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The business world teems with buzzwords. Buzzwords reach epic heights, then tragically die after rampant overuse. Grit is one word that ebbs and flows in popularity, but, by all appearances, has yet to be marked with the scarlet b and remains a respected word that signifies a propensity for success.
American psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth took the term grit to new heights in her 2013 TED Talk titled Grit: The power of passion and perseverance where she shared her five characteristics of grit.
At a time where opinions on today’s hybrid learning delivery methods are nothing short of loudly divided, beyond the hysteria our fall 2020 higher education experience exudes true grit of those on the education delivery front lines.
It is easy to show how Duckworth’s 5 characteristics of grit directly align with today’s teachers and learners.
In every educational institution, there is a divide, gap-size dependent, separating faculty from administration. We have the capacity to argue about the color of the sky. However, when the reality of Covid-19 hit our universities, we closed that gap together and leaned into the pandemic.
We faced a certain fluid future, fearlessly embraced it and prepared to rapidly redefine serving our students. In turn, while there was struggle, students persevered. Anxiety, unknown and disparate connectivity ran rampant. Together, we faced it. We taught. We facilitated. We graduated. We passed. We not only survived, we lived.
Planning for a safe, equitable learning experience and environment required a delicate balance between over-thinking all possibilities and executing on decisions made. The summer after a pandemic-reactive spring semester resulted in a more intentional fall response to today’s reality.
Most universities—leadership to faculty to staff to parents and students—came to decisions after thorough review of all possible angles. Unlike never before, we changed our oft archaic ways on a dime and recognized that we could make iterative improvements with agility and to scale.
The headwinds of education delivery proved to be strong and oftentimes downright ugly. Our mission as educational institutions—beyond the budgets, athletics and talk of socialization needs—is to deliver knowledge and education.
While a vocal minority questioned not only higher ed’s value proposition but also the very quality of our professorial minds, we pushed forward and developed environments where learning might feel and look different, but ultimately result in full-bodied educational experiences.
A messy spring semester. An exhausting summer of planning, re-thinking, re-imagining everything. Equal outrage at offering both residential opportunities and virtual learning as well as every possible combination there-of.
Despite every step evoking some level of criticism, pessimism and doubt, higher education relentlessly stood up and delivered.
There is no shortage of hyper-engagement and deep investment in excellence on any college campus. Equally there are often loud, opposing viewpoints to change, but not for the reasons one might expect. If you don’t start with the why, the plan will be questioned. If your ‘why’ doesn’t make sense, the plan will be questioned. If the plan involves change that requires training and time to ensure the aforementioned excellence is doable, the plan will be questioned and vehemently opposed.
Why? If you start at excellence, no plan forward should risk anything less than excellence upon delivery.
What Covid-19 did to passion for excellence was immediately transpose it with passion for determination seeking an escalated pathway to excellence. Teachers and administrators alike blew past historic immobility, locked arms and joined forces to reach a previously inconceivable goal for hybrid learning that would support student success.
Looking in the mirror
Can the rest of us describe ourselves as embodying grit? Are we capable of setting aside our assumptions while we lock arms and ruthlessly empower our future leaders to learn in a way foreign to most of us only six months ago? Beyond the hysteria, if personal expectations based on past experience are silenced and listening ears and watchful eyes are turned on, our faculty and students response to today’s new abnormal is nothing short of inspirational.
As for the rest of our nation, we need to shake the globe and dislodge the misconception that education is ‘less-than’ when delivered remotely and that our learners aren’t capable of, not only traversing, but excelling in our changing environment. After all, when you think of recent buzzwords and their original intent—agile, pivot, future-proof, change, experiential, adaptive, responsive, scalable, integrative—these moments and experiences happening right this second are developing the foundation within our minds of the future.
Everything experienced in 2020 bolsters needed skills. It behooves no one to stand in the way of success for tomorrow’s leaders.