A Gritty Future

What if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily? Either of these will lead our children to successful adult lives, or so we might believe. Yet perhaps there are other indicators for success, one in particular that we should really challenge our children to achieve.

Grit is the perseverance and passion to achieve long–term goals. Sometimes grit is referred to as mental toughness. Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, suggests that grit is a strong predictor of success and the ability to reach one's goals. It is about sticking with your future and working really hard to make that future a reality.

In her research findings, Duckworth found that when comparing two people who are the same age but have different levels of education, grit (and not intelligence) more accurately predicts which one will be better educated. Her research shows that in the National Spelling Bee competition in the US, for example, children outperform their peers not because of IQ but because of their grit and commitment to more consistent practice.

So often we think that grit is about how we respond to one-off extreme situations, but what about everyday circumstances? Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked to grow and develop.

The Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, Carol Dweck, believes that the ability to learn can change with your attitude to learning. That is why at Yateley Manor we made changes to our reporting systems four years ago. Effort is invisible but can often be misjudged as the result of the quality of the final product. An attitude to learning is tangible, in the way a child prepares for, engages in and follows up from lessons. I have noted many cases this term of teachers reporting incredible progress for children who have changed their attitude and are now taking a positive and more proactive approach to their learning.

Duckworth suggests that talent does not make a child gritty. Children need to be willing to fail, to start over again. So how do we encourage children to develop grit?

Firstly they need to know exactly what they are aiming for. Is it going for a month without missing any homework deadlines? Or perhaps it is trying to complete every piece of class work before the time expires. Clarity of intention is the first step.

Secondly children need to build grit with small physical gains. They could choose to ask the question in class when it would be easier to just accept what they are told, for example. They need to prove to themselves, in a thousand tiny ways, that they have enough drive to “get in the ring and do battle with life.”

Grit comes down to habits. It is about doing the things we know we are supposed to do on a more consistent basis. It is about our dedication to daily practice and our ability to stick to a schedule.

How often have we, as adults, had a long time goal yet shied away from the challenges, seeing them as obstacles, barriers that we have no energy to overcome? How often have we known exactly what we have wanted but failed to take the smaller steps towards it, celebrating the small successes and using them to drive ourselves forwards? We owe it to our children to develop grit within them, the perseverance and passion to go and get what they want in life. We owe it to ourselves too.



Robert Upton