Grit, perseverance, and tenacity are garnering recognition as critical student attributes tied to success both in and out of the classroom. As Carol Dweck discusses in her TED Talk, something as small as changing grading terminology from “failing” to “not yet” helped Swedish students understand that their skills are not static and can be improved with perseverance. But Susan Haynes, Social Studies Curriculum Specialist at Dickinson ISD in Texas, believes that educators also need to be tenacious: “When you fall off a bike, you can’t get discouraged or be too quick to give up. You need the tenacity to keep going.” And the same is true in the classroom. Over her 12-year career in education, Haynes has learned that with a little grit, perseverance, and tenacity, educators can implement new tools and techniques that benefit student learning.
As the fastest growing district in Galveston County, Dickinson ISD works hard to meet the needs of all of their students, and the Dickinson Continuation Center (DCC) was created in 2014 to cater to students for whom the traditional high-school setting was not working. It’s still a high school, but it allows students to learn at their own pace. The majority of their coursework is completed on Edgenuity Courseware™, and instructors lead face-to-face lessons with small groups of students to reinforce the areas that are covered most heavily on the STAAR® assessment. The current iteration of summer school and the DCC took nearly five years to develop, and “we all learned a lot” during that time, says Haynes.
Teacher Mindset and Skills
Haynes focuses on putting students first but understands that it takes time to make any large-scale changes to a classroom or curriculum. She cautions educators not to get discouraged and give up too quickly, but utilize the same growth mindset they encourage in their students. By using missteps as a way to learn what doesn’t work, educators model a healthy teacher mindset and skills that students can apply in their daily lives.
For example, Haynes learned that having a certified teacher in the room during summer school was essential. “These students don’t have the luxury of waiting to get answers to questions about content,” she says, so she engages multiple social studies content teachers year-round to give students the support they need.
Educators Need to be Tenacious
“While I encourage educators to take a risk and be tenacious, I also know we need to be focused. We are hyper-focused on Edgenuity®, and we are instituting it in a way that is purposeful and intentional,” she said. In her role of designing curriculum and coaching teachers throughout Dickinson ISD, Haynes works to help educators understand the resources available to them and feel comfortable integrating them into the classroom. With 12 years’ experience in the district, Haynes has seen her fair share of technology trends, but she believes technology is “worth the investment” when she sees struggling students get to graduation.
Technology Keeps Up with the Needs of Students
As a Google district, Dickinson ISD is no stranger to technology. By encouraging teachers to accept risk and embrace change, Google’s G Suite for Education is growing in popularity throughout the district. Now, teachers are incorporating podcasts, current events, and Edgenuity lessons into their courses, which empowers students to do more things at their own pace. “In classrooms, technology has a stigma, and I wish we as teachers understood how students could use technology to do the learning,” says Haynes.
Unlike other districts, Dickinson does not have one-to-one technology resources, so they have to be creative. Internet access at home is limited and many students don’t have computers, only their smartphones, so the district created a program called Lighted Windows, Open Doors, which gives students access to the library for Internet and computer use after hours. Teachers also work to make activities accessible on all devices because, as Haynes points out, “students constantly have a phone in their hand, so we are trying to tap into that in the classroom.”
Engage a Stellar IT Department
After getting new support for technology from the administration a few years ago, Dickinson ISD saw an influx of resources in their technology department. Curriculum specialists like Haynes work with the IT department to format the courseware and other materials to meet district standards. Haynes also trains and coaches teachers on how to incorporate Edgenuity into the classroom. Meanwhile, IT works behind the scenes to make sure both the curriculum team and educators are using all of their systems to the fullest while addressing any issues that may arise. This has also been pivotal in getting teachers on board as the IT team helps teach educators how to use the system.
“It’s important to understand the why before you do the how,” says Haynes, and by providing them the right tools and support, educators are empowered to try new methods. They can learn from their mistakes as they continue to help students who would have dropped out, are credit deficient, or just need some extra attention. And, as Haynes says, if you institute a new method with the kids in mind and it doesn’t work, “you didn’t do it wrong, you just learned another way not to do it.” So keep up the hard work, you tenacious educators!
To learn about why it’s important and valuable to foster grit in your students, read our article, Connecting Grit and Student Success in the Classroom and Beyond.