Friday, August 17, 2018

Grit: A Few Thoughts From Angela Duckworth — Part II

It may be best to go back to my February 5, 2018 article for some context to this article.  At the time I wrote it I had intentions of following up much sooner with this part II article, and the part III that will be coming soon.  In my opinion, the work that Angela Duckworth is doing provides the best explanation for why so people experience high levels of success, and the best pathway for people to achieve.  It has nothing to do with what has been written in self-help books, or what you may see on a late night infomercial.  Passion and persistence make up grit, which is what separates those who succeed at high levels from those that do not.

In order to better understand grit and the role that it plays in personal development and success, it is imperative to look at a couple of important characteristics and beliefs.   Those two things are talent and effort.  What role do each of these two characteristics play in terms of a person achieving a high level of success?  What Duckworth has found is important, and can be applied directly to anyone that wants to achieve anything, from a simple task to being the absolute best at something.

Many of us look at successful people and make the judgment that they have incredible talent, and with a little luck, have achieved at a high level.  How many times have you heard people make the comment “in the right place at the right time” or “it isn’t what you know, it’s who you know?”  In essence this is how many people often rationalize their own shortcomings because both talent and luck are out of their control.  It does not matter the task or skill, it always appears that there are people that are “naturals” who seemingly excel because of innate talent.  And for some, it appears that they put forth incredible effort, yet cannot reach the same level of success as those that were “born” with certain gifts.

The truth is that some people have more talent than others.  This may be superior physical skills or for someone else, cognitively.  Some people may have genetics on their side that give them certain advantages on physical tasks.  Others may have access to learning opportunities that others do not have that enhance their skills.  LeBron James was born with some physical genetics that enhance his ability to play basketball at a high level.  Bill Gates was very fortunate to grow up in a community where early computers were built and attend a school that was a beneficiary of being given a lot of the cast-off computers where he and his friends could use them to their heart’s delight.  However, there are hundreds of thousands of men that are 6’8” tall and weigh in the same ballpark as James, yet they are not the best basketball player in the world.  There are many that are the same size, and are outstanding basketball players, but are not the greatest in the world.  And, there were other boys who had access to computers at an early age like Gates, yet they did not start Microsoft and become one of the wealthiest men in the world.

Duckworth argues that talent is important, though many of the tests that are used to measure it do a very poor job of measuring it.  There are tremendously talented people that go unnoticed, as well as those who never achieve success.  So what explains the reason for this?  Duckworth says it is because effort is twice as important as talent!  In her opinion we have a tendency to overemphasize talent and underemphasize everything else, including effort.

Perhaps the best way to look at it is to reference a master artisan Duckworth writes about in her book.  A Minnesota potter by the name of Warren MacKenzie was 94-years old when interviewed by Duckworth, and in his lifetime he had thrown thousands of pots.  Many of them are beautiful pieces of art, while others were actually quite poor.  None the less, he is considered a master, one of the best at his craft.  What was his secret?  Effort.  Once he made the decision to be a potter he threw pots every day to develop his skill.  Many people have talent, but it is only with effort that people turn that talent into a skill, and after throwing what he figures to be about 10,000 pots, he stated that it started to get a little easier to produce high quality pots on a regular basis.  From this perspective, one can look at a mathematical equation: Talent + Effort = Skill.  As he threw more and more pots, and became more and more skilled, the quality increased significantly and he started to sell more, becoming quite successful.  Thus, his skill improved and coupled with continued effort, he experienced success.  So, Skill + Effort = Success!

Imagine the discipline and passion that it takes to wake up every day and throw clay onto a wheel and make pots.  Or, like James Patterson, block out “office hours” each day to write.  You see, LeBron James did not just show up at game time and become a great player.  He spent hour after hour in the gym practicing to develop his skills.  Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, all of the great basketball players of any era were blessed with talent — as were many other young men at the same time — but they also outworked everyone else too.  It is likely that no living golfer today has hit more golf balls than Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.  They put in the effort to be great.

One of the most common statements that I hear each year from different students goes something like this: “I’m not good at math.”  It is very reasonable that some students have more talent for math than others.  In my household, I am at least the number three, if not the number four most talented mathematician.  However, as Duckworth points out, while talent is important, it is not as important as effort.  The frustration working with many students who are “not good at math” is that they put forth very little effort to improve their skills.  Carol Dweck writes about mindset, and these students have what she describes as a fixed mindset.  Because they believe they cannot be good at math, they do not try to be good at math.  They will not put forth the effort.  They will not put in the time.  In other words, they lack grit.  Thus, one of our great challenges is to instill effort and commitment.  If one is going to succeed at anything, they have to have it.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Should We Monitor Our Kids' Social Media Use?

By now anyone who has followed my blog or heard me speak in various venues knows how I feel about students and social media.  I am not a fan at all, particularly when they are at school or in proximity of other people.  I can go on with reasons for this belief, and have.  However, that is not what is important for this article.  My favorite blogger about young people and leadership, Tim Elmore, shared his perspective on whether or not parents should monitor their child’s social media activity.  Obviously if I am including this on my blog, he must have a position close to mine!  Well, he does, and he articulates it much better than I can.  Give this a read as I believe his argument is very convincing.

Should We Monitor Our Kids’ Social Media Use?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

I’ll Be Back!

As I wrote the title Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator voice echoes in my mind!  I hope that you don’t take this as a threat as was intended in that movie!  Actually, my last column was back in April, and honestly, I just could not allocate the time to keep writing two new articles for the blog each month.  I have remarked to others that this past school year was the most demanding of my professional career, and there were some things that I really like to do that I had to set aside.  My practice is to have a number of articles in various stages of completion and then just put them in the blog, trying to stay a few articles ahead.  However, I fell behind and just could not keep up.  So, this summer I am working to complete a number of articles for the upcoming school year so that I won’t fall behind, and will also have a few started that I can complete in a short amount of time.  That said, I will have articles ready to go August 1 and will continue to update a couple of times each month through the school year!  See you then!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Social Media and Your Mental Health

For those of you that regularly read this blog, my columns in the newsletter, or have been around when I have have shared my thoughts about smartphones and social media, you already know that I have very strong, negative feelings about the impact both are having on youth today.  I have spent a lot of time reading research and talking to people who are a heck of a lot smarter than me about this topic, and nothing I have read or heard has changed my opinion.  Smartphones and social media are corrupting our kids today, causing mental health issues, standing in the way of their learning, impacting how they develop relationships, and adding stress to already difficult lives.

In a study conducted by the United Kingdom’s Royal Society for Public Health, some very interested findings were shared in their report regarding use of social media, particularly with Instagram, a very popular platform used by our students.  I have included an article about this study from Time magazine.  After reading it I would strongly encourage you to have a conversation with your child, and require that they give you access to their Instagram accounts.  Yes, accounts plural, because most of our Instagram users at NFVHS have two, the one they refer to as their “regular” account, and their “spam” account where they post the “bad stuff.”  Most of your kids are going to tell you they don’t have a spam account, but I am telling you they most likely do.  Be persistent!  Give this article a read.

Why Instagram Is the Worst Social Media for Mental Health

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Girls Can Do Math and Science

I recall the first episode of the revolutionary television program The Wonder Years that premiered after the 1988 Super Bowl.  Somewhere in a box stored away I have recordings of every episode on VHS tapes that I will most likely never watch.  It is probably my favorite television show because it took me back to my childhood, though I was a few years younger than the main character, Kevin Arnold.  There were many nights when I could picture myself in that show.  

Another character in the show that made a big impression on fans was Kevin’s girl friend, Winnie Cooper, played by Danica McKellar.  Many of the storylines took viewers through the joy,  pain, and awkwardness of young adolescent boyfriend-girlfriend relationships, as well as the culture classes that took place in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  For many of us that remember televisions shows from our youth (or younger adult years!), we sometimes have those moments wondering whatever happened to some of the stars in those shows we were dedicated to.  In the case of Danica McKellar, she continues to act periodically, but she has also become a renowned mathematician and advocate for math education, particularly for girls.  She has published a number of books about math that can be found on her website mckellarmath.com.  She also recently wrote a story that appeared on nbc.com about math education that I think you will find interesting and have included below: 

I Want Girls to Learn Math and Science — and Their Own Self-Worth — Despite Stereotypes


Wednesday, March 7, 2018

I Hated The Election of 2016

When I started writing this blog I purposely decided to avoid talking politics.  There is enough of that conversation that invades our daily lives.  Yes, my political leanings come through in many of the articles I have written, but I have worked hard to temper them as much as possible and still make the point I wanted to make without offending and with the purpose of getting people to think and reflect.  Today’s article is going to take politics head on, and I am not going to temper my opinions and beliefs.  I think you can see that based on the fact that I have used a very strong word in the title, yet I hope that you will read what I have to say with an open mind.  

I bring this all up because of where we are at in our country over a year-and-a-half after the new President took office.  What took place in that election has only been magnified since, and I think it scary how horrible people are treating one another in our country.  The lack of civility in the election, both the primary and general ones, was disgusting.  At the time I often asked myself and others, “Is this who we have become?”  In the months since, it would appear that is so.

One of the definitions for civil is “courteous.”  Another is “public.”  Until 2016, political campaigns were for the most part civil.  Oh there were instances of some dirty tricks here and there, but in terms of the manner in which candidates addressed each other, it was almost always courteous and largely respectful.  I remember when Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Benson put Dan Quayle in his place with a sharply worded comment, but stated in a respectful manner.  We expected our leaders to be courteous in their public comments, and when one deviated from that, they were generally heavily criticized by colleagues, the public, and the media.  In this country there has been a strong sense of decorum, perhaps not quite to the extent of England, but people did not mind if you had a difference of opinion as long as you debate in a respectful manner.  However, that has changed and I find it reprehensible.  

For this lack of civility I point my finger right at the POTUS.  During the campaign prior to the Republican primary he made outlandish statements, calling a female opponent ugly and make untrue disparaging remarks about one’s father being involved in a conspiracy to assassinate John Kennedy.  He used belittling nicknames for opponents, such as Little Marco, Low-energy Jeb,  and Lyin’ Ted.  Incredibly, once he won the GOP nomination he took it up a number of notches, referring to Crooked Hillary and “Pocahontas" Elizabeth Warren in unbecoming terms.  Replaying video of him talking about grabbing females by their genitals and mocking individuals with handicaps are yet the tip of the iceberg of vulgar and volatile comments he made.  And, he has continued with his tweets and pronouncements.  He has called a football player that was expressing his 1st Amendment rights a “son of a bitch” and mocked individuals who have different opinions.  

Of great concern to me is that this has given license to others to do the same.  Sure, all of us have made denigrating or derogatory comments about people, generally in private or in the company of friends.  Some of the things I have heard close friends say about Bill Clinton and George W. Bush are certainly not appropriate to say in public, and I do not recall political leaders saying those things in a public forum.  But now we have public personalities doing that.  LeBron James has called the President a Bum.  Other people have tweeted that he is an “asshole.”  There is no filter, and that has trickled down in our day to day life.  People believe they can say whatever they want without repercussions, or if there are, then it’s almost like they come out swinging!

The 1st Amendment is perhaps the most understood part of our Constitution.  Our freedom of speech is not an all out say-whatever-is-on-your-mind-whenever-you-want-to-say-it guarantee!  I have made this statement a number of times over my career: With freedom comes responsibility!  I try to impress that on students when we have conversations about the newfound freedom many of them have in high school.  Teenagers love to argue!  Every parent knows that, and the smartest among us know that the adult never wins that argument!  That said, when it comes to issues where people are speaking their mind or saying what needs to be said, there is a responsibility.  There are laws that govern speech, and actions like libel and slander prevent people from going off and saying whatever they want regardless of what harm it might cause.  But without reaching those levels of responsibility, there is something called civility and respect.  When our nation’s leaders fire obscene and vile comments at others, it is natural that Joe Public is going to do the same.  

I don’t know if there is a direct correlation between this “new” practice of spewing hateful or disgusting things and high school students becoming more emboldened with what they say.  Teenagers have always pushed the boundaries.  That said, when they hear or read what is being said by adults who are public figures with seemingly little consequence, I cannot help but believe it leads them to do the same.  What we have found is that when confronted, more often than not the teenager sees nothing wrong with what they said.  A classic example was when I confronted a girl about making a derogatory comment about another girl that begins with the letter b.  Her response was “Well, she is and I’m not sorry I said it!  If you knew her, that’s what you would call her too!”  Unfortunately it has become acceptable  in common public conversation to refer to people in such a derogatory manner.  Thank you Mr. POTUS!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Social Media Addiction: What You Need to Know

One of my primary interests and concerns right now is social media and the sometimes devastating effects it is having on young people.  I have spoken and written about it, and will continue to do so when given opportunity.  When parents on average spend less than an hour a day with their adolescent kids, while the kids are spending an average of over two-hours a day on their smart phones, I believe there is a major disconnect.  Here’s an article from the website smartsocial.com that you may find interesting.