Please Pass the Grits

We’ve all experience challenges and setbacks. It’s a part of life. Yet, some kids have had more than their share of unwanted and un-asked-for difficulties.

Resilience is the ability to respond in a healthy and productive way in the face of adversity or stress. It’s part of the social emotional learning continuum. Researchers have discovered that adults who overcome adversity have at least one thing in common: someone in their childhood who believed in them and stood by them. Resilience researcher and psychologist Julius Segal referred to this “charismatic” adult as someone “from whom a child gathers strength.”

A critical element to school success is a student developing a close and nurturing relationship with at least one caring adult. Students need to feel that there is someone from their school whom they can turn to and who will advocate for them.

Dr. Robert Brooks, who studies resiliency, outlines six ways grown-ups can be charismatic adults for children.

  1. Identify and appreciate a child’s “island of confidence.” While charismatic adults don’t deny a child’s problems or difficulties, they acknowledge a child’s strengths—their islands of confidence. Always begin with the strengths.
  2. Accept children for who they are. Accept the child for who they are and not who you want them to be. One way to do this is to listen to children. Give them focused, undivided attention builds their sense of confidence. You are sending the message: You are important.
  3. Involve children in problem solving. Problems are meant to be solved. Give kids opportunities to solve them. It’s hard to be resilient when  you don’t know how to proceed when confronted by a problem.
  4. Offer opportunities to contribute to the well-being of others. This is one of the CIS basics!
  5. Help children recognize mistakes as an opportunity for learning.
  6. Provide positive feedback and encouragement. Catch kids being good. When they do something right, let them know it.

Speaking of grit, if you haven’t seen this interesting and gritty Ted Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth, you might want to check it out here. A professor of psychology, her research finds grit a key predictor of success.

Now get out there and pass our kids some grits!


Note: An earlier version of this post was first published in Ask Me About My 12,00 Kids back in 2014.


Roots And Wings

Today’s post comes from James Hissong, a former teacher within the Kalamazoo Public Schools. James is our Quality & Evaluation Coordinator.  He works within the downtown office and out at the CIS school sites, making sure we capture the right information. James assists us in using data to improve our programs, recording the services provided, and sharing the impact the community is having by working through CIS.

Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting  Communities In Schools site coordinator, Deb Yarbrough, at Kalamazoo Central High School. Although our meeting was intended to be a data review session for Deb, I found myself on the receiving end of a lesson that day.  As we scrolled through logs of services she has helped facilitate at the school this year, our meeting had to be put on hold several times as she attended to the needs of multiple students. It was during these moments that I was able to witness the true motto of a site coordinator with CIS (and the title of another great book); “Whatever it takes.”  Upon leaving, Deb began telling a story about a young woman who had just received her acceptance letter to Michigan State University.  Her story was like so many I have heard since joining the CIS team.  Life has given this student every excuse not to succeed but with the support of her school, the Kalamazoo community, and those working incredibly hard to connect the two, a life filled with opportunity awaits.

This young woman’s story of overcoming obstacles, never giving up, and rising to new heights brought the theme of a book that I am currently reading full circle in my mind.  The book is titled “Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings,” by Kenneth Ginsburg.  Before I go any further I need to explain one important detail to someone who might be reading this.  Yes, I am reading a parenting book although I myself do not have any kids, and, no mom, I do not have any sort of related announcement to make!  Let me explain.  Part of the reason why I enjoy working for CIS is because  our focus is on the whole child.  I see the importance in the range of resources offered through CIS, from distributing basic needs items, providing services for the physical and emotional health of children, offering enriching experiences, and, of course, reinforcing academics as well. I believe all of these services can help contribute to build resiliency, or the power to overcome, in our students.

In his book, Kenneth Ginsburg focuses on what he calls the “7 C’s of resiliency.” He believes that competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping, and control all form an interlocking web of skills that contribute to whether or not children are able to achieve success, even in the face of adversity.  In this book, he lays out both relatively simple and more complex ways to build these skills.  To sum up how a few of these “C’s” are interrelated, Ginsburg writes that, “Children need to experience competence to gain confidence. They need connections with an adult to reinforce those points of competence. They need character to know what they should contribute to their families and the world, and character is forged through deep connections to others. Contribution builds character and further strengthens connections.”  Many of these terms were exactly what I had the pleasure of watching take place in Deb’s interactions with her students.  As a community, I truly believe that if we can find ways to continue to impact these non-cognitive abilities, we will continue to hear more success stories like this one student from Kalamazoo Central.  I recommend this book to anyone interested in helping children succeed, not just the parents out there.

So while I may not have a child myself, as part of the CIS team, um, mom, I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about my 12,000 kids… just kidding (kind of).