?How Children Succeed “Book Club” Part 1 – Grit

Our next 7 posts will dig into each of the non-cognitive skills presented in Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed. Each post will provide some strategies to put the research and examples presented in the book into practice. First up: grit.

In case you missed the introductory installment in our “book club” series, you can catch up here.
GRIT Defined
Dr. Angela Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder of Character Lab, defines grit as a combination of passion and persistence. Put another way, grit is demonstrated resilience and persistence in overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a larger goal. For students, grit means finishing what they begin and trying hard even after experiencing failure.
Application to College Success
The reality is that college is peppered with obstacles from finances, to time management, to being far from home. These obstacles can seem even more gargantuan for first-generation college students whose parents lack access to a college schema – what to expect and how to navigate all that college presents. Grit provides students with the necessary mindsets, thought processes, and habits in order to persevere and continue moving forward.
Opportunities and Strategies for Developing Grit
How can educators cultivate grit on daily basis within the constraints of their classrooms and required curricular objectives?

  • Messaging. Utilize both your physical environment and your conversations with students to message grit. Your classroom walls can reinforce mindsets that will benefit students. I’ve seen colleagues cultivate positive classroom environments with posters that read “hard work = success,” “learn from mistakes,” or “we finish what we start.” Another strategy I’ve tried is leveraging conversations to reinforce grit. When speaking with a student who is struggling with the material, acknowledge his/her frustration, prompt him/her to continue working hard, and reinforce the student’s hard work by acknowledging “small wins.” This might sound like, “I see that you showed grit by going back to the example to figure out how to complete the first step. Your hard work paid off because now you’re on the right track.”


  • Help students internalize the “why.” If part of grit is persistence in pursuit of a larger goal, students must be invested in the goal. Often, helping students discover the significance of a particular goal – the “why” – can provide needed perspective in the face of obstacles. To reinforce this at YES Prep, the rubric we use to evaluate teachers employs language related to connecting student goals to a larger purpose.


  • Give students language that reinforces grit. I’ve seen several colleagues empower students to develop grit by giving them specific statements that they can substitute for negative thinking and frustration. For example, a student who is struggling might think, “I don’t understand this! I just want to give up!” A statement that the student could substitute is “I am frustrated right now, but I’m going to talk to my partner about it and try again.” Students might even begin to develop their own statements with the following model: acknowledge feelings, identify resources, and determine action.


  • Present models of grit. Depending on your content area and grade level, and if time allows, provide brief presentations of well-known individuals who have demonstrated grit in their lifetime. A fellow teacher of mine does this to invest middle-school-aged students. Examples might include Nelson Mandela, Cesar Chavez, Maya Angelou, and Lionel Messi. Have students work in partners or small groups to identify the situations where and how each individual showed grit.


  • Provide time for reflection. Build in time for students to reflect on how they’ve demonstrated grit. The close to your lesson might be a question such as “How did you show hard work in today’s lesson?” or “What challenge did you face throughout today’s practice? How did you approach that challenge?” Find a great strategy for closing out your lesson here. Another idea is for students to reflect on a deeper level at the end of the week or at the end of a unit by responding in writing to a question such as: “What challenges did you face this week? How did you respond to those challenges?” For more ideas on written reflection read The Underestimated Benefits of Written Reflection.

What strategies do you have for developing grit in your students? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *