Is “Grit” the Vehicle to Success?

There have been a lot of conversations in our business about grit, a disposition that seems to be prevalent among students, teachers, and school leaders who are most effective in their work.

No one would argue against “grit”, perseverance, or sticktoitiveness, but we would be better served to go deeper in our conversations on the topic.  Here’s an example:  I was talking with a principal this week about grading policies and academic achievement.  In our conversation, we talked about some of the resistance that some teachers have to mastery instruction and the implementation of retakes and retests.  During our discussion, the principal shared a thought about the resistance.  “Some of our teachers,” he said, “believe that if the students don’t learn it the first time they shouldn’t get another chance.”  The foundation of their argument is that failing a class teaches students an important lesson, and if they have “grit” they’ll take the course again and the whole process will be good for them.

The problem with that notion is that… well, it doesn’t work, at least that way. Grit is valuable, but one’s level of perseverance is often directly related to their passion about the task at hand.  In a 2013 TED Talk, Angela Duckworth shared what she had learned after leaving a job in management consulting to teach seventh graders.  Duckworth noted that her successful students weren’t just smarter, but they possessed passion and perseverance:  grit.

Here’s the part that people miss in Duckworth’s message:  the students possessed passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.  She refers to grit as “having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Like can many times be the case,  some people are missing the entirety of the story about grit.  They hear the word, a little bit about it, and then take it in an unintended direction.

If grit is indeed a difference-maker, then we should want our students to have grit.  We aren’t going to get them there merely by processing them through circumstances in which they fail to miss a short-term mark. Instead, we should be talking to our students about their hopes, dreams, and aspirations.  It’s only in the vision for something good in the future that people extend grit in the present.  Instead of embracing the need for learning and progress to be a marathon as Duckworth suggests, we find ourselves too busy doing too many mandates and compliance items to talk about hopes and dreams.  We are sprinting through school, but that approach is in opposition to the nurturing of grit.

Before we talk about grit, we need to talk about dreams, hopes, goals.  The perseverance doesn’t come without the passion, and we would be well-served to spend more time there.




Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk:  ( )


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