Got Grit?

It sounds simple, right?  I’d like to think that this is common sense.  But sometimes I think that kids – and adults – are so afraid of failing that they don’t even try.

“Falling down is part of life.  Getting up is living.” (anonymous)

The word “grit” is a hot topic of late.   Maybe it’s a buzz word in your school, district or community.  You might have watched psychologist Angela Duckworth’s inspiring  Ted Talk or even read her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.

A few months ago, I attended a book singing/speech that she gave at the University of Pennsylvania, where she works.

When I listened to her speak, I felt newly motivated to live a “gritty” life, as a parent, teacher and human being.  To follow through with my hobbies and other personal interests.  To instill a sense of dedication and “sticktoitiveness” with my own children.  (Is that a word??)  To inspire my students to “keep at it” and believe in themselves.

This sounds great in theory, but sometimes life gets in the way.  Sometimes I realize that I haven’t posted anything new to my blog in months.  (Although in my defense, I have started many blog posts in draft form!).

How would Angela rate this, I sometimes wonder to myself?  Would she think I’m not gritty?

But then I think of the times when I have followed through in my life:

  • moving to Florida without knowing anyone to start college
  • attending grad school while working full time
  • improving my water-ski skills by dedicating three days a week to the sport – even when it meant driving an hour and a half before work one day per week (and eventually participating in the national championships)
  • more recently, applying over and over again with my local school district (for two years!) until I finally got a job

When I water-ski, sometimes I fall.

Often, it’s just a casual drop to the side, like I’m momentarily stopping to rest on the water.  As if I had planned it.  Other times, it’s choppier, abrupt.  Unplanned.  And occasionally, I’ll take an extra hard one, where I wonder if it’s all worth it, question why I devote so much time (and money) to something that’s so difficult.  But then I’ll swim to the boat, climb inside, reach for my towel.  I might be sore, tired, or frustrated. Maybe all three.  But eventually, I get back out there again.

As teachers, we do this every day.

Some days, I leave school on the high of a well executed lesson, a special connection with a student, the feeling of hard earned accomplishment.  I’m riding my slalom ski with ease, slicing through the water as if it’s butter.

But other days, I’m falling again, anything from the casual spill to the massive wipeout (an “out the front” or “header,” as water-skiers like to say). I leave work wondering if I made the right choice with my profession.

But when I drive home, I’m already reflecting about the day, about what will come next, about how to make tomorrow better.

Because tomorrow will come.  

It always does.

And I will dip my ski back into the water, grab onto the handle and take another set.

And if I fall again?

I’ll get back up.

So will you.


We have a sign posted in our classroom that reads:

Keep at it!

I can’t say for sure, but I think that Angela would approve.


An Evening with Wally Lamb

 It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!  To learn more about what this is, click here: Slice of Life Tuesday on Two Writing Teachers.  Read on for my Slice of Life Story for today.slice of life_classSlice of Life

About two years ago, I attended an author event near my house, at St. Joseph’s University.

The headliner?

Wally Lamb, the novelist and author of She’s Come Undone, I Know This Much is True and The Hour I First Believed.

She’s Come Undone  is one of my long time favorite novels.  I read it years ago on my honeymoon to Europe, across transatlantic flights and early morning Eurorail rides.

So I couldn’t wait to meet Mr. Lamb in person: to hear him speak, have my book signed and listen to him read from his new book: We Are Water.

But when the evening began, Wally appeared and then introduced his son, the poet, Justin Lamb.

My first instinct was one of annoyance.  (Sorry Justin!).  I was there to listen to Wally, not his son.  And although I love poetry, this wasn’t what I had originally planned for my Thursday evening.

But I quietly waited for him to begin performing from However It Turns Out is Perfect.  Like the opening act at a rock concert, I didn’t have high expectations.However It Turns Out Is Perfect

Boy, was I wrong.  Justin opened with Tips for Scaling Barbed Wire, based on his tutoring experience with an adolescent boy named Daniel.

Within moments, I was riveted, on the edge of my seat.

Click here to listen to Justin and see for yourself! 

Live Performance of Tips for Scaling Barbed Wire

Viewer Discretion Note: This is NOT suitable for children

All I can say is that at the conclusion of the evening, I decided to forgo the line for Wally, that stretched out the door and around the corner. Instead, I spent a few moments speaking with Justin.  I told him about my job as a consultant/literacy coach in Philly at Children’s Literacy Initiative.  We shared some stories about teaching and he autographed my CD.

His words stayed with me long after that spring evening.  I played his poem for friends, teachers and colleagues.  But then the CD got filed away in a pile of other odds and ends (as often happens in life) and I forgot about it.

Until recently.

The “Daniels” Out There

I’m in a new role now – teaching 2nd grade in a more suburban setting – but there are Daniels everywhere.  Even if a student doesn’t have a checkered past like him, every child has a story, a road map that brought him/her to today.

I ask you to reflect on Justin’s poem as you work with your students.

Thoughts to ponder…

What factors have influenced your students?  How does that affect their academics/behavior? And how does this knowledge impact the way that you approach your interactions with them today?

Please share your thoughts here on this question or the video itself.

Happy Slice of Life Tuesday,





Outdoor Sketching on Slice of Life Tuesday!

Have you ever visited this Two Writing Teachers?

If you haven’t checked it out, you should!  With everything from craft through Writing Workshop Transitions, teaching the youngest writers through adolescents, there’s something to be gleaned for teachers of all levels.  Another cool thing about this blog is that every Tuesday is Slice of Life Tuesday.

slice of life_individual

Just What is Slice of Life?

Stacey Shubitz (co-founder of the award winning blog Two Writing Teachers) originally created Slice of Life as a way to inspire her fourth graders to notice – and write about- the everyday moments in their lives.

“If I dismiss the ordinary – waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen – I may just miss my life.”
– Dani Shapiro in Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life (2013, 123)
Every Tuesday, Two Writing Teachers challenges readers to write a Slice of Life post on their own blogs.  I’m joining in today and pledge to write a new post each week, either here or on Say Goodbye to Summer Slide, my companion blog for parents.

Outdoor Sketching

My Slice today is based on a writing workshop for teachers that I attended last spring.  I participated in an activity called Outdoor Sketching, where we drew pictures of something in nature and then wrote about what we saw.  It was raining that May day – one of those cold, spring rains that makes you wonder if warm weather will ever come.

Instead of writing outdoors, as the activity was intended, we improvised.  So I sketched a picture of a tree that I glimpsed through the floor to ceiling windows on the second floor of Penn Wynne Elementary School.  I couldn’t see the whole tree, just a clump of branches jutting up to the dreary sky.  Here is my sketch: (please don’t judge my artistic qualities – or lack thereof)


Then we wrote about what we saw:

Top of a Tree

How does the tree feel being out there in the cold,

with rain falling on its leaves and branches?

Does the bitter air make it

long for the warmth of the summer

sun, or the fresh breeze on a spring day?

Does it shiver like we do,

even though it cannot reach for a new

hat, coat or scarf?

Does it mind staying in one place all the time,

like a stationary statue?

Only able to move if the winds push its branches,

this way and that,

to and fro.

Mother Nature’s marionette.

Here’s my challenge to you…write your own Slice of Life Stories with your students on Tuesdays.  If you have a blog, post some on there.  If not, please share a story or two with me, either via email at or in the comments section of this post.   I would love to read them!

You might also consider taking your students outdoors for Observational Sketching, while the weather is still warm.  This is a great way to spark interest in writing during the beginning of the year. It also provides excellent practice with descriptive writing, including details, verbs, personification and specific word choice.  Let me know if you try it out and how it goes!

Happy writing (and sketching),