Grit-ty Heroes


“Grit” is a popular term in educational circles today, particularly with helping students succeed.

Grit is “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals,” “having stamina,” and “sticking with your future day-in day-out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years.”

I got those “gritty” quotes from the following TED Talk video with Angela Lee Duckworth, and you should watch the entire thing (about six minutes).


In the world of superheroes, “grit” has a much different meaning.  During the late 1980s and early 1990s, “grim and gritty” superheroes nearly saturated the comic book market.  If you’re interested, you can read a thorough analysis of this time period HERE.

“Grim and gritty” got so popular it seemed almost everyone got in on the act–Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, even Aquaman!


Coming to theaters near you!


Thankfully, most of these heroes’ gritty phases were short-lived and brighter days returned.  For some heroes (or anti-heroes), however, it’s always been about grim and grit:  The Punisher, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, and about 87% of Image Comics from the 1990s.  Exhibits A-to-Xtreme below . . .


Given the above definition of “grit,” I would argue that the grittiest superhero is Captain America.



Remember, Steve Rodgers stood up to evil and injustice while he was still a 98-pound weakling.  His heart and passion did not change after he gained powers and a costume.  At times, Steve has given up or lost the title of Captain America. But he continued his work behind the scenes and/or assuming another superhero identity.

We’ve already gotten a glimpse that Steve’s non-Captain America heroics will appear in upcoming Avengers movies:


(He’s even got a beard – extra grit!)


At the time of the TED Talk video, not much was known about teaching and cultivating grit in students.  Nevertheless, you can find research summaries HERE and HERE, which also include resources and tools for student grittification*.

*Trademark 2017, Daniel J. Bergman

In the video, Duckworth refers to research of Carol Dweck on “growth mindset” as one potential factor in teaching grit.  This is a good place to start.

growthmindset head


For example, HERE is one of Dr. Dweck’s articles (“The Perils and Promises of Praise”) that discusses the impact of teacher praise on students’ motivation and self-concept.  All teachers should read this article, since 1) it is short, and 2) it has direct application in the classroom. In other words, it won’t take a lot of grit. But you should stop and think about how you respond to students, and what other messages are conveyed in your words.

And this is just one step. As explained near the end of the TED Talk video, teachers who want gritty students must also be gritty themselves.

Don’t let grit become one more educational fad that passes away.



Silent Issues



Last time we examined the topic of “Word Balloons,” with the focusing on how teachers sound when they speak in classrooms.

dp failed me brain

Spoken in a classroom somewhere.


This time let’s go further by considering how teachers look during their interactions.  I’m not talking about how teachers dress, although that is an important issue and one we’ve already addressed (summary: keep it functional, simple, conservative, and non-CGI).

Teacher appearance, in the present case, refers to the outward actions and mannerisms displayed during classroom instruction.  These non-verbal behaviors include facial expressions and body language–the unspoken communication that accounts for up to 93% of all human interactions (Mehrabian, 1968).



With the topic of voice tone (word balloons), our inspiration was Marvel’s mouthy antihero Deadpool.  It’s only fitting that our model hero for unspoken behaviors is the mute commando Snake-Eyes of G.I.Joe fame (Hasbro’s toy-line featuring military super-heroes).

Despite being on opposite sides of the dialogue scale, Deadpool and Snake-Eyes share similar skills and accessories. Interestingly enough, G.I.Joe artist Robert Atkins recently shared a mock-up image depicting these two fan-favorite characters.



One of the most celebrated G.I.Joe stories is from Marvel’s original comic book series, issue #21: “Silent Interlude.” This tale is famous because it features absolutely zero dialogue or sound effects.

The adventure follows Snake-Eyes on a rescue mission to save Scarlett from Cobra and a castle of ninjas, including Storm Shadow.  (If that previous sentence doesn’t excite you, you’re not a child of the ’80s.  And you missed two major characters’ backstory revelation in the issue’s last few panels.)  

gijoe 21 cover


Below are a few sample pages. Notice how writer/artist Larry Hama conveys a range of motions AND emotions with expressions and movement.

Take a long, close look and enjoy the silence.

interlude 3.png

interlude 4

G.I. Joe Classics vol 03p021




This “silent issue” is not just a gimmick.  It became so legendary, in fact, that the format has been repeated a few times in the G.I.Joe comic series as well as other titles, including a Deadpool parody and even an entire month called “‘Nuff Said,” where all Marvel comic book titles featured silent issues with no dialogue or captions.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Teachers typically don’t fight off ninjas hordes in silence, but we can foster powerful connections and teachable moments with unspoken behaviors.

What do these look like?  Here are some example “non-verbals:”

  • Moving back and forth among students.  Avoid prolonged, stagnate standing in one spot (especially the front).  Closer proximity garners more attentive students and decreases likelihood of off-task behaviors.

teacher at a student table


  • Open arms and hands inviting student input (as opposed to crossed arms, which convey defiance or disinterest).

open arms teacher 2


  • Counting on your fingers to show you expect answers and ideas from multiple students.

teacher counting on fingers.jpg


  • Nodding your head to acknowledge student contributions without using excessive praise.
  • Leaning toward students to express curiosity, but not looming over them in a dominating or threatening way.
  • Lowering your chin or cocking your head to one side to communicate concern and interest.

teacher eye contact


  • Sitting or kneeling down at the students’ level to show cooperation.

teacher at st level.jpg


  • Using appropriate lengths of eye contact with students, while avoiding prolonged and awkward stare downs.

teacher looking at student.jpg


  • Smiling!  If you enjoy teaching, show it.  (Again, avoid prolonged and awkward grins.)

teacher leaning smiling


For any teachers doubting the power of unspoken behaviors, posture, and expressions, I present the following challenge:  Watch a video of yourself teaching with the volume muted.  

Ask yourself what unspoken, but clearly presented messages you convey to your class.  How do you come across?  Are you respectful?  Are you confident and caring?  Are you happy to be there?

Look closer at your students and study their non-verbal behaviors too.  How much do they engage in the lesson?  How do they treat each other?  What can you learn from them?

students bored

How many students are engaged in learning?


Better yet, don’t wait for a video to notice these things.  As you teach, pause and survey the classroom to pick up on students’ mannerisms, posture, and expressions.  Take a moment and consider what you are communicating through these same behaviors.

Here are a few resources for further reading and ideas:

1. “Good body language improves classroom management” article by Teal Ruland, National Education Association

2. “Using effective body language to establish relationships with students” video by the Teaching Channel


Need more practice?  Try out your expressions and mannerisms in front of the mirror.


Keep practicing, buddy.


Whatever you do, work to express warm, welcoming messages through your body language.  Your students will soon respond in kind.  Whether spoken or unspoken, every interaction counts.