“Sometimes all you have to do is just stand up,” concluded Shannon Turner, founder and creative director of Story Muse. Turner had just performed her story “Rabbit Hole” during Celebrating Teaching Day, the Center for Teaching and Learning’s annual event that honors and celebrates the dedication of Georgia Tech faculty and instructors who create engaging, challenging and supportive learning experiences for their students throughout the year. The theme for this year’s keynote program was, “Stories to Inspire ‘Grit’ in Georgia Tech Students.”
Angela Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is that quality that helps our students dig deep and persevere even when challenged. Most Georgia Tech students have plenty of grit. They knew Tech’s reputation for rigor and they came here anyway. They meet with their groups late into the night to get their projects done. They study endlessly to prepare for exams.
Yet, when academic, family, social, work and other challenges pile up, even the grittiest of students have trouble carrying on. It might be that first failing grade or receiving unexpected bad news from a loved one that that throws them off course.
When students are facing difficult moments like these, they are often embarrassed to reach out for help. They see their faculty, as having everything together. They don’t see all of the detours and obstacles they faced as they forged our own academic paths and careers.
Storytelling is an effective tool that can help us connect with our students. When we share stories of relevant moments in our lives in which we faced and ultimately overcame obstacles that helped us move forward academically and professionally, students are better able to relate to us. They may feel more comfortable in reaching out for help and speaking up about what they are facing. And they may feel inspired to reconnect to their grit and persevere just a little bit longer.
Earlier this year at GTREET, Turner led faculty and staff in a workshop to craft their own personal stories of overcoming academic challenges. On March 8, 2018, Turner along with four of these Georgia Tech faculty and staff members performed stories in which they shared moments in their lives where they overcame personal and academic challenges that lead them to discover their passions and strengths.
Lew Lefton, Assistant Dean of Information Technology, College of Sciences told the story of how as a college student he found the courage to listen to his inner voice and switch careers from computer science to mathematics despite his parents’ reservations. Laura Star Rios, Lecturer of Spanish in the School of Modern Languages shared the strength it took to balance her work and life demands as she finished writing her master’s thesis. Mahauganee Bonds, shared how she helps her students find their grit as they study how to manage campus crises, in a time when those crisis situations were all too real. Finally, Andrew Eichel, Learning Specialist and Academic Coach in the Center for Academic Success, shared how he unexpectedly discovered a passion for teaching after following a romantic partner to Turkey. The relationship didn’t work out but he found his way into a new and fulfilling career path.
After the performances, the audience was invited to discuss their ideas for how to use storytelling to inspire grit in their students. Here are some of the ideas they shared:
“To Inspire Grit: Remind students that they’ve persisted through tough moments in the past. Let them tell one of these stories and identify the applicable lessons. Invite past student who’ve done well in a particular course back to share their own tales of persistence and approach to course assignments.”
“Teaching Grit: I teach healthcare management and I believe strongly in insisting on quality at the end of life as much as the rest. Therefore I share my own personal stories of managing death and then I require the students make “pull the plug” decisions based on cases.”
“Inspire grit by demonstrating it! Or share a story where you demonstrated it.”
“I tell my students to please make mistakes. If you don’t take risks you aren’t learning new ideas, but it’s not okay to make the same mistakes time after time, i.e. learn from your mistakes and don’t be afraid or embarrassed to make a mistake.” ~Laura Star Rios
“I often remind students they have made good decisions in the past and they will again.”
“Share your vulnerability!”
“Trust your intuition and if needed, take a moment to check-in and discuss where students are at.”
“I enjoy meeting students during office hours. I have a white board in my office and I use it as much for teaching as the class time.”
“In teaching first-year writing, I frequently share my own writing in process with my students. This helps them see that even professional writers revise, reframe and restructure as I ask them to.” ~@lsmisemer
In addition to the keynote, Celebrating Teaching Day featured a poster session, which showcased 45 educational initiatives being developed and implemented by the Georgia Tech community, and an honors luncheon which recognized those faculty who have demonstrated teaching excellence over the past year through their participation in one
of CTL’s faculty fellow or faculty learning communities, through receiving a Class of 1940 Course Survey Effectiveness award, a GT Fire Education or Direct Grant, or a Thank a Teacher note and/or engaging in the development and implementation of an educational initiative. For the full listing of all posters, participants, and educational initiatives, please see the 2018 Celebrating Teaching Day Program Book.
Thank you to the Georgia Tech community for all of your efforts in building a strong learning community and for turning out to celebrate each other’s important work. We look forward to seeing you again next year at Celebrating Teaching Day (and in the meantime at other CTL events throughout the year)!