By: Janice Urbanik
I am writing this as schools are letting out for the summer and am fondly singing Alice Cooper’s song in my head. On the last day of school, the sky was bluer, the sun was sunnier, and the air smelled fresher than just the day before. My friends and I had 3 months of endless possibilities ahead of us and wow, were we ready! We didn’t have to figure out which train got to the station first or write another dumb paragraph or read another stupid book for 3 whole months! No more teachers’ dirty looks! We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were perched at the top of the “summer slide”…
Can the summer slide be flipped to build grit?
If you do an internet search for “summer slide”, you will see a lot of statistics and a lot of references to the drop in reading skills that kids tend to experience during the summer, and ways to combat it. You will see some references to a drop in math skills too. It is a very easy concept to grasp because most of us have experienced “if you don’t use it you lose it” when learning a new skill.
So, not only is the summer slide a cause for inefficiency because teachers have to re-teach things when school starts back in the fall, it is also a missed opportunity – especially for girls.
The Atlantic published an article in April about the “Confidence Gap” between men and women and how it could hold women back from career choices, promotions, raises, etc. It discusses the impact of confidence on risk taking, perceived performance and competence, and how it can be a “catch-22”. While actual performance of women is generally equal to men, when asked about how well they will do on a given task, women generally underestimate their performance and men generally overestimate their performance.
The article discusses that a consequence of low confidence is inaction. Because women tend to wait to speak up or answer questions or do something until they are 100% sure they are “right”, they delay acting. A researcher asked students to do a spatial assessment. Women scored much lower than men and when analyzed, it was because women skipped a bunch of the questions – they did not answer because they had low confidence in their answer. When told they had to mark something for every question, their results were comparable to men
There was a jarring learning in this study. When the test takers were asked their confidence in their answers after every question, women’s scores dropped and the men’s rose. The conclusion in the article is : “One little nudge asking women how sure they are about something rattles their world, while the same gesture reminds men that they’re terrific.”
While reading this article, I kept thinking about the concept of “grit”. Grit has been defined many ways, but it generally means the degree to which a person has the tenacity and perseverance to overcome obstacles to attain a goal.
The Atlantic article talks about how girls lose confidence, quit competing in sports or elsewhere, and thus deprive themselves of opportunities to regain confidence. Because some girls lack confidence, they do not develop grit to give them the tenacity to overcome obstacles, prove that they can do something, and gain confidence as a result. They stop taking action and opt-out vs. leaning in – which becomes a vicious downward spiral.
And it isn’t just the girls themselves who lack confidence in their ability to be a force to be reckoned with…a recent study showed that hurricanes with feminine names killed more people because people tend to take them less seriously and do not evacuate. Wow – how’s that for an unconscious bias that can kill you?
So where do we go from here? The Forbes article linked above had a concept that appealed to my engineer’s brain – an equation!
Optimism + Confidence + Creativity = Resilience = Hardiness = (+/- ) Grit.
So, while a key component of grit is resilience, resilience is the powering mechanism that draws your head up, moves you forward, and helps you persevere despite whatever obstacles you face along the way. In other words, gritty people believe, “everything will be alright in the end, and if it is not alright, it is not the end.”
How does this relate to the summer slide? Well, instead of telling girls to pick up a book and read over the summer, how about we tell help them to work on something that will build their grit? Their confidence? Let’s get girls doing things over the summer that they can safely fail at, and then figure out what went wrong and fix it. Let’s help girls build that resilience to overcome obstacles. Let’s help them learn that you don’t have to be 100% right before you try something. Let’s help then get into careers that offer economic self-sufficiency and the tenacity to stick with those careers and ensure they are fairly compensated. It will pay dividends for them, and for all of us, for the rest of their lives.