Showing Posts from: Education

Some Kids Don’t Need “Grit;” They Need Healing

In education circles, there is a lot of talk about "Grit" and having a "Growth Mindset" these days.  There are a lot of admistrators and teachers convinced that their kids need to have more "grit." Angela Duckworth, the main proponent of “Grit," defines grit as "passion and perseverance for very long term goals." In other words, grit is passion and perseverance over a long period of time to achieve one’s goals. According to this definition, grit is specifically related to the achievement of goals.

During my presentation, "The Power of One," I sometimes talk about some of the trauma of my past, and assert, "sometimes kids don't need grit; they need healing." Well, recently, a very nice principal pulled me aside and respectfully challenged my thinking about grit. He said, "Manny, it takes grit to heal.”  His statement challenged me to clarify my thinking about the relationship between grit and healing.

Here are my brief thoughts on the matter. 

While I certainly agree that in order to achieve goals in school, work and life, students must develop "grit" (passion and perseverance over the long haul), I am convinced that several students have been so traumatized, victimized, and hurt that it is impossible for them to think about goals related to school, work, or life. For many of them, it is nearly impossible for them to even fathom “the long haul.” I used to really believe that I would be dead or in jail before I was 18 years old.  Many students are just trying make it through the night and don’t even have the capacity to see beyond their current circumstances. Many of them are trying to figure out how they are going to make it through the sexual abuse they are about to experience tonight.  Many of them are grieving over the loss of their best friend who just committed suicide yesterday. Some can’t get past the trauma of seeing their mother’s brains blown out with a shotgun and having to clean the brain and skull fragments off of their faces while cradling their dead mother in their arms. I could go on and on with stories like this.  For those kids, I am convinced that it is not grit that they need, but healing (through therapy or counseling or journaling or some other means of support). I believe it is therapy or counseling that helps traumatized people heal enough to even begin setting goals and dreaming big. It is counseling and therapy that gives them the skills to persevere, and frees them to find their passions. It is healing that frees people to develop grit.

So, my contention is that it does not “ take grit to heal,” but rather it takes “healing (or therapy) to have grit,” or, put another way, “grit is improbable without healing.” I believe healing should/must precede grit for many traumatized, victimized children. To be sure, I have certainly had to have grit to overcome many of the obstacles of my past to achieve the level of success I now enjoy.  I have had to have grit to become the first person in my family to graduate from high school. I had to have grit to graduate from college and graduate school. I had to have grit to learn how to fly planes. I have had to have grit to become the faithful husband and loving father I am today. I have had to have grit to grow my education consulting/speaking business.

From my experience, however, if it had not been for God and loving adults (pastors, teachers, counselors, coaches) who came into my life to help me heal from my hurts, I have no doubt that I would have been dead or in jail. My healing PRECEDED my grit. My healing freed me to have grit. My healing freed me to dream big and and set goals, and to develop the passion and perseverance to achieve those goals and dreams.  So yes, while I have no doubt that grit is an indispensable part of achievement and personal growth, healing, in my opinion, is the foundation upon which grit is built. 

So, I end where I began: Some students don't need grit; they need healing.

What do you think? 

A Teacher Complained, “I Don’t Know Why We Need This.”

Recently, there have been several "racially charged controversies" in a school district, and some district leaders believed that their teachers needed to become more interculturally competent. So they hired me to lead the training. Early in my session, a teacher complained, "I don't know why we need this." Her district is 75% white and made up of middle-class and affluent families. Hearing her dismiss her need for this kind of training only confirmed for me (and others in the room) that attitudes like hers might be causing- or at least exacerbating- the racial tensions in her school district.

A lot of teachers think that they can continue doing things the way they have always done them, and still be effective.  What they fail to (don't want to?) realize is that our country is becoming more diverse culturally, religiously, socioeconomically, etc, and if teachers who live in historically homogenous districts (which are experiencing a significant influx of diverse families) do not equip themselves to understand and navigate these changes with wisdom, they will eventually become more and more distant from their students, and will become increasingly ineffective as teachers. Their unwillingness to learn will eventually lead to more misunderstanding, conflict and, eventually, chaos in the classroom. So throughout our half-day session, I helped her and her colleagues see how culturally conditioned and linguistically particular they really are; and, as a result of such conditioning, they are neither "normal" nor "the norm" by which every other student should be evaluated. Of course, I also showed them how to build cross-cultural bridges into the lives of their students.

At the end of my time with them, several veteran educators and counselors came up to me and said that mine was the absolute best professional development day they have ever had in their professional lives. I think the woman who complained quietly snuck out the back door. Either way, her attitude only reaffirmed my commitment to helping teachers become better students of their students.

I show busy teachers how to do that in my newest book, Even on Your Worst Day You Can Be a Student's Best Hope.  You can get it directly from ASCD, the number one publisher for education leaders and curriculum development in the world.  

The Power of One Speaking Tour 2017

Here I go! Please pray for me. I'm heading back out for a 41-presentation, 31-city, 21-state, The Power of One Tour.  You can learn more about it HERE.


How NOT to Help Poor People

  • Are you planning an event to highlight your work with vulnerable people?
  • Are you hosting a fundraiser to raise money for your cause?
  • If so, this post is for you and your group.

I’ll never forget an event that made me so angry I nearly walked away from it. Years ago, I was invited to be the keynote speaker at an event designed to raise money for vulnerable children. My team learned as much about the organization as possible, and had several phone conversations with the group’s leaders to prepare for the event.  They talked through their event's schedule, and everything seemed fine, over the phone, in emails, and on paper.  I felt I had a pretty good idea about how I could customize my message to the specific needs of the group, in order to raise as much money as possible for their cause.

However, when I arrived, something felt off to me.  So I just stood in the back of the room to observe the people and the energy in the room. Although it was filled with predominantly white business people who were nicely dressed, there were several “at-risk” African-American kids sitting at tables in the front of the room, all by themselves. While there is nothing wrong with black kids sitting by themselves, something felt a little off to me. What happened next substantiated my suspicions.

A well-meaning leader of the organization got on the microphone and started talking about the kids their group has helped like they were “show and tell” objects: "Little Shaniqua's mom is a crackhead, and so we thought this program would be perfect for her;" Or "Tyrone lives in one of the roughest neighborhoods around here. It's drug-invested with a bunch of thugs, but Tyrone is different..."  And so on...

After dinner, right before I was scheduled to speak, the organization decided to have an auction in order to raise money. That has happened at other events at which I have spoken, so I figured it would go seamlessly. However, when the master of ceremony, a white guy, grabbed the cordless microphone, put on a sombrero (a big Mexican hat) and started marching around the room, I didn’t have a good feeling in my gut. He was trying to get people to place the highest bid for whatever was being auctioned off.  He was dancing, gyrating, singing and getting others in the audience to do the same, all while they bid for stuff: a massage at a spa, porcelain figurines that looked like little Mexicans huddled up in a circle, a bikini, and other things like that. 

While most of the audience was having fun, laughing, and placing their bids, I couldn’t help but notice the faces of the African-American students sitting alone at their tables. They weren’t laughing. They were fake-smiling in confusion (I know that face well because I wore it quite a few times in my youth, in settings like that). They were doing their best to just go with the flow. 

I, however, was in the back of the room fuming.  I felt as though the very real plight of poor people was being cheapened. It felt like that audience just wanted to have fun, but had no REAL UNDERSTANDING ABOUT HOW HARD IT IS TO BE POOR.

There was nothing fun or funny about that auction to me.  It didn't surprise me that the group didn’t even raise that much money through their auction. I believe I could have helped them raise hundreds of thousands of dollars more (I have helped several ogranization raise millions of dollars), but, because of their cultural callousness, or just bad taste, I was no longer sure that most of the money I raised would be used by them in the right way.

When it comes to speaking, if I don't mean it, I won't say it.  I am not some motivational speaker who will give you some cotton-candy message about hope and change without addressing the very obstructions that kill hope and prevent change.  At my core, I am a messenger, a minister, a servant of a God who believes in helping the least, the last, the lost, and the left out.  I am filled with a weighty, inescapable compulsion to be a voice for the voiceless.

So, standing at the back of the room, I could not help but wonder, “Why do so many people of means need to be entertained in order to give to worthy causes? Why can’t the gravity of the causes themselves be enough to inspire their generosity?” I stood there convinced that not all money is good money, and that HOW you raise money for vulnerable people should reflect the very real problems you are trying to address.  To be sure, I am not saying such events need to be weep-fests, for there is nothing wrong with having fun. However, what I am saying is there is something wrong when the methods you use to help people offend or embarrass them or take their plights too lightly.

Of course, after all that, someone got up to introduce me, their keynote speaker.  Although I was very close to canceling my presentation, walking away and refunding their deposit, I felt it was my responsibility to address what I had just witnessed, and to try to help them see the error of their ways.  All of the tears I’ve cried, and all the pain I’ve experienced, and all of the suffering I have seen, and all of the people I have lost, and all of the people who are still stuck at the bottom - often because they were born into poverty-, compelled to me to say some difficult things to that audience.  It was not fun for me. So I'm sure that it wasn't fun for them either. Some sat there stunned and shocked. Some looked offended and angry. Others looked ashamed and convicted. 

My friends, I am grateful for any and everyone who has a heart to help hurting people, especially vulnerable children.  However, as you are sitting in those meetings, planning for your events, please be mindful of how the people you aim to help might perceive your schedule of events. 

While there is nothing wrong with talking about helping underprivileged young people, it is important to be very careful about HOW you talk about the help you’ve provided.  How you talk about them reveals what you really think about them, and, if you are not culturally considerate, you can talk about people like they are emotionless objects, or projects, or trophies that you have “saved.” 

Even though they might live in the projects, poor people themselves are not your projects. They are people who have often been given a bad hand in life- born into poverty, into single-parent homes, often with absent fathers, and who have not been given the same access and opportunities that other people, from more fortunate families, have been given.  It is not their fault that they are poor. So be careful about how you think about, talk to, and talk about them. They are not objects. They are not projects. They are not your trophies.  They are people, with feelings and families and hopes and dreams, just like you.

If you want to help poor people, start right there, please.

Quick Tips for Hosting an Event for Underperforming or "at-risk" People:

  • Do not refer to them with impersonal, pet-like names like "That's my little Fu-Fu," and nobody knows what a Fu Fu is.
  • Do not refer to their mothers or fathers as "crackheads," "thugs," "indigents," or whatever else might sound hurtful or offensive to them.
  • If a black kid can dance, under no circumstances is it ever okay to refer to them as "spider monkeys" or any other name that's related to monkeys.
  • Do not refer to poor neighborhoods in terms that they themselves would not use. If they want to do so, leave that to them.
  • Never refer to people as "throwaways." How would you feel if someone called you a throwaway child?
  • Talk to them like you would want someone to talk to you.
  • See their potential and keep calling them up to it. 
  • Help your donors see the humanity of the people you serve. 
  • Inspire your donors with glimpses of what the people you are helping can become by using success stories told with sensitivity.