Let's Get Gritty

September 14, 2015

Grit

When we think of grit, we think about persistence, determination, and sticktoitiveness (I love that word).

There is a growing body of research explaining why grit matters. In summary, children with grit (regardless of IQ   or test scores) are far more likely to succeed in school and in life than those without.

Stanford professor Dr. Carole Zweck talks about student grit in terms of having a “growth mindset.”

In a “fixed mindset,” students believe their abilities, intelligence, and talents are fixed attributes. That is, they are born with a certain capacity, and while they can learn more, they can’t dramatically change who they are.

In contrast, students with a “growth mindset” think their talents and abilities can be vastly improved if they work hard enough at it.

This is important because students with growth mindsets, or grit, are more likely to respond to setbacks by working even harder, rather than getting frustrated and giving up.  In comparison, even the brightest students, if they have a fixed mindset, find it difficult to keep trying after they fail at a new challenge.

The great news is that a growth mindset is not something one is born with—it can be taught.

For example, we know children appreciate being recognized, but not all forms of recognition are equal, especially when it comes to praise. Children regularly given praise such as, “Good job, you’re very smart,” are much more likely to develop a fixed mindset (“I am smart”). In contrast,  children given praise like, “Good job, you worked very hard,” are more likely to develop a growth mindset (“I work hard”).

At Right At School, we stress relational methods that build children’s growth mindsets across fun, but challenging experiences. Our focus is on meaningful process, not cookie cutter product, and our team is trained and evaluated on their ability to know the difference.  We believe our role as educators is to help children understand and succeed in the moment, while building up their esteem, independence, and personal responsibility for a lifetime.

“Rescuing” is another area that plays a role.  As a parent, I’m often tempted to jump in and help my daughter if she is failing at something. When she asks for homework help, for example, it’s hard not to give the answer right away just to ease her frustration and my distress at seeing her struggle.

But the rewards, for us as parents and for our children, are much greater when we resist . At Right At School, we believe our role—whether we’re helping with homework, an art project, or a new sport—is to help children set and achieve meaningful goals through self-direction and perseverance, instead of rushing them to complete refrigerator postings that never required grit in the first place. For instance, our students co-create afterschool programs by defining and leading their own long-term projects. These projects often requiring team planning, weeks of patient collaboration, determination to overcome setbacks, and eventual glory in a presentation that epitomizes their group’s entire journey. When children see how working hard and sticking to it can lead them to success, it builds their confidence that persistence pays off.

Booker T. Washington wrote:  “Nothing ever comes to one that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”  While it’s great when our children succeed with ease, it’s even better when they get there through a little bit of grit.

Mark Rothschild, Ph.D.

Founder and CEO, Right At School

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