More Than Just Grit

One of the keynote speakers at the recent National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE) conference was Gordon Hester who provides consulting for start-ups, particularly focusing on the role of leadership. He commented, and I’ll paraphrase “…I am looking for someone who won’t quit climbing the mountain…someone who will die trying…” Perhaps this was simply a figure of speech, but his voice intonation indicated that one needs to exert more than grit to be successful as an entrepreneur. On a related note, PVCC recently hosted Mr. Louie Lujan, Director of Government Relations at the CIMA Law Group, who spoke to students on life and work lessons learned during his career as an elected official and lobbyist. He reflected on lessons learned from his father about perseverance and hardship with the simple narrative to our students when faced with a challenge “…just get up, keep trying…”

Angela Duckworth, a noted author and psychologist, has written and spoken on the notion of the positive impact of “grit” on learning and success. Although there have been recent challenges to her research, writers still argue that “Students need to learn to keep on working even when the work seems difficult. They need to learn to respond correctly to failure and to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of their goals.”

In the context of the community college space where students come to us with varying levels of confidence, competence and commitment, it is no wonder that we are challenged to discover new and different ways to increase student engagement and success. Additionally, our students respond with varying levels of affirmation to the following two questions: Do you really want to learn this material? And do you believe you have the capacity/ability to actually learn?

No one ever said serving community college students would be easy. Even as we deploy our collective “whys” to the pursuit of student learning and success, our work can seem daunting. At times, when I feel challenged by the curse of Sisyphus, the king of Ephyra in Greek mythology, it is easy, even for a brief moment, to question my own leadership grit and determination. It is then that I remind myself that it is precisely those students who question their desires and capacities to learn that matter the most.