I can’t remember when I first started using the term “gritty” to describe a person with a strong resolve and an ability to persevere through difficult times, but after reading Paul Tough’s book, How Children Succeed:  Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, I started giving more thought to this adjective and the people to whom I attribute it.

In Tough’s book, he draws on the research of Angela Duckworth, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania whose specific research areas are grit and self-control.

In her research, she has found that grit—more so than IQ—is a predictor of success.  In her TED Talk, The Key to Success?  Grit, she discusses some of her research findings on grit and shares her response to educators who ask, “Well, if that’s the answer, then HOW do we teach our students to be ‘gritty’?”

I have a feeling that many educators (me included) had hoped Angela Duckworth would have outlined a bulleted list of steps in which to make all students “gritty” but she didn’t.  Instead, her response was that she didn’t really know what makes some people “gritty.”  She did, however, see a connection between “grit” and Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset.

People with a growth mindset have the belief that intelligence is malleable rather than fixed and that a growth mindset “encourages people to construe failures and setbacks as opportunities to learn and improve, rather than as evidence that they are permanently lacking in ability”  (Angela Duckworth & Laurent Eskreis-Winkler, “True Grit,” Association for Psychological Science, April 2013).

In other words, as Ms. Duckworth so aptly stated in her TED Talk, people who possess the character trait of “grit” do not see “failure as a permanent condition.”

Here are 15 examples of very successful people who, by this definition, have “true grit.”

So . . . the question comes back to HOW we can foster “grit” or a growth mindset within a child—or an adult for that matter—who sees failure as a permanent condition or intelligence as being fixed? 

It seems that the way in which we praise children may have a lot to do with this.  When we praise by saying, “You’re so smart!” or “That came easily for you!” we actually do harm and begin to foster a fixed mindset because the first time a child who has been praised in this manner encounters a challenging problem—rather than seeing this as something he/she can work through—the child quickly shuts down and thinks, “I can’t do this.  I’m not smart.”

Here are a few sites I have discovered in which parents, researchers, and educators weigh in on the issue of praise and its impact on growth mindset:

·      Fixed Mindset vs. Growth Mindset:  Which One Are You?

·      Growth Mindset Inspiration:  Top 15 Quotes to Inspire a Growth Mindset

·      5 Things You Can Do to Encourage a Growth Mindset in Kids

·      Giving Good Praise to Girls:  What Messages Stick

How Important is Grit in Student Achievement?

I may not be as successful as Oprah Winfrey, Steve Jobs, or Walt Disney, but I’ve found success in my life and I understand the need to learn from my mistakes. 

I’ve made plenty! 

And, although it was tough to fail “in the moment,” I am grateful that at some point in my life, there were people who instilled within me a growth mindset and helped foster within me the character trait of “grit.”

It’s time, now, to pay it forward!




08/25/2013 6:27pm

Love that you dove into this topic of GRIT. We are actually tackling it as a staff, for a few reasons. One, we know that our kids are just not showing us the stamina we have seen in past years. Next, this unfortunately is showing up in our assessments of kids. Students we KNOW can perform and who have so much more than they are showing us are just not doing it. They are lacking GRIT. I saw Duckworth's video this summer, just after our standardized data came in and it was as if she was talking to me. Our staff T-shirts this year : ROBINSON HAS GRIT. We are tackling the rigor and relevance framework from Daggett's work and have made a staff commitment to set kids up to THINK. At the same time, we are teaching them that when they perceive it is too hard, or they cannot do SOMETHING, they are operating from a fixed mindset. The resources you included are helpful, my friend. Keep doing the good work, you are indeed paying it FORWARD!


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    Kim Brandon

    Kim Brandon is an educator, a wife, a home cook, a wine enthusiast, and in all these roles--a learner!


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