What is Grit?

Our brand, “The Wilmot Way” will continue to define who we are and what we do at Wilmot School.  As we begin to understand and embrace the principles of grit, perseverance and a growth mindset, it is my hope that students, staff and parents will change the definition of failure from a lack of success to an opportunity for growth and learning.  

What students have to say:  Hannah, a fifth grader at Wilmot school, recently served as a student ambassador for a group of visitors from The ECRA Group.  This group was touring our new learning spaces and listening to students share information as part of the District 109 strategic planning process.  Hannah, along with four other student ambassadors, introduced our visitors to “The Wilmot Way.”  Here is what Hannah had to say about grit:

When I first heard grit, I thought it meant gravel. But now, I’ve dug deeper into the word and found out that it means much more than that.  When we were talking about grit in my homeroom, someone brought up Michael Phelps. Michael Phelps is a well-recognized Olympic swimmer, although his career has sadly ended. But throughout all of his Olympics, he has shown grit, and a whole lot of it. To be in the Olympics, you have to train a lot for four years. And Michael Phelps’s training schedule is insane. When he is at his hardest point in training phases, so probably close to the Olympic team tryouts, he swims 80,000 meters a week, which is almost 50 miles. He practices twice a day, sometimes more, and he trains five to six hours a day, six days a week. To keep this training schedule up takes a whole lot of grit.

Now that I’ve been talking about grit, you’re probably wondering, what is the definition of grit? Online, I found one. It is, “Grit in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or endstate, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.”  

To be honest I didn’t understand half of that. So, unlike this definition, I’m going to be plain with what I think grit means. The definition of grit is everyone at Wilmot School. All the kids here want to learn, and strive to be the best they can be. All the teachers here seek the best in a student, and always succeed in bringing it out. As a girl who has been well educated for the past five years, I am proud to say that I go to Wilmot, the true definition of grit.

Instilling grit in our students will require all of us (teachers and parents alike) to change the way we think. We need to truly support risk taking, see failure as an opportunity for new learnings and growth, and develop agency and independence in our children.  Students need to develop resiliency and accept that things may not always go as planned.   As Hannah so nicely said, we want to create an environment where students strive to do their best and teachers bring out the best in every student!  Embracing the idea of grit brings us one step closer to doing this.

The Marshmallow Challenge Fosters a Growth Mindset in Wilmot Staff

Developing a Growth Mindset:  Wilmot Staff and The Marshmallow Challenge


On August 19, our full staff participated in the Marshmallow Challenge.  Teams were given these simple directions.  In 18 minutes build the tallest freestanding structure you can with 20 pieces of raw spaghetti, 3 feet of masking tape, 3 feet of string and one marshmallow.  The marshmallow must be on the top of the structure.

Each team took a slightly different approach to building their structure but as the clock ticked here is what we observed.

  • Teams collaborated and learned from each other
  • Even as structures began to tumble no teams gave up (Hey, that’s grit)
  • Some staff peeked at their neighbors (Hey that’s okay – learn from others)
  • No two structures were the same
  • Teams used different strategies to build their structure
  • Teams learned from their mistakes
  • Staff talked through their plans making many revisions
  • Staff members expressed that this was challenging – but they kept on going (Hey, that’s perseverance)
  • Every team built a structure and celebrated their own success and that of other teams

In the end, our staff truly fostered what Carol Dweck refers to as a growth mindset.  They embraced the challenge of building a freestanding spaghetti structure, used failure as a means of developing a new strategy, took risks, put forth a lot of effort, and looked to others for ideas and strategies.  In her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Random House, 2006), Dweck shares the fundamental differences between those who possess a fixed mindset as compared to those with a growth mindset.  Central to Dweck’s work is the idea that intelligence is not “fixed” and that through effort, hard work, and the ability to embrace challenges using varied strategies individuals will grow and learn.  By installing a growth mindset in our students and staff we will change the way we view ourselves as learners.  

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Wilmot Teachers Focus on Professional Practice Through a Collaborative “Learning Walk”

     Supporting teacher growth and development is an essential part of my daily work.  Effective schools are characterized by a specific set of teacher and leader behaviors including a focus on instruction, collaboration, and professional growth.  Building a collective sense of responsibility for student learning,  I hope to create an environment that fosters collaboration, trust, and open communication in order to build the capacity of all teachers.  

    Last week our staff participated in our first  “learning walk” which is often referred to as instructional rounds.  Adapted from the medical community, the purpose of this activity is to improve the instructional practices of our teachers in an identified area, using a focused walk for data collection and analysis.  A team of teachers, coaches and administrators observed language arts instruction throughout the day to identify what is happening in our classrooms.  Next steps will involve a systematic and collective approach to improving our practice to ensure that high quality instruction is provided to our students.  Using learning walks as a means of professional growth allows us to move beyond the development of individual teachers as we cultivate the collective talents, skills and expertise of all staff.

    According to City, Elmore, Fiarman and Teitel (2009) “The idea behind instructional rounds is that everyone involved is working on their practice, everyone is obligated to be knowledgeable about the common task of instructional improvement, and everyone’s practice should be subject to scrutiny, critique, and improvement.”  Implementing learning walks requires the trust, commitment, and leadership of all staff.  I am proud of our Wilmot teachers for holding themselves accountable for the collective growth of all staff and students.  I look forward to the continued use of this powerful approach to improve our instructional practices in a collaborative and professional learning community.

    I would like to personally thank our instructional coaches, Tracy Hoyt and Natasha Schaefer, for leading us in this journey of growth and development.



City, E., Elmore, R., Fiarman, S., & Teitel, L. (2009). Instructional rounds in education: A network approach to improving teaching and learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Publishing Group.



Our Teachers Are All Heroes In The Classroom

Today I had the honor of watching one of my teachers, Randie Bricker, receive a Symetra Heroes in the Classroom award presented by Arthur J. Gallagher.  This program, also sponsored by the Chicago Bears,  is a community program that recognizes 16 Chicago-area teachers for outstanding leadership and instructional skills during the Chicago Bears’ season. Randie Bricker was nominated by a parent of one of her former students, for her outstanding teaching and leadership as well as for the care and compassion she provides for her first grade students each and every day.  Mrs. Bricker enjoyed a day of special recognition for truly being a hero in the classroom.  In her letter to the nomination committee this parent wrote, “ Not only is she kind-hearted, genuine, and devoted to her students, but she builds lifelong relationships with them as they grow into young adults. She creates a caring, open classroom environment that affords young learners autonomous growth through independent successes, while seamlessly balancing a safe and cohesive group learning room.”


As I read the nomination letter I was reminded of the tremendous impact teachers have on the lives of students,  well beyond their instruction of content.  I truly believe that Mrs. Bricker is an outstanding teacher and I also believe that she is among many teacher heroes who put their heart and soul into their teaching each and every day.  Each day I have the honor of observing first hand how our teachers promote learning through creativity, risk taking, innovation, problem solving and exploration.  I observe teachers caring for children when they are sad, sick, confused or coping with personal and family issues.  These heroes work well into the night, over the weekends and throughout the summer. Our teachers are heroes quite simply because they love their students and they love what they do.  Thank you to all of our teacher heroes for your teaching, leadership, love and compassion.

Wilmot Students Create A Culture Of Acceptance

Rarely a week goes by that I am not amazed by something that one of my students has accomplished, learned, or attempted.  Today is no exception.  Today I felt proud and inspired as I sat in awe of a courageous, honest, and articulate fifth grader named Shea.  With the help of her teachers, Shea openly shared with her classmates what is like to have cerebral palsy.

As Shea made a presentation and answered dozens of questions, we not only learned about the daily challenges she faces but more importantly we learned how Shea, with the support of family and friends, faces each challenge head on. She openly shared how she accomplishes tasks and activities such as getting dressed, getting into bed and even skiing with a little help and specialized tools and equipment.  Shea sat before her classmates with a huge smile on her face enjoying the opportunity to tell her story and clearly letting her friends know how they can help her during school.

And as proud as I was of Shea, I was equally as proud of her 23 classmates and her teachers for the warmth, empathy and friendship they displayed. Even though Shea talked about having a disability she never really seemed disabled.  She was just a ten-year-old girl telling her story and reminding all of us to celebrate what makes us different and special.

There are many things that make me proud to be the principal of Wilmot School. Empowering students to share and celebrate differences is at the top of that list. The true culture of acceptance that we (students, staff and parents) have created at Wilmot is something we should all celebrate.


Looking Forward to a New School Year

With just a few days left to prepare for the new school year, I find myself growing more excited as I think about what this year might bring for the students and staff at Wilmot School.  


We have been experiencing a transformation in District 109 and at Wilmot school in the way our students learn and instructors teach. In a very real way we are reimagining the roles of students and teachers.


Through the implementation of the Common Core State Standards we have increased the rigor of our instruction and have dramatically increased our expectations for student learning.  We are also continuing to embed the use of technology as a tool for supporting the four C’s: critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration. The 1:1 learning environment has created opportunities for students to take responsibility for their own learning in ways that were not possible just a few short years ago.  

This year I will challenge every student, staff member and parent to support an engaging learning environment that is founded upon innovation, creativity, problem solving, and frequent opportunities for students to lead the learning.  We will celebrate risk taking and view failure as an opportunity for growth and learning.  Together we will navigate the new paradigms of a 21st century learning environment.  I look forward to sharing more as the journey continues.