Monday, March 10, 2014

Grit-- Not Just For Students!

New leaps forward have been made in grittology, the study of that elusive quality, the lack of which gives reformy leaders cause to castigate schoolchildren across the country.

Holly Yettick reports at EdWeek that University of Pennsylvania researchers Claire Robertson-Kraft and Angela Duckworth have published a study of grit as it applies to teachers and the hiring process. The study (the pdf of which is titled "truegrit.pdf," so kudos for the academic humor) opens with this statement of background/context:

Surprisingly little progress has been made in linking teacher effectiveness and retention to factors observable at the time of hire. The rigors of teaching, particularly in low income school districts, suggest the importance of personal qualities that have so far been difficult to measure objectively.

Was it possible, they wondered, to hire teachers who were actually going to be tough enough to stick it out on the job. In short, could we spot the teachers with grit?

Duckworth is the scientist for the job, having coined the term grit back in 2007 (presumably as it applies to education and not sandpaper). As a founding mother of grittology, Duckworth worked on a 2009 study that linked grit to effectiveness in novice teachers, but that study, says Yettick was limited because the subjects self-reported for grittiness (doesn't everybody want to think of themselves as gritty, and can we count on gritty people to be fully self-aware? being a scientist is hard).

So this time the intrepid grittologists looked to see if they could find a way to measure grit objectively. They looked at novice teachers' college activities and gave the teachers scores of 0 through 6 for aspects like years of participation or rising through the ranks of the groups to honored positions. In short, did they make commitments and stick with them?

This was correlated to retention (did the teacher stick around without quitting partway through the year) and to effectiveness (did the --uh-oh. hold on a second). Yeah, we were not quite so sure we could come up with a serious effectiveness measure other than some testing data. So there's that. Conclusion? "Grittier teachers outperformed their less gritty colleagues and were less likely to leave their classrooms mid-year."

There's not a lot of research on how to engrittify teachers, so researcher Matthew Kraft thinks it's better to hire teachers that come with their own grit and then help them if things get tough. "School contexts can support teachers to maximize their potential or undercut their efforts."

 So what have we learned? If you hire people whose application shows that they joined things and stuck with them in college, they are more likely to stick with the job when you hire them. And if you need to make a common sense observation, turn it into number, and then turn it back into an observation, then maybe you shouldn't be involved in hiring people.

I'm just imagining a young man coming back from a date. His friends ask how it went. He tells them to wait, sits down, gets out a calculator and iPad and creates a spreadsheet of the quality and length of the kisses that he and his date shared, converts the observations to a digital data set, plugs the numbers into a formula, collates the data, and looks at the final numbers. He turns to his friends and says, "Well, according to this kissological data rating, our date went well. And this score indicates there's a high probability that we may kiss again soon."

I get that many schools' hiring practices are somewhere between "phone a friend" and "darts tossed blindly at wall." But if you need a data set to tell you how to take an impression of other carbon based life forms, education is probably not the field for you.

But then, there are probably a few other people who need to get that message beyond those doing the hiring.

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