"And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” - The Fox, The Little Prince
We speak a lot about how our students need to learn grit -- about how it's a determinant for successful students and how grit can be taught. What's often missing from these conversations is the need for students to also learn how to be graceful, kind, and thoughtful.
In my mind, grace and grit are complementary and together they create more centered and thriving students. Grit is tactile and textured -- you can feel the passion behind it -- while grace is invisible but equally essential. You can feel the air and light of grace.
I always use the metaphor of Jean Valjean and Inspector Javert from Les Miserables for a tangible explanation of grace versus grit. Javert is determined and moralistic, but lacks that essential grace which would humanize him. In choosing to let him live, Valjean demonstrates grace and highlights the humanity of them both. Grit is determined moralism without a bit of grace.
So as we seek to teach grit, let us not forget its quieter and more reserved cousin - grace.
To understand grace as a complement and a pedagogical imperative, we need to grapple with it and come to a definition. One of my favorite definitions of grace is of "courteous goodwill." Another is "unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification."
In looking to the internet for help in developing a pedagogical framework for these two reciprocal skills, I found the following:
"Grit is: Firmness of character; indomitable spirit, toughness and resolution; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.
Grace is: Freely given, unmerited favor and mercy; moral strength; a disposition."
Grit is an important lesson in how determination and character have a measurable impact on outcomes. Grace, on the other hand, is given despite outcomes. In seeking to be a teacher full of grace -- and in turn teaching the importance of grit -- remember to give freely (which you probably do) and without resentment (a little bit harder). Learn to accept apologies and be a safe place and haven for problematic student inquiries.
What does courteous goodwill mean to you? Is it as simple as offering an extra smile? Does it mean giving students time to reflect or finding ways to offer them joy? Whatever being an ambassador means to you, you should do it! But remember to allow goodwill to flow in all directions--amongst your students and between you and your students. Reward and acknowledge small acts of goodwill that you observe. In showing goodwill despite the circumstances, without displays of grit or achievement, you validate worthiness in your students and show them that they are worth something and are somebody.
As anxiety and shame become more prevalent in younger and younger students, practice self-forgiveness and treat yourself to a side dose of grace. If you make a mistake, acknowledge it and show the class how you forgive yourself, recover, and keep moving forward. In this way, by allowing for self-forgiveness despite the circumstances, you model it for your students and demonstrate to them how they are worthy of extraordinary things, both grace and the eventuality of their own grit.
In exploring the grit required to jump hurdles and the grace to recover, remember to discuss your challenges and victories with your students, allowing them to voice their own doubts about their abilities. When one feels like they are part of a supportive group, they can feel the support even when the other members aren't physically around. This is the way to integrate the importance of both grace and grit.
People often assume that grace and grit must be opposites but this is far from true -- used correctly, they are partners. Grace is not being a doormat and grit does not necessitate becoming a bulldozer. Rather, the control required to behave in a graceful manner, no matter what the situation, gives the power required to provide the grit to plow on in an assertive manner, not an aggressive one. In the long run, assertiveness will always get you farther but will be more palatable with grace.
This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.