7. These students really have got some GRIT!

A reflection on how the GRIT programme has helped students studying on the Foundation Study Framework at the University of Northampton

On Thursday 22nd February 2018, students that had taken part in the training in November 2017 hosted by the GRIT organisation (for details about this organisation see Blog 5: GRIT! and visit https://grit.org.uk/) attended a follow up day to talk about how the training may have helped them, and to celebrate their successes.

The GRIT staff were thrilled to see familiar faces return for the follow up day- it was clear that they felt privileged and proud to see a transformation in the students, and as the session discussions began, there was evidently some students who perhaps would not still be engaged in their degree programme if it wasn’t for the GRIT training.

Students’ reflections on the GRIT programme echoed similar feedback from the initial group interviews (see Blog 6: an update on the research so far…).

“The first day was odd…”

“I kept my guard up at first, but the activities slowly allowed me to let this down.”

“I wasn’t impressed after day one, but I came back out of curiosity. The second day was very intense, and it revealed a bit about me- day two broke me! (On) day three we learnt about how we might interpret things differently. I have learnt more about myself.”

“I didn’t have a clue what the first day was about, but I was curious about the rest. It’s nice that people cared about your problems as well as their own.”

It is clear that the GRIT programme perhaps doesn’t make sense at first, but if you stick with it and trust their approach, there are many gains to be had. Students reflected on how it had helped them, and what they had taken forward into both their academic and personal life.

Many reported that they had benefitted from an activity called ‘Already always listening’ that challenged the way they react when someone says something that upsets them, or if they perceive someone to have something in a certain way that in reality is very different.

“(It) allowed me to reflect on why I think and react this way. Has there been a moment in my life that has caused that?”

“(It) helped me acknowledge the conversations I had in my head, and how these are an assumption, and not always the truth.”

“I wouldn’t have stood in front of the room and spoken to the group at the start, but today I am doing it! I can now see past assumptions e.g. thinking someone has it all when maybe they don’t- it’s just your assumption.”

Some reported just how much the programme had helped them stick with their studies by developing their self-discipline skills and building meaningful relationships with their peers. We assume that it is easy to make friends, but as you get older this gets harder. It shouldn’t be taken for granted when we build relationships in adult life, and this is so important for university being a positive experience.

“I have made friends from the three days (GRIT programme), and improved my ability to sit and stay focused- its helped me with my lectures.”

“(It) made me realise if you want to achieve something, it’s down to you. (I) need to stop living in the past and take responsibility for my future. You can change your future. I am booking holidays and making friends- making a future for myself.”

“I’m not a very patient person- the first day was confusing, but it taught me to be patient with the process. (Its) not just about making friends, but being open to the connection of making friends.”

 

Creating a future for yourself!

Students were next challenged to think about where they want to be in the next 5 years, but to talk about it in the present tense, like it was real and happening now. They also had to think about all the possibilities, and what things could get in the way of this goal. “Dreams are free, so why be cheap on your dreams?!”

Just talking about their goals ignites the process of planning them- the power of speaking is very influential in making things a reality. Students were encouraged to reflect on their past experiences, but to only ‘glance’ at these, as looking back too much won’t allow you to move forward.

Students then shared their dreams with the whole group, with big smiles on their faces as they dared to think about what kind of positive future they could have. Whilst there were a variety of different dreams, they all had similar aspirations interwoven. Being successful and having families were reoccurring themes, and this allowed students to realise that we may come from different situations, but really the things that are important to us are the same.

“The future is always in my head, but sharing it with someone else is exciting!”

 

Making a stand!

“I am the greatest!” (Muhammed Ali, 1964)

The final activity of the day was to encourage students to ‘make a stand’ for who they are and what they believe in. The GRIT team emphasised the importance of this- “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything, or people that don’t have your best interests at heart will make a stand for you.” A stand does not have to contain any evidence, or have other people agree with or believe it. But it is important that you believe it, and it should incorporate how you are going to make a positive future for yourself.  Even if you get lost along the way, you can always come back to your stand.

Students had an hour or so to come up with their stand by completing the following sentence:

“I declare the possibility that who I am is the stand I take. The stand I take is…”

Each student then made their stand in front the group. Some students embraced it, whilst others clearly found it tough, perhaps because they were exposing their vulnerabilities. But it’s important to make a stand and really believe in it, so everyone had a huge round of applause for their courage.

The stands were varied, but many had common themes, as shown in the word cloud below. The larger the words, the more they occurred amongst the stands. Being a strong, kind, and caring person was important to a lot of the students, and this can only be a positive thing.

 

The day ended with students receiving certificates to celebrate their success on completing the programme. Students clearly felt they had gained a lot from the programme, and the skills they have developed will not only help see them through their degree programme, but will enhance their employability on completion. The financial cost of incorporating the GRIT programme into the academic year is also very efficient- only two students need to be retained to make it cost-effective. With the Foundation Study Framework aimed at students with non-traditional entry qualifications (see Blog 1: Introducing the Foundation Study Framework… for more details), drop-out rates are at risk of being higher compared with students with more traditional backgrounds. Retaining students on this programme will not only helps individual people succeed in life, but may help widen participation in degree programmes on a larger scale.