G is for Grit

During the past decade it has become common to talk about the need for people to develop grit to reach their goals. The concept of grit, however, needs to be seen in context.

People are more likely to demonstrate this quality when they are doing something they feel passionately about. They can then follow their personal guiding principles to do great work.

A person may show grit in one area but not in another. A student may demonstrate it when building motorbikes, for example, but not when doing algebra. A sales person may show it when working to exceed their targets but not in other areas of their work.

Angela Duckworth popularised the concept of grit in her 2009 TED Talk. Below are excerpts from her website in which she addresses some questions about grit. You can discover more via the following link.


What is grit?

Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.

One way to think about grit is to consider what grit isn’t. 

Grit isn’t talent. Grit isn’t luck. Grit isn’t how intensely, for the moment, you want something.

Instead, grit is about having what some researchers call an ”ultimate concern” – a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do.  

And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.

Talent and luck matter to success. But talent and luck are no guarantee of grit. And in the very long run, I think grit may matter as least as much, if not more.

If I’m gritty about one thing, will
I be gritty about other things?

Not necessarily. To be gritty, in my view, is to have passion and perseverance about something in your life.

This doesn’t mean that you necessarily engage in all possible pursuits with equivalent passion and perseverance. And indeed, the limits of time and energy suggest that focusing on one thing means focusing less on others.  

You can’t pursue becoming a great pianist and at the same time a great mathematician, and a great sprinter and chef and philosopher… 

But it’s also true, I think, that to be gritty means to pursue something with consistency of interest and effort.

Some people choose not to pursue anything in a committed way, and that, to me, is lack of grit.

When does grit matter most?

I study grit because it predicts achieving goals, but I want to point out that grit is more relevant to some goals than others.

In particular, grit predicts achievement in really challenging and personally meaningful contexts.  

Here is a video that explains some of Angela’s work. The video was created by Nathan Lozeron. You can discover more about his work via the following link.


Looking at your own life, what are the activities in which you demonstrate grit? You may do this when pursuing a passion, practising a craft, tackling particular challenges, managing certain kinds of crises or whatever.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific activity in which you show grit. 

Describe the specific things you do to show grit when doing this activity.

Paul Tough has written two books that explore how young people develop grit. These are How Children Succeed and Helping Children Succeed.  You can discover more about his work and also download the latter book via the following links.


Helping Children Succeed

Paul says it can be challenging to try to teach grit. It is possible, however, to create conditions in which young people develop this quality. His work highlights the following principles.

Young people can learn to develop grit. It hard to teach grit as a skill, however, in the same way that we would teach an academic subject. 

Young people are more likely to develop grit if they learn in an encouraging environment. The researcher Camille Farrington has described this as one in which they believe the following things.

“I belong in this academic community.

“My ability and competence grow with my effort.

“I can succeed at this.

“This work has value for me.”

You can discover more about this approach in an article Paul wrote for The Atlantic Magazine. Here is a link to the article. This is followed by a link to Camille’s work.

How Kids Learn Resilience

Camille Farrington

Here is a video in which Paul explains the kind of environment we can create that can enable children to develop grit.

Today many people talk about the new Rs in education. These include the importance of rigour, relationships, relevance and results.

Writing for the website Edutopia, Bob Lenz describes how the schools he works with focus on these themes. Bob is the Executive Director of the Buck Institute for Education in Novato, California.

Here is an excerpt from his article. You can discover more via the following link.


In my next several blog entries, I will highlight how we at Envision Schools interpret and use the new four R’s of education: rigor, relationships, relevance, and results. Broadly, we define these principles as follows:


We employ a rigorous project-learning college-preparatory curriculum that sets high expectations for everyone, and we give our students the skills and motivation to meet them.


Our schools are small, personalized learning environments. Class sizes are also small, and teams of teachers and peers provide students with academic and social guidance. 


Education must have meaning every day. Our faculty creates curriculum around current events, personal backgrounds, and historical realities while emphasizing competency in twenty-first-century skills.


We focus on the results of student learning using multiple indicators so our teachers can adjust their practices and our schools can offer personalized support to students. 

At Envision Schools, we believe that rigor does not mean simply taking college-prep, honors, or Advanced Placement courses.  

We believe curriculum becomes rigorous when students are pushed not only to know information but also to apply and demonstrate their understanding of that information.  

We believe that requiring students to reflect on and analyze their thinking and learning might be the most challenging task you can require of a teenager. 

Finally, in a rigorous school, students not only learn, do, and reflect, they also master such twenty-first-century skills as critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, project management, and written and oral communication.

Thomas Hoerr wrote a book called Fostering Grit. He followed this by publishing The Formative Five. This describes some qualities educators can help to develop in students.

Here is the official summary of the book. This is followed by a video in which Thomas introduces the key concepts.

The Formative Five

For success in school and life, students need more than proficiency in academic subjects and good scores on tests: those goals should form the floor, not the ceiling, of their education.

To truly thrive, students need to develop attributes that aren’t typically measured by standardized tests. 

In this lively, engaging book by veteran school leader Thomas R. Hoerr, educators will learn to foster the ‘Formative Five’ success skills that today’s students need, including:

Empathy: learning to see the world through others’ perspectives.  

Self-control: cultivating the abilities to focus and delay self-gratification. 

Integrity: recognizing right from wrong and practicing ethical behavior.

Embracing diversity: recognizing and appreciating human differences. 

Grit: persevering in the face of challenge. 

When educators engage students in understanding and developing these skills, they change mindsets and raise expectations for student learning.

As an added benefit, they see significant improvements in school and classroom culture.

With specific suggestions and strategies, The Formative Five will help teachers, principals, and anyone else who has a stake in education prepare their students – and themselves – for a future in which the only constant will be change.

Let’s return to your own life and work. Looking ahead, can you think of a specific situation in which you want to show grit? It may also be one where you want to follow your guiding principles and do great work.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in which you want to show grit. 

Describe the specific things you can do to show grit in the situation.

Describe the specific benefits of showing grit in the situation.

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