Resilience is one of the most popular topics in higher ed. Research has found that students with grit are better equipped to manage the stressful situations they encounter in college.
But students can’t succeed with grit alone; they need strong relationships, too, writes Luke Reynolds, an assistant professor of education at Endicott College.
In Education Week, Reynolds tells the story of one of his former students (a 7th grader) who struggled in class and seemed uninterested in the idea of grit.
“The more I tried to impress upon this student the need to develop the muscle of grit, the more turned off to school, writing, and academic pursuits he became,” writes Reynold. “Instead of helping him build a sense of determination, I was losing him.”
But after Reynolds and his student began to bond over their shared love for Ghostbusters, he noticed that the student began to work harder and perform better in class.
“[My student] began developing grit because of our relationship, not because of any logical testament to the power of hard work for hard work’s sake alone,” he writes. Students need more than grit—they need supportive relationships from peers, family members, and mentors that motivate them to work hard and persevere, he argues.
High school seniors who have a network of supportive adults are more likely to earn better grades, report higher aspirations, and participate more frequently in college-preparatory activities. And students who have had seven or more meaningful mentor relationships during college are over three times more likely than the average graduate to say college was a rewarding experience, according to research from Elon University.
A diverse set of faculty, staff, and peer mentors “will get students out of their comfort zones and challenge them to learn more—and more deeply—than they thought they could,” write the researchers at Elon.
Educators must also use their connections with students to recognize and address the systemic inequalities that can hold students back—despite their hard work and perseverance, argues Reynolds. Telling students to “work hard does nothing to alleviate unjust systems,” he writes. “However, encouraging a deeper connection and concern can be a powerful way forward” (Reynolds, Education Week, 10/23/18).