Learn how you can prepare students to overcome real-world adversity with nurture.
Giving your all. Not being afraid to try again. Persevering over obstacles and through setbacks. These are all traits we want to impart to our learners to equip them for a rough and tumble world.
What is Grit?
Grit. It’s a chewy word that just plain sounds abrasive. Here’s a tiny slice of history to get you caught up. The term was popularized by University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth. Back in 2013, the national Department of Education published a report titled “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century,” where they defined grit as “perseverance to accomplish long-term or higher-order goals in the face of challenges and setbacks, engaging the student’s psychological resources, such as their academic mindsets, effortful control, and strategies and tactics.”
In more student-friendly terms, grit encompasses having passion for long-term goals, mental courage, and the willingness to do your best when the road gets rocky. It pushes us past our fears so that we can explore new goals and discover new opportunities. It’s what we get when we dig deep, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and persevere.
Research shows that above IQ levels and physical prowess, one’s grit is a better predictor for success. Whether you’re an athlete training after a major surgery or a novice teacher in a rough community, this is the factor that will make or break how much you achieve. Developing this suitcase of resilience can give us a leg up past others that, on paper, look equally qualified. More than ever, the 21st century workplace requires the ability to adapt and redirect. With unemployment rates being what they are these days and the competition fierce, grit could be what gives someone the winning edge.
What Grit Isn’t
OK, most of us have a similar concept of what this buzzword entails, but its connotations can trigger a variety of emotional responses dependent on our personal experiences. And that’s with good reason.
First off, it’s important to think of true grit in terms of passion. When we are passionate about something, the journey is worthwhile. The motivation to pursue a task should stem from the right reasons (like a love for the subject or unquenched curiosity). It shouldn’t be based on damaged foundations like fear or anxiety, and it shouldn’t come at the cost of a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Each of us — and each of our students — is walking a vastly different path in life. Teaching grit won’t eradicate systemic injustices like racism, poverty, and poorly funded schools. It won’t erase the harm done by an unsafe home environment. Life isn’t fair, and teaching grit to one student is going to look a whole lot different than teaching it to her neighbor.
Don’t assume that students of any age aren’t already familiar with grit. Some obvious examples in Arizona are English-language learners — many of whom have made dangerous journeys to arrive in the United States, students whose plates are full from taking on additional family responsibilities, and kids whose work ethics shine through academic and extra curricular achievements. But it’s a mistake to assume any student doesn’t have determination or the ability to face obstacles. Without knowing their whole path — their past and what they go home to — you don’t know what tests they face every day.
Talking about, demonstrating, and providing resources to build positive life skills requires nurture and flexibility and empathy, and this is at its utmost importance when communicating grit.
So how do we develop positive grit — in ourselves and in our students? Here are a few starting points.
- Dedicate specific times to focus on long-term projects and goals. Aim to work intentionally on personal weaknesses.
- Participate in a sport. Physical activities that require us to compete with ourselves and other individuals and teams prove that a whole lot of fun and a sense of accomplishment can come from perseverance.
- Show off gritty people. Research and present examples of people who have overcome a range of obstacles with hard work. Invite them into your classroom to speak.
- Encourage a growth mindset. If you haven’t yet, read up on Stanford University’s Carol Dweck’s philosophy on the growth mindset, which challenges the belief that intelligence is fixed.
- Help people living in hardship. Intrinsically motivated learners look at the bigger picture, the end goal, and embrace the purpose and meaning behind their work. The most powerful purpose comes from work that serves others.
The take-home message? If we define grit as passion toward long-term goals and embrace a commitment to growth, we can show students that when it comes to worthwhile endeavors, failure doesn’t come without a self-made invitation to try again.