Coaching Students and Teachers with “Grit”

    Principal Drives “Grit” To Push Students And Teachers To Persevere

    Alma Guzman, Principal
    McCoy Elementary School
    Georgetown ISD, Georgetown, Texas
    Raise Your Hand Texas Alumna ’13 (Harvard – Leadership: An Evolving Vision)

    The sad truth is, some kids don’t graduate from high school. Some don’t even make it through middle school.

    Alma Guzman knows this. But she knows it as reality to challenge, not one worthy of acceptance and surrender.

    After teaching language arts in Corpus Christi, Guzman moved to the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District, deep in the Rio Grande Valley, where she worked in parental involvement and dropout prevention.

    “Part of my job was to sit and meet with students who were at risk of dropping out, or who had stopped coming to school, altogether,” Guzman said. “I would talk to them about their experiences. A lot of them began to disengage in elementary school. They felt people didn’t care, or that no one was listening to them. It was in Harlingen I began to understand how administrators really do impact students and campus culture. I saw that my reach was a lot longer in administration. And I was very motivated to become a campus principal.”

    Twelve years and several campuses later, Principal Guzman — now at McCoy Elementary in Georgetown — is a glowing example of an energetic, hands-on, transformational school leader. She knows her students by name. She has relationships with their parents. She wants every child to know that she cares and she listens, because that could be part of the key to their academic success years from now.

    Raise Your Hand Texas picked up on Guzman’s genuine passion for affecting student stamina and growth, and her potential for even greater student impact, which is why it selected her for sponsorship to attend the Leadership: An Evolving Vision institute at the Principals’ Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

    “Now, I tell my teachers, sometimes, we’ll fail,” Guzman said. “It’s part of our Grit conversation. We may try something new and it may not go over well. But you know what? We’ll keep working at it until we get it right. That idea is something we all need to embrace.”

    The “chance of a lifetime” left Guzman with at least one powerful philosophy she’s already pushing at McCoy Elementary.

    “Grit,” she said, referring to a popular, research-based theory that shows the distinguishing trait can be a predictor for success.

    “There are some things we have no control over,” Guzman said. “I can’t change the factors around a student’s home life. I don’t have control over a child’s I.Q. However, hearing the research at Harvard that shows successful people have that one thing in common — the ability to persevere in spite of challenges — I thought, that’s it! That’s what every kid needs to know. It may take you longer to acquire something, but you can acquire it! That is a relevant message for every single student.”

    Under Guzman’s leadership at McCoy, students and teachers, alike, are fostering the Grit mentality. Much like she used to tell her students in Harlingen, quitting is never a successful option.

    “Now, I tell my teachers, sometimes, we’ll fail,” Guzman said. “It’s part of our Grit conversation. We may try something new and it may not go over well. But you know what? We’ll keep working at it until we get it right. That idea is something we all need to embrace.”

    Guzman was a Texas National Distinguished Principals finalist in both 2013 and 2013. According to the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, “This program honors exemplary elementary and middle school principals who set the pace, character, and quality of the education children receive during their early years. Recognition as a National Distinguished Principal is the highest praise a principal can receive from his or her peers.”

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