Some Kids Don’t Need “Grit;” They Need Healing

In education circles, there is a lot of talk about "Grit" and having a "Growth Mindset" these days.  There are a lot of admistrators and teachers convinced that their kids need to have more "grit." Angela Duckworth, the main proponent of “Grit," defines grit as "passion and perseverance for very long term goals." In other words, grit is passion and perseverance over a long period of time to achieve one’s goals. According to this definition, grit is specifically related to the achievement of goals.

During my presentation, "The Power of One," I sometimes talk about some of the trauma of my past, and assert, "sometimes kids don't need grit; they need healing." Well, recently, a very nice principal pulled me aside and respectfully challenged my thinking about grit. He said, "Manny, it takes grit to heal.”  His statement challenged me to clarify my thinking about the relationship between grit and healing.

Here are my brief thoughts on the matter. 

While I certainly agree that in order to achieve goals in school, work and life, students must develop "grit" (passion and perseverance over the long haul), I am convinced that several students have been so traumatized, victimized, and hurt that it is impossible for them to think about goals related to school, work, or life. For many of them, it is nearly impossible for them to even fathom “the long haul.” I used to really believe that I would be dead or in jail before I was 18 years old.  Many students are just trying make it through the night and don’t even have the capacity to see beyond their current circumstances. Many of them are trying to figure out how they are going to make it through the sexual abuse they are about to experience tonight.  Many of them are grieving over the loss of their best friend who just committed suicide yesterday. Some can’t get past the trauma of seeing their mother’s brains blown out with a shotgun and having to clean the brain and skull fragments off of their faces while cradling their dead mother in their arms. I could go on and on with stories like this.  For those kids, I am convinced that it is not grit that they need, but healing (through therapy or counseling or journaling or some other means of support). I believe it is therapy or counseling that helps traumatized people heal enough to even begin setting goals and dreaming big. It is counseling and therapy that gives them the skills to persevere, and frees them to find their passions. It is healing that frees people to develop grit.

So, my contention is that it does not “ take grit to heal,” but rather it takes “healing (or therapy) to have grit,” or, put another way, “grit is improbable without healing.” I believe healing should/must precede grit for many traumatized, victimized children. To be sure, I have certainly had to have grit to overcome many of the obstacles of my past to achieve the level of success I now enjoy.  I have had to have grit to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I had to have grit to graduate from college and graduate school. I had to have grit to learn how to fly planes. I have had to have grit to become the faithful husband and loving father I am today. I have had to have grit to grow my education consulting/speaking business.

From my experience, however, if it had not been for God and loving adults (pastors, teachers, counselors, coaches) who came into my life to help me heal from my hurts, I have no doubt that I would have been dead or in jail. My healing PRECEDED my grit. My healing freed me to have grit. My healing freed me to dream big and and set goals, and to develop the passion and perseverance to achieve those goals and dreams.  So yes, while I have no doubt that grit is an indispensable part of achievement and personal growth, healing, in my opinion, is the foundation upon which grit is built. 

So, I end where I began: Some students don't need grit; they need healing.

What do you think? 

He Used to Sleep Foot-to-Face in Motels, Now He Speaks to Youth.

One of my greatest joys has been creating an opportunity to speak for someone who grew up in circumstances similar to my own. Matt Bennett grew up in Compton, where he witnessed his father get shot several times, he was homeless, lived for years in motels where he slept foot-to-face with his siblings, and ate lunch meat out of little red coolers.  Because of these and other rough realities, Matt was failing miserably in school. However, with a dream to create a better life for himself, he attended both day AND night school, and took buses for years to get to and from school. Because of his hard work, he went from earning a 1.28 to a 3.6 G.P.A. and became the first man in his family to graduate from college (Cal State Poly). While in college, he traveled around California, speaking in over 300 schools and prisons to help young people.

After graduation, Matt worked for teh Los Angeles Department Social Services, and, on weekends, he volunteered in prisons, teaching prisoners about decision making, business, and life.  He also mentored several young men from the hood. While giving his life to help others, one of Matt's younger brothers was murdered. Before his brother died, he told Matt, "Matt, you're going to make it. Keep going."

I met Matt right around that time, and felt that I was somehow supposed to help him.  I didn't know how, but I have learned to be obedient to those promptings.  So I watched him for a few years to see what kind of person he was: to see if he REALLY had integrity, character, the commitment and competence to speak to kids.

When I started getting more invitations to speak than I could handle, I put out a call for speakers, and hundreds of people responded, including Matt.  After a VERY long process of vetting and interviewing a LOT of AMAZING people, flying 7 of them to 

Atlanta to speak to me and my most trusted advisors, Matt was the only one who received their unanimous support. They believed that he would be the ideal person to join me in this work of helping students. 

So, after almost 2 years of working with Matt, I am proud to say that he has grown in SO MANY ways as a man and a speaker. Seeing his calendar fill up with bookings to speak brings me great joy. Matt knows how to talk to and help youth who are traumatized, underperforming, or struggling in school or life.  If you are looking for a youth speaker, I highly recommend you check him out.

A Teacher Complained, “I Don’t Know Why We Need This.”

Recently, there have been several "racially charged controversies" in a school district, and some district leaders believed that their teachers needed to become more interculturally competent. So they hired me to lead the training. Early in my session, a teacher complained, "I don't know why we need this." Her district is 75% white and made up of middle-class and affluent families. Hearing her dismiss her need for this kind of training only confirmed for me (and others in the room) that attitudes like hers might be causing- or at least exacerbating- the racial tensions in her school district.

A lot of teachers think that they can continue doing things the way they have always done them, and still be effective.  What they fail to (don't want to?) realize is that our country is becoming more diverse culturally, religiously, socioeconomically, etc, and if teachers who live in historically homogenous districts (which are experiencing a significant influx of diverse families) do not equip themselves to understand and navigate these changes with wisdom, they will eventually become more and more distant from their students, and will become increasingly ineffective as teachers. Their unwillingness to learn will eventually lead to more misunderstanding, conflict and, eventually, chaos in the classroom. So throughout our half-day session, I helped her and her colleagues see how culturally conditioned and linguistically particular they really are; and, as a result of such conditioning, they are neither "normal" nor "the norm" by which every other student should be evaluated. Of course, I also showed them how to build cross-cultural bridges into the lives of their students.

At the end of my time with them, several veteran educators and counselors came up to me and said that mine was the absolute best professional development day they have ever had in their professional lives. I think the woman who complained quietly snuck out the back door. Either way, her attitude only reaffirmed my commitment to helping teachers become better students of their students.

I show busy teachers how to do that in my newest book, Even on Your Worst Day You Can Be a Student's Best Hope.  You can get it directly from ASCD, the number one publisher for education leaders and curriculum development in the world.  

The Power of One Speaking Tour 2017

Here I go! Please pray for me. I'm heading back out for a 41-presentation, 31-city, 21-state, The Power of One Tour.  You can learn more about it HERE.