Discover what it takes to GO when the mind and body say NO!

Grit Bits

November, December Grit Bits

Those with an ‘Ultra-Mindset”………………………………

1. Don’t settle for ‘just good enough.’ (Growth Mindset).


2. Have grit. Just like the Navy Seals Training Program, they try their hardest not to ‘ring the bell.’

G:  Getting along with others.

R:  Responsible

I: Integrity

T: Tenacity


3. Have a favorite mantra, quote, proverb, or saying.

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must do something you’ve never done.”

“Success is a Choice.”

Or…..this by C.S. Lewis: Make your choice, adventurous Stranger.

                                                Strike the bell and bid the danger,

                                                Or wonder, ‘till it drives you mad,

                                                What would have followed you, if you had.


4. Embrace the ‘Gift of Pain.’ They know that in order to achieve their goals (gifts) they may have to cope with sore legs, burning lungs, achy fingers, sore eyes, etc.


5. Seek advice from the wise. They ask for advice from teachers, counselors, coaches , clergy and other successful people. They also read biographies and motivational books.


6. Know that often the key to success could be failure. They learn from their mistakes and try again.


7. Take risks. They step out of their comfort zones. They are Galileos not Bobble Heads.


8. Constantly monitor their GPS.              G+P=S  (Grit plus pain equals success).


9. They practice and learn to appreciate cognitive reappraisal.  Professional endurance athlete Travis Macy notes, “Cognitive reappraisal involves reframing or reinterpreting a situation. When you’re doing something you don’t like, instead of thinking about how much it sucks, reappraise it. Say to yourself, ‘This is good mental training. It will make me stronger, more resilient, and more prepared for future challenges.’”


10.  Seldom use excuses. They usually ask, What?  instead of Why?


11.  Always keep a can of ‘Suck-it-Up’ close at hand.



Tom Carr


Grit Bits September/October


                                                                                                                          By Tom Carr


                                We need to get the mastery of our brains and of our minds so that they become working instruments which we control. In education, will must master mind. Now, I have noticed, in the observations of a long life, that the men and women who succeed in law, in  medicine, in business, in preaching, in teaching, in authorship, in research (and there are so few) are the men and women who make their minds serve their wills. If you would be numbered among the educated, you must be able to say to your minds: “Come now, let us work. Mind, I am your master; go to work.”

                                                                                                -Dr. Wallace Buttrick

                                                                                                Peabody Journal of Education, Vol. III, No. 3, Nov. 1925




                In 2006, Carol Dweck, now a professor of psychology at Stanford University, authored the intriguing book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. In the book she describes two types of mindsets. First (as described by Mary Ricci, 2013) there is the ‘fixed mindset’: a belief system that suggests that a person has a predetermined amount of intelligence, skills, or talents. Then there is the ‘growth mindset’: a belief that suggests that one’s intelligence can be grown or developed with persistence, effort, and a focus on learning. Dweck stresses the importance in helping students develop growth mindsets. In the January, 2016 issue of Scientific American, she notes, “We found that at every level of family income, the kids who favored a growth mindset, as measured by a questionnaire we developed, enjoyed substantially higher levels of academic achievement than those who espoused a fixed mindset. In fact, poorer kids with growth mindsets often performed as well as more privileged kids with fixed mindsets.” Dweck also believes that the brain is like a muscle; it can get stronger. By encouraging students to get out of their comfort zones and try new harder things, the neurons in their brain form new or stronger connections.

                Many school districts throughout the United States are implementing Dweck’s ideas as a way to enhance student achievement. But before looking at some of the following strategies, educators must ask themselves, “Do we want our students to develop growth mindsets for the sole purpose of helping them memorize useless facts and/or to increase standardized tests scores?” Or, are we instilling growth mindsets to truly prepare students for the ‘ever-changing world’ where they will need to be creative, master new technologies, and acquire valuable people skills? Let’s consider a few words of caution as noted by Harvard professor and education author, Alfie Kohn:

Outstanding classrooms and schools, with a rich documentary record of their successes, show that the quality of education itself can be improved. But books, articles, TED talks, and teacher training sessions devoted to the wonders of adopting a growth mindset rarely bother to ask whether the curriculum is meaningful, whether the pedagogy is thoughtful, or whether the assessment of students’ learning is authentic (as opposed to defining success merely as higher scores on dreadful standardized tests).

The ‘Mindset’ Mindset: What We Miss by Focusing on Kids’ Attitudes, Salon, Aug. 16, 2015


Classroom Strategies

1. Avoid Glasser’s Seven Deadly Habits: criticizing, blaming, complaining, nagging, threatening,

punishing, and rewarding to control. In his book, Unhappy Teenagers, Dr. William Glasser urges parents and teachers to stay away from these negative behaviors; they rarely work. If our goal is to help motivate students and help develop growth mindsets we need to make a personal vow to avoid Glasser’s deadly habits, especially the last one, rewarding to control. Do we want students to work hard and behave because they get a tangible reward or do we want them doing their best because it is the right thing to do? Enhance your knowledge of intrinsic motivation. Study theorists and psychologists like Marvin Marshall, Steven Covey, Alfie Kohn, William Deming, Douglas McGregor, Daniel Pink, and William Glasser. Their books and research show the many negative aspects of tangible “reinforcers.”


2. Utilize Glasser’s Seven Connecting Habits: caring, trusting, listening, supporting, negotiating,

befriending, and encouraging. Teachers must strive to create the right environment to help students succeed and that can be accomplished by building strong relationships. When the setting is right, minds will grow. According to Education News (7/1/2009), “When students are underachieving, school policymakers often examine class size, curriculum, and funding, but University of Missouri researchers suggest establishing relationships may be a powerful and less expensive way to improve students’ success.” To enhance student relations the U. of Missouri study offer research-based tips for teachers: a) Increase warm, positive interactions with students, b) Be well-prepared for class and hold high expectations, c) Be responsible to students’ agendas by providing choices, d) Use reasoning rather than coercive discipline that damages relationships, e) Help students be kind, helpful, and accepting of one another, f) Implement interventions for difficult relations with specific students.


3. Redirect responsibilities. Students need to resolve issues on their own. We can’t always ‘bail them out.’ Students with fixed mindsets often look to others to assist them with problems. Try these two responses when students seek your help with situations they need to handle on their own.

a) Whenever I came home from school with a complaint, my father usually responded with, “I’m sorry. What are you going to do about?”

b) I have a good friend who is a coach. When his athletes tell them how they want to accomplish a goal, such as funding for a summer camp, he often replies, “Make it happen!”


4. Telling them to “Try harder!” doesn’t work. What is the use of students trying harder when they doesn’t understand?  They need tools, strategies, feedback, and other basic skills that will help them to attack math problems. Telling me, “Tom, try harder!” when creating a webpage isn’t going to help. I need some instruction.


5. Practice ‘process praise.’ Dweck, in Scientific American Mind (Jan. 2016) says, “Our past research has shown that when adults praise a child’s intelligence or talent, it sends a fixed mindset message, with all its associated liabilities. Children hearing this praise may no longer want to challenge themselves and are discouraged by difficulty, which, in this framework, suggests to them that they might not be smart after all. But children whose parents and teachers offer what I describe as “process praise,” linking their success to hard work or good strategies, tend to adopt more of a growth mindset, embrace struggles, and thrive in the face of challenge.”


6. Students need to know that ‘WE’ know when they do well. Instead of saying, “Holly, I’m so proud of you for not arguing with Jazmine during group work,” say, “Holly I noticed that you and Holly got along well today during group work.” Instead of always praising, try acknowledging.


7. Watch children become more responsible by eliminating one word in your vocabulary. Remember, we are trying to instill growth mindsets so we must teach students about accepting more responsibility for their actions. Whenever a student has not been responsible, don’t ask, “Why?” When you ask why, you are opening the door to let them come up with an excuse to justify their lack of responsibility. If you ask Kenny, “Why did you push Tim?” He’ll probably respond with remarks like: He pushed me first. He called me a name. He rolled his eyes at me. Instead, say, “What did you just do?” “What is the rule about keeping your hands to yourself?” “What should you have done instead of pushing?” Remember, don’t ask WHY? ask, WHAT?


8. Yes, failure is an option. As I travel throughout schools in our state I often see posters on the walls that read FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION!  Well, maybe failure is a good option as we help children develop growth mindsets. There was a great article in the September 14, 2011 issue of The New York Times with the heading, “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” It was written by Paul Tough. In the article he mentions the benefits of not always winning, about setbacks, dealing with frustration, and overcoming adversities. He finishes the article with a quote from a school principal, “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” Angela Duckworth, the ‘grit guru’ often writes about the benefits of failing once in a while. Recent research by Kyla Haimovitz at Stanford found that many parents believe that setbacks are harmful to their children and that belief fosters a fixed mindset in their offspring. Mary Ricci notes in her book, Mindsets in the Classroom, “It is imperative that teachers develop a climate in their classroom where failure is celebrated and students learn to reflect and redirect so that they can approach a challenging task in a new way or with more effort.” Teachers, don’t be afraid to give a difficult class lesson that is so difficult that no one succeeds. Give an occasional timed test in which no one will be able to complete on time. Teach kids how to deal with frustration.


9. Power posing. A recent study at the Harvard Decision Science Laboratory found great benefits from a technique called “power posing.” The researchers found that if one did a Superman/Superwoman pose for 60 seconds before entering a stressful situation (classroom) it helped reduce the stress and improve effectiveness. Slouching had the opposite effect. This trick helps in attaining growth mindsets.


10. Positive affirmations. I am a firm believer in positive affirmations. Help young people learn one or two to use in challenging arenas. As a former counselor I helped numerous students create their own, unique affirmation that helped them through tough times.


11. Dress for success. A paper in the August 2015 journal Social Psychological and Personality Science reported that what one wears has an effect on mindsets, performance, and even hormones. Participants in a study were asked to change into formal or casual clothing before cognitive tests. Wearing formal business attire increased abstract thinking, an important aspect of creativity and long-term strategizing. The experiments suggest the effect is related to feelings of power. Recently I read about a middle school science teacher who would randomly pass out white lab coats and hats to students who were working on experiments. The teacher noticed that almost always, the students who wore the white outfits out performed those who were not wearing the white outfits. Here is another example of “dress for success.” Our local sheriff recently outfitted his deputies with new uniforms. They had been wearing the drab brown uniforms for years! The sheriff gave each officer a new gray one. He noticed that his officers had an extra ‘skip’ in their walk. They almost had an immediate adjustment in their work attitude. Teachers should seek help from the school counselor or social worker to make sure needy students have a decent outfit to wear to school. When students are well-clothed, clean, and well-fed, up goes the good mindsets.


12. Help students embrace the ‘Gift of Pain.’ If you study the lives of truly successful people, they all suffered some pain along the way, and that pain helped them later on to earn “self rewards.” For example, let’s say that a high school cross country runner wanted to qualify for the state trials. Unlike other runners on the team, he ran more miles, did more sprints, and did more calisthenics. All that extra work hurt. His lungs burned and he had sore muscles, but that pain earned him a personal reward, he qualified! Young people need to realize that in order to be successful they must step out of their comfort zones and experience some pain. Cindy’s fingers hurt while practicing an extra hour of piano. Maurice’s eyes burn a bit as he stays up late proofreading his term paper. Pain is a gift. Even authors have to cope with pain.  Harriet Beecher Stowe, while trying to complete a manuscript noted, “My brain is sore from the number of things I have been thinking of.” Let’s hope our students experience a sore brain once in a while. The brain is a muscle and when it is ‘stretched’ it can get sore!


13. Provide students with honest, sincere criticism. Criticism can be very beneficial to students but be careful in how you give it. Remember, too much negative criticism falls into Glasser’s deadly habits. A.H. Auden said, “Criticism should be a casual conversation.” If we really want students to succeed we need to provide them with feedback, good and bad; but do it with kindness, and if they trust and respect us, they will listen.


14. Encourage students to take risks. In education I’ve often remarked that when it comes to teachers, we need more Galileos and fewer Bobbleheads. I encourage teachers to take risks when it comes to doing what is best for students. I’ve often told teachers that they don’t have to agree with every new idea, requirement, or program. They need not be a Bobblehead. Speak up in a professional manner and ask questions. The same goes for our students. Teachers, do you want a class full of students who agree with everything you say or do you desire students that question and challenge you at times? If one of our goals is to develop students with growth mindsets then we must make them feel safe enough to take risks. Think about creating a Galileo Award for your ‘risky’ students.


15. Remember, most things won’t grow without fresh air and water. Throughout the day provide students moments where they get some exercise, fresh air, and ample water. Let them keep a water bottle at their desk. Plants and minds/brains can’t grow without theses essentials. Also, I wish teachers were allowed to let their students chew gum. I truly believe gum-chewing helps develop growth mindsets. Think about it. Chewing pumps oxygen to the brain, it helps with concentration, and burns off nervous energy. In my book, 141 Creative Strategies for Reaching Adolescents with Anger Problems, I list twelve reasons why we should “let them chew!”


16. When they won’t budge, give them a nudge. Sometimes it can be the little things we say or do that motivates a student; a wink, pat on the back, elbow nudge, a friendly challenge, a positive comment on a paper, and even a smile as he or she enters the room.  These actions will help stimulate growth mindsets.


17. Slow it down! Young people today are so fixated on speed and quickness as they text each other, play video games or piddle on the Internet. But I think one of the best ways to enhance growth mindsets is to provide ‘slow down’ activities that force the students to do some real thinking. For instance, how about chess? I know a very successful math teacher who always keeps several chess boards set up in his room and his students love playing. He told me how one time an administrator questioned why kids were playing chess in his math class. He was told that chess was not in the curriculum. But this teacher knew that when kids played chess they were utilizing tools and strategies that helped them in math: problem solving, patterns, frustration, concentration, and becoming familiar with vertical and horizontal lines. This teacher still lets the kids play. And, one interesting note here is that almost every year his students outperform most of the other math classes in the county on end of year exams!


18. Take interest in their interests. There’s an Amish saying that goes, “Take interest in their interests or they’ll lose interest in their interests.” Take time to know more about your students. Ask Cindy about last night’s volleyball game. Find out what badge Josh earned in scouts last night. Ask Mike for an update on his grandfather’s health. It is amazing how hard students will work for you when you take a bit of interest in their lives. Again, this helps plant a seed or two to help instill growth mindsets.


19. Bring a sandwich to class every day. Let me explain! A sandwich consists of three parts: slice of bread, meat, and another slice of bread. Divide your class lessons in to these three parts. 1) Begin the lesson with a slice of bread. This involves a couple of minutes in which you do something to get the kids excited/stimulated. These could involve a trivia question, joke, short story, thoughts on current events, or Jeopardy. 2) Then give them the ‘meat.’ Teach your lesson. 3) Finish with the last slice of bread. Give the answer to your trivia question, give positive feedback, draw a name out of a hat for a free homework pass, or do some other activity that they look forward to at the end of class. During my many years of doing classroom guidance lessons I always used the ‘sandwich activity.’ I started class with a story, did my lesson, and finished with my Candy Bar game.

                Along this same line of adding a bit of variety and excitement to your lessons reminds me of a radio interview I heard a few years while driving to a presentation in Pennsylvania. The person being interviewed discussed a study that was based on Dweck’s work. The results were amazing. The researchers divided 50 middle school math students into two groups of equal abilities based on previous test scores. Both groups met for three hours a day for five days to work on their math skills. Group #1 students did nothing more than just practicing skills, doing worksheets, timed-tests, quizzes, and other drills. Group #2 did a lot of the same things that the other group did, but students in this group spent a minimum of thirty minutes a day playing chess, doing fun puzzles, hearing stories, and other stimulating activities.  Group #1 received about 15 hours of math instruction while Group #2 received two and a half less hours of ‘drills.’ When retested at the end of the week, Group #2 easily out performed Group #1. I think it is very important to mix in a few exciting and stimulating activities into your lessons. Students need some variety or they burn out quickly. So, don’t forget your sandwich!


20. Don’t forget the key ingredient to success. As we strive to help students build on their growth mindsets and improve their academic skills, we can’t forget that they need growth mindsets that enable them to develop positive social skills. Over a hundred years ago President Teddy Roosevelt said, “The key ingredient in the formula for success is the ability to get along with others.” And, it is still true today! Our students need math and reading skills, but just as importantly they need social skills. I would often joke with my students about using their brains appropriately for both academic and social skills by quoting the poet Edward Housman who wrote, “Knowledge is good, method is good, but one thing beyond all others is necessary; and that is to have a head, not a pumpkin, on your shoulders, and brains, not pudding, in your head.”


21. Have students do some cognitive reappraisals. Travis Macy is an author and ultra marathon runner. He often coaches other runners and focuses on their mindsets. He notes, “Here is another way of looking at mental training, one drawn from cognitive psychology. It’s the concept of “cognitive reappraisal.” As the name suggests, this involves reframing, or reinterpreting a situation. The brain gives a new meaning to a situation and responds accordingly. To put it into practical terms, when doing something you don’t like, instead of thinking about how much you dislike it, reappraise it. Say to yourself, This is good mental training. It will make me stronger, more resilient and more prepared to take on other challenges in my life.



22. Seek a positive, satisfying life outside of school. Some teachers spend so much time and energy focusing on their work that they forget to take care of themselves. A Teach for America study in 2009 found that teachers who scored high in “life satisfaction,” reporting that they were content with their lives, were 43 percent more likely to perform well in the classroom than their less satisfied colleagues. It is imperative to recharge your batteries. Enhance your growth mindset. Spend quality time with the family, exercise, read, and enjoy a hobby or two.


23. Implement the ‘Hard Thing Rule.’ In her book, GRIT, Angela Duckworth notes how she and her husband implement the “Hard Thing Rule” in the family. She, her husband and their two teenagers commit themselves to one difficult activity that they choose and that requires daily practice. They cannot quit until there is a natural stopping point, like the end of a season. What a way to build growth mindsets!


24. Be a storyteller. My experience finds that students at all levels enjoy hearing stories. I try to tell ‘true’ stories of people who were successful because they had grit and growth mindsets. Let me leave you with of my favorites.



Hiro Numajiri Remembers his School Days in Japan in the Late 1800’s


                You know, I remember when I was at primary school we used to use a wick dipped in kerosene for light. Some families used proper oil lamps, but more common were simple wicks because they needed less oil. My family sometimes couldn’t afford the kerosene for a wick; so to provide the light to do my homework by, I often had to go out into the fields and collect fireflies, which I put in a paper bag. In those days, near the paddy fields, there were an awful lot of fireflies, so many in fact you could feel them brushing against you face as you walked along. If you put them into a bag they gave off a palish glow. I’d hold the bag near my exercise book and it would give off just enough light for me to practice writing my Chinese characters.


                                                -From the book, Memories of Silk and Straw, by Junichi Saga






If you want something you’ve never had, you must to something you’ve never done.  –Tom Carr

Grit Bits March/April 2014

The Power of Priming

Two elementary school counselors are doing a unit with a small group of third graders on the importance of eating more fruit. Counselor A shows his group a ten-minute video on nutrition and has his students list three things they learned. Counselor B shows her group the same video. Instead of having her students write down what they learned, she asked each child which kinds of fruit they were planning to eat the next day. Guess which counselor had more success getting their students to eat more fruit? More than likely it would be Counselor B. Why, because she did some priming.

                What is priming? According to the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein write, “Priming refers to the somewhat mysterious workings of the brain……research shows that subtle influences can increase the ease with which certain information comes to the mind…..these primes occur in social situations, and their effects can be surprisingly powerful.” The authors site a few examples:

*Want to get more voters out at the polls? Try this. It turns out that if you ask people, the day before the election, whether they intend to vote, you can increase the probability of their voting by as much as 25 percent.

*With respect to health-related behavior, significant changes have been produced by measuring people’s intentions. If people are asked how often they expect to floss their teeth in the next week, they floss more.

*If people are asked whether they intend to consume fatty foods in the next week, they consume less in the way of fatty foods. (p. 70).

                Consider the power of priming with a few of your apathetic students and see what happens.

Reading teacher

Instead of, “Class, don’t forget to read for twenty minutes tonight.”

Try, “Maurice, what book will you be reading tonight for your twenty minutes?”


Cross country coach

Instead of, “Runners, remember, do some running this weekend.”

Try, “Mindy, when are you planning to do your weekend workout, Saturday or Sunday?”


School nurse

Instead of, “Jasper, get a good night’s sleep tonight! We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow.”

Try, “Jasper, what time will you be getting in bed tonight?”



Grit Bits November December



                West Point, located fifty miles north of New York City, is renowned as an historic and distinguished military academy and leading progressive institution of higher education. Only a select few high school graduates a year get accepted to attend. Obviously the academy seeks individuals with good grades and high scores on the SAT, but another trait is being closely evaluated by the admissions officers: grit. Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania has been studying the importance of grit (perseverance, hard work, tenacity, overcoming adversity). Duckworth and her associates note that “gritty individuals are more likely to achieve success in school, work, and other pursuits, perhaps because their passion and commitment help them endure the inevitable setbacks that occur in any long-term undertaking.”

                Getting into West Point isn’t easy but it takes a lot of grit to survive the rigorous academic and physical challenges. According to a recent article in Psychology Today regarding Duckworth’s research , “Grit is the premier attribute for surviving the grueling first summer of training at West Point (“Beast Barracks”), when as many as 5 percent of new cadets typically drop out. A grit questionnaire administered to all 1,223 cadets entering the class of 2008 showed that grit is the single best yardstick for predicting who will survive the academy’s punishing first weeks. It bested such highly touted measures as high school class rank, SAT scores, athletic experience, and faculty appraisal scores.” Duckworth adds, “Sticking with West Point doesn’t have as much to do with how smart you are as your character does.”

                The West Point example is a great one to share with those students you encounter who believe they are smart but don’t want to work. Somehow we need to let them know that in the long run, it will be their grit that gets them farther in life than their grades.


Grit Bits Fall 2015: Galileos and Bobbleheads

Wherever you find a group of people, scattered among them are numerous Bobbleheads and very few Galileos. Every classroom, church congregation, business, school faculty, or athletic team has a mix of these two kinds of individuals. What about people who truly ‘got grit’? Are they a Bobblehead or a Galilieo? Let’s find out!

Galileo (1564-1642) was an amazing Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher. Even today he is often referred to as the “father of modern observational astronomy,” the “father of modern physics,” and the “father of modern science.” But most of us know that he is well-known for his perseverance as he tried to convince people that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. The government and the Roman Catholic Church warned him to abandon his theory, but he refused. He truly believed he was correct; he had done his research. Eventually he was tried and found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest. So, to be considered a Galileo a person needs to have courage, confidence, and be willing to take risks.

What is a Bobblehead? A Bobblehead is one who seldom speaks up, agrees with everything he hears, and will never take a risk. Think of a person who is always nodding his head. Often these groups of people get praise for being team players.  They never want to ‘rock the boat.’

I believe that most gritty people are more closely identified with Galileo than a Bobblehead.  Students and adults with grit are willing to take risks, rock the boat, take one for the team, and have tough skin, especially when told they aren’t a team player. My son teaches at the middle school level. He often tells me he would rather have a class with a couple Galileos than a class full of Bobbleheads. He enjoys students who may question or challenge him. He says that Galileos make class interesting. Bobbleheads make class boring.

In his 2013 book, Top Dog, Po Bronson warns teachers, bosses, principals, business owners and other leaders about quiet, totally agreeable groups or teams of people. He states, “Constant harmony may even be cause for alarm. A conflict-free team means no one is bringing anything to the table that might engender controversy. The team members aren’t focused on the teams’ purpose; instead they are focused on protecting the group’s relationships. It’s one of the ways teams can be less than the sum of their parts: fear of offending anybody.” Bronson also gives several examples of teams that are successful even though there is conflict. He mentions a study done completed by Richard Hackman at Harvard. Hackman focused on orchestras and found that “the better an orchestra sounded, the more likely there was rivalry, quarreling, and discord behind the scenes. The only times they were in harmony was on stage.”

Have you recently looked over job descriptions in the help wanted section of the newspaper? You will find that many employers are looking for people who ‘must be a team player.’ I told my wife I would never apply for a job that required me to be a team player. I am a very cooperative person and do my best to get along with others and I respect my leaders, but there will be times I may desire to speak up, disagree or suggest unique ideas. I’m willing to take risks and sometimes I get burned. As a school counselor I would often have several faculty members complain to be about issues/policies at school. Then, when at faculty meetings I would stand up to mention staff concerns, no one would say a thing to support me. I stood alone.  As the saying goes, “I was hung out to dry.”

When I was talking to one of my friends about employers looking for team players he referred me to a study done by Agnes Stribeck. It was described in her 2010 paper, “The Downside of Looking for Team Players—An Empirical  Analysis of the Effects of Requiring Teamwork Skills in Job Advertisements on the Applicant Pool.” Check this out! She surveyed almost 2,000 college students. She asked them for their majors and GPA. Then she had the students look over a few mock job descriptions. Stribeck discovered something fascinating. Whenever the students saw an ad that mentioned “teamwork,” hardly any of them had interest. The students thought the jobs that required teamwork would not be challenging enough and they wouldn’t be able to utilize their creativity skills. Stribeck then warned employers that if they mention “teamwork” in their ads, very few of the top college candidates (based on GPA) would apply!

Gritty individuals still need to practice the first G: Getting along with others while in school or on the job, but they need not be afraid to be a Galileo. Here is a one of my favorite examples of an individual taking a risk that at first seemed very silly to others. This comes from the book, Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. Doctors working in Nigeria were doing their best to reduce unwanted pregnancies. So many young women and babies were dying in childbirth. All kinds of medical interventions were attempted without much success. Then someone suggested an out-of-the-box suggestion as a way to reduce early pregnancies… uniforms! The belief that with nice school uniforms girls would stay in school longer which would delay marriage and pregnancy until they were better able to deliver babies. Later there was a study in Africa that found that by giving girls a $6 uniform every eighteen months increased the odds that they would stay in school and lessen the chances of early pregnancies.

I would encourage teachers to give out annual Galileo awards to students who stand out by taking risks. I would also like to see school principals giving out annual recognition to staff members who are not hesitant to speak up, share concerns, or come up with better ways of reaching students. Our educational system needs more Galileos and fewer Bobbleheads!

Grit Bits March - April 2016

Sometimes You Never Know!

                So many hard-working dedicated teachers, counselors, coaches, social workers, youth group leaders, and other adults who have spent much of their lives working with young people often don’t realize how much of a positive impact they had  on them. Seldom do these young people return to their former schools to thank those who helped lead them on the road to success. Many of us who have worked with students know what a great feeling it is when one of them calls, visits, or writes to tell us how important we were to them.

                For several days I kicked around ideas on how to end this book. What final message could I pass on to the readers about grit? How could I stress the importance of grit and how much of an impact it can have on tomorrow’s leaders?  And then, boom! I received a fantastic, heart-warming email. Let me tell the story.

                The first edition of this book was published in 2008. At that time I had implemented the ‘got grit?’ program at my elementary school for a few years. Most of my guidance lessons focused on the four components; G: Getting along with others, R: Responsibility, I: Integrity, T: Tenacity. Hundreds of students took part in my lessons. Was it possible to remember all their names and faces? Then the email arrived. It came from a former coworker who wanted to tell me about a young man named Jose Ortega who was in 5th grade when I was there teaching my grit lessons back in 2008. The first thing I said to myself was, “Who is Jose Ortega?” I vaguely remembered that name. The coworker’s email explained to me that Jose was invited back to my former school this year (2015) to give a speech to the present graduating fifth graders. The email told of the many struggles he encountered early in life, but in spite them, he was graduating from high school and got a full scholarship to attend Duke University! Fantastic! Following is the transcript of the speech he gave seven years after he left Cameron Park Elementary School. When I first read it I was moved….wow! Here is a kid I hardly remembered, but obviously he practiced all four components of my program and great things happened.


Fifth Grade Graduation: June 4, 2015

                First of all, thank you to the fifth grade teachers for inviting me to this graduation, along with all those who put this together and also to the parents in the audience for supporting your children through to this wonderful occasion. Without your support and the dedicated teachers at Cameron Park to teach the oncoming generations, this would not be possible.

                When the 5th grade teachers approached me with this wonderful opportunity, I was ecstatic to come back to the place where it all started. This school is responsible for some of my most cherished memories, from flying kites on Kill Devil Hills overlooking the ocean in the distance to the amazing view of our nation’s capitol from the top of the Washington Monument. I even remember my very last day here, sitting in this very gym exactly seven years ago. Hearing all of the goodbyes from teachers and friends, including the chaotic playground filled with all of the 5th graders at once with ice cream in hand. I could not appreciate how thankful I was for such a great school and its teachings that would remain with me till this day, especially one of Cameron Park’s mottos, Got G.R.I.T.?

                This all started with Tom Carr, a retired Cameron Park counselor and one of the greatest people I have had the chance to meet. For those of you who haven’t met him, he created this saying and the true meaning behind it. I can still remember the acronym after all these years: getting along with others, responsibility, integrity, and tenacity. This motto has been one of the significant parts to my success. The more I think about it the more I think about how this important foundation has molded me without notice.

                I have had the great opportunity to meet some amazing individuals I can proudly call friends. They have supported me throughout middle school and especially high school. They have been through the same classes and experiences I have, and they have become the people I looked up to, allowing me to continue to strive to be even more like them. Responsibility eased its way into my life during middle school and later in high school, forcing me to carry my own weight. See, my parents did not have the great opportunity you’ve already achieved, finishing their elementary education, but their constant hard work to provide what they can for me and my three siblings has been my drive to fulfill every parent’s dream of giving a better life than they had to their children.

                Integrity has allowed me to avoid the obvious short-cuts throughout school, but that doesn’t allow you to gain more tenacity; the ability to keep getting up when life knocks you down. This is an essential part of life. That satisfaction you get when you meet a goal feels incredible after all that hard work you put in. This is what pushes us to strive for more. Practicing for hours on end, keeping up with homework, and playing a sport is difficult, but was definitely worth it in the end.

                Now as you guys have a great summer and even greater middle school experience, remember this community around you that supported you and has given all of you a common trait. Carry on the ‘Got Grit?’ motto and never forget where it all started. Congratulations 5th grade class and thank you for giving me the honor to be in front of you right now.

                                                                                                                                -Jose Ortega

Grit Bits March-April 2015

Give Me a Copper Coin and I’ll Tell You a Golden Story


                Around 450 B.C. the general guidelines were established for the Olympic Games in Greece. Athletes and spectators would travel hundreds of miles, often on foot, to attend the games. People came not only to watch the athletes; they came for other forms of entertainment. Traveling entertainers added to the festive atmosphere, including acrobats, jugglers, dancers, sword swallowers, magicians, singers, and musicians. But the most popular form of entertainment was conducted by the professional storytellers. They would stand on a hill or large rock and shout, “Give me a copper coin and I’ll tell you a golden story.”

                I still believe in the power of storytelling. Yes, the early Olympians loved stories, but I find that young people today still enjoy hearing great tales. I recently retired after being an elementary school counselor for thirty years. I frequently visited classrooms for guidance lessons. I found that storytelling was a powerful tool to reach young people. Whenever I said, “I’ve got a great story for you today,” I had their full attention. I also discovered that the students preferred true stories. Quite often I have former students come up to me tell me that they remember many of my stories. I truly believe that my students learned more important life skills from my stories than from movies, lectures, and worksheets.

                I encourage parents and teachers to brush up on their storytelling skills and instead of ‘fussing’, lecturing, and scolding, say to, “Hey, let me tell you a story.” A couple years ago I wrote a book of stories entitled, Changing Young Lives One Story at a Time. This book will help you get jump-started on your storytelling. The book can be purchased at

Grit Bits February 2014

Arrows for their Quivers


To many students every day at school is a battle. They butt heads with teachers, skip class, refuse to work, have conflicts with peers, say that they are bored, and blame others for their problems. Often these students lack the necessary social skills and/or coping skills to make school less of a battleground. Years ago Indians would never think of going hunting or into battle without an adequate supply of arrows in their quiver. We need to do our best to help these students fill their quivers with arrows (positive strategies) before they face their enemies (teachers, principals, peers).

                As a counselor when I meet with these young “ warriors” who see school as a battlefield I always remind them, “You can’t change others. The only person you can change is you. But when you change, others change.” When Tyler says to me, “Spanish class sucks and I can’t stand looking at Mrs. Clayton,” I reiterate, “Tyler, number one, you need Spanish to graduate and, number two, you can’t change Mrs. Clayton.” I do my best to help him load up his quiver with creative strategies before going to Spanish each day. Following would be a list of suggestions I would give such as student:

1.  Get to class on time and if possible, sit up front.

2. Make sure your homework is completed.

3. Always greet the teacher and use her name. “Good morning, Mrs. Clayton.”

4. When called on say, “Yes, ma’am.”

5. Actively participate in class.

6. Get to know the teacher better. Find out if she has pets. What’s her favorite sport?

7. While in class, avoid associating with other misbehaving, defiant students.

8. Ask her questions on current events.

9. Compliment her once in a while. “That was a great lesson today. I learned something new.”

10. Smile, nod, or say something positive when the bell rings. “Have a nice day.”


                I will tell Tyler, if he sincerely utilizes these ten tips, he’ll see a big change in the teacher and in his attitude. He may start enjoying Spanish. Are you helping the Tylers on the world load up their quivers?



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