Mindset matters, as mentioned in our spotlight on Carol Dweck’s phenomenal work with mindset. realizing your potential is half the battle to actually achieving it. If this is true, how do we help learners get to this level of self-awareness as caregivers and educators? Here we explore how grit and perseverance serve as two key factors to successfully rising over a perceived obstacle and coming out stronger on the other side.

GRIT: Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenacity 

What is grit really? We hear the term thrown around all of the time, but do we really know what it is and how it applies to nurturing our learners’ learning habits? I, an educator and mother of four, didn’t even realize the depth of the term myself until I happened upon Angela Duckworth’s 2013 TED talk, “The Power of Passion and Perseverance.”  According to her website, Angela Duckworth is the founder and CEO of Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance scientific insights that help children thrive. She is also a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and in 2013 was named a MacArthur Fellow. Prior to her career in research, she was a STEM teacher at public schools across the country. Dr. Duckworth continues, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint…To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times and rise eight.” According to Duckworth, GRIT stands for Guts, Resilience, Initiative, Tenacity. These are the single most determinable characteristics for success as adults and, thus, should be shaped in learners early on.  Talent does not make one gritty. We need to be gritty about helping our children become grittier. The good ol’ role model theory is proven true here time and time again.  By allowing children to explore passions, schedule elective/after-school activities and set SMART goals, we are helping shape their lens of what they are capable of achieving. This insight opened my eyes to the value of allowing children to select their own passions and the empowerment that comes once they follow through on the commitment they made. Strength of mind is what allows learners to pursue passions and see themselves through a challenge. 

Perseverance is Key

“If you are not struggling, you are not learning..If we believe that we can learn, and that mistakes are valuable, our brains grow to a greater extent when we make a mistake.” Jo Boaler 

Dr. Jo Boaler is the Nomellini & Olivier Professor of Education at Stanford University and is another scholar who has, in conjunction with Dr. Carol Dweck, shed light on the profound impact of seeing yourself as capable of achieving your goals through several works, primarily her books Limitless Mind, Mathematical Mindset, and youcubed, a site dedicated to revolutionizing the way we teach and perceive mathematics as a whole. Boaler postulates that depth and accuracy are much more important than speed; she has proven the tell-tale theory of quality over quantity is what makes the difference in how one feels and connects with math. As educators, we must understand learners’ why, allow their voices to be heard and known and help shape failures as an integral part of the learning / growth process as it is a clue to work harder to achieve one’s purpose. By allowing opportunities for learners to try new things, lean into discomfort and walk through fear, they learn to rise to the challenge and realize their potential as a result. Based on her research at Stanford University, Boaler found that students who struggle more and learn slower than the “norm” are showing higher levels of success later on as adults.  It is the learned behavior of perseverance that helps push learners through the challenge, then the feelings of success kick in thereafter.  Although it can be challenging for the adults involved, helping learners see the value in setting and sticking with personal goals can make a huge difference in how they approach learning in the long run. 

The combination of a growth mindset, grit and perseverance is the ideal algorithm for rising above learning (and, let’s be honest, life) obstacles. Nurturing learners through the process can shape their view of their potential for lifelong success in learning and beyond. I have seen great benefit in modeling this theory and you can too, one step at a time!