Bringing Grit Into the Classroom

Image: May 7, 2016 — Golden Brook School Principal Rory O’Connor, Windham Baseball/Softball League Opening Day. (TIM JEAN/Staff Photo/Derry News)

Welcome to Live-It-Uary, a place to celebrate life while we live it. Live-It-Uary honors people who show kindness, people who create and inspire, people who do good deeds. Thank you for making the world a better place.

What Do They Have in Common?

Fired from the very company he created, Steve Jobs later became the CEO of Apple and changed how the world uses computers. Nelson Mandela brought an end to apartheid and became President of South Africa after 27 years in prison. J. K. Rowling, a down-on-her-luck mom, fought through unemployment and a bitter divorce before publishing Harry Potter. Fired from her first job for being too emotionally invested in her stories, Oprah Winfrey overcame a troubled past and built a media empire.

They had different life experiences, but they all had one thing in common. They were resilient. No matter how hard times got, they pushed on.

You don’t have to be a computer genius, a political figure, or a starving artist to make the most of a bad situation. You can take on most any obstacle when you add a little grit to your life. It doesn’t matter your age or your circumstances. Just ask Rory O’Connor.

Giving Back to the Community

Rory O’Connor knows Windham, New Hampshire. Not only did he grow up in the small town, he gives back to the community in a big way.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of New Hampshire, he returned to his alma mater in 2008 to teach fourth and fifth graders at Windham Center School. While teaching, he also earned an education specialist degree in administration and supervision (Ed.S) from the University of New Hampshire and a doctorate in leadership from Rivier University.

It is no surprise Rory O’Connor is recognized for his service. From his high fives in the school halls to his creative school projects, his dedication has left an impression not only on the students but on staff and parents just the same. He became the vice principal of Golden Brook School in 2012, moved on to become the principal at Golden Brook School in 2014, and later transitioned to become the principal at Windham Center School in 2016.

He brought grit and resiliency to the Windham School District, and it is an honor to have my children play a part.

Teaching Grit to Our Children

We all know someone who perseveres despite tough circumstances. Whether it’s getting through an illness, getting over a loss, getting good grades (for kids), or whatever life throws their way, they land on their two feet. Rory O’Connor is teaching kids to do just that.

He and other teachers at the Golden Brook School instituted the Grit Awards Program. When you walk into the school, you come face to face with a large GRIT board covered in paper handprints of every color. Written on those handprints are the successes of children who have faced and overcome adversity at the school. It could be something as simple as getting on the bus or as hard as working on a difficult class assignment.

“We really wanted to instill that work ethic for them at a young age so that as they get older and mature, they have that skill set needed to really rise to the top and continue to succeed in life,” O’Connor said.

The effects are undeniable. Not only do kids get recognition for persevering through hard times, their behavior is reinforced in a socially meaningful way. They literally see that they are not alone, that other kids struggle too. It increases empathy and understanding for their fellow students. It is also a confidence builder and encourages them to strive to be the best they can be.

How to Be More Resilient

You can read about the growing research on grit and resiliency in Angela Duckworth’s New York Times best-seller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. She says, “When you keep searching for ways to change your situation for the better, you stand a chance of finding them. When you stop searching, assuming they can’t be found, you guarantee they won’t.”

Grit and resilience are more than just persevering. They rely on how you see the world. You need to be willing to act. You need to be flexible. You need to embrace change. Most importantly, you need to grasp onto a growth mindset, a belief that your situation can improve with dedication and hard work.

If Steve Jobs wallowed after being fired from Apple, he would not have gone on to invent many of the technologies we enjoy today. South Africa could still be under apartheid without Nelson Mandela, we would not have enjoyed the adventures of Hogwarts without J.K. Rowling, and millions of people may not have been inspired to live their best lives without Oprah Winfrey.

We all face adversity. We could either fold and retreat and we can charge on and grow from it, even better the world. Thank you, Rory O’Connor. By teaching a younger generation about grit, you are making the world a better place.

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