I played “Baba Yetu” alongside of drummers playing loudly on African drums. I kept the beat and sensed a special joy as I accompanied the talented choir. Although I don’t think that I would have ever given up and told the teacher that I couldn’t do it, it was an option. I am so glad that I practiced more, got it right and didn’t give up. It is such a beautiful song and one that I have loved to learn. Here is a rendition of the song with a full orchestra along with a water/light fountain display in Dubai.
This idea of grit in education is one that we should continue to consider as we look to personalize learning in ways that build on students’ gifts and on their goals. Teachers look for ways to challenge students and build on existing knowledge. When our students are presented with lessons that challenge them to reach a higher cognitive level, they will likely rise to the occasion. It may take extra effort on their part or on the part of the teacher to differentiate for the learners, but will allow students to build their determination to succeed and learn from mistakes. Angela Duckworth so eloquently describes grit in this TED Talk. I’d love to know ways that you have helped students in their efforts to reach their goals and build grit.