In our current system of education, the attribute largely associated with success has been cognitive ability, specifically in reading, math and science.  Students are assessed to determine these abilities and then placed in classes based on whatever score they receive.  Typically, the score they receive on the standardized test in 3rd grade follows them throughout their academic life.  In this practice of education, skills have been set, fixed, determined and done.

The problem with focusing solely on cognitive ability is in this fixed way of thinking we assume the world, specifically the world of learning, is linear, predictable and orderly.  Under this assumption things are simple: students practice reading and they get better at reading; they practice their math and they get better at math. However, we now know skills are not fixed and there is more to the story than just cognitive ability.

In her Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth summarizes her work in studying behaviors as predictors of success.  According to her study, one significant predictor emerged, and it was not a fixed attribute like intelligence or IQ.  It was something that could be developed and even improved; it was grit.

Her analysis of students in Chicago Public Schools found grit was the number one factor in whether a student graduated, even when grit was measured against other variables like family income, safety, race and test scores.  What she found was grit matters in school.

Grit, is perseverance and drive to keep going even in the face of failure and uncertainty.  Grit is letting go of outcomes and working for the sake of achieving something long term.   Grit is about endurance and willingness to keep pushing even when the end is nowhere in sight.

We can help students develop grit by using what Carol Dweck calls growth mindset, a theory she developed at Stanford University.  It involves educating students on how the brain works and how academic ability can increase based on practice and use.  It is not fixed; it is dynamic.  By using a growth mindset, students believe their talents and abilities can be developed and increased through effort, persistence and grit.

In addition, an industrious reaction to failure is a large component of growth mindset.  Stamina to continue working in the face of failure is essential in students’ success.  Failure comes in all shapes and sizes; whether big or small, students must embrace failure as a normal part of learning and growing.

Too often people cite genetics and body structure as the reason athletes win gold metals.  This is a fixed mindset.  However, growth mindset is one reason Olympic athletes achieve at the highest levels of competition.  It is through hard work, and grit to push through many, inevitable failures.  Some athletes do possess long arms perfect for swimming or superhuman quadriceps essential for sprinting.  But without the hard work and comfortableness with failure, talents and genetics are wasted.  In a fixed mindset none of these athletes would have made it past the first failed attempt at winning a challenge, race or game.

Growth mindset behaviors are not just seen in Olympic Athletes; these behaviors are ever present in successful entrepreneurs.  In books, interviews and publications featuring successful entrepreneurs, the failure theme is at the forefront of their journey.  Most talk about embracing failure because failure is an ever-present reality in successful business.  Many entrepreneurs speak about getting comfortable with not just private failures but public failures as well.  Successful entrepreneurs use grit and adopt a growth mindset, an unstoppable combo.

So rather than continuing in an educational system focused on fixed outcomes and scores, we should adopt a more fluid reality in learning and achieving.  Rather than running away from failure and trying to get kids to “pass” the next standardized test, we should focus on how students react when failure follows.  We should remind students ever day, a fixed mindset results in extinction; a growth mindset results in evolution.

3 Responses

  1. linking google plus

    An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who had been doing
    a little homework on this. And he in fact bought me dinner because
    I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this….
    Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this matter here
    on your blog.

    • Kathleen Jasper

      Well enjoy your free meal! If your friend wants more info on grit and it’s place in learning and achieving, have him or her check out a book called “How children Succeed” by Paul Tough. It explains the importance of grit, self-control and perseverance in a more technical way.


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