Developing Grit in Students

In recent years, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth has studied spelling bee champs, Ivy League undergrads and cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.—all together, over 2,800 subjects. In all of them, she found that grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even negatively correlated with talent.

Prof. Duckworth developed a “Grit Scale” that asks people to rate themselves on a dozen statements, like “I finish whatever I begin” and “I become interested in new pursuits every few months.” When she applied the scale to incoming West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher were less likely to drop out of the school’s notoriously brutal summer boot camp known as “Beast Barracks.”

Prof. Duckworth believes that grit can be taught. One surprisingly simple factor, she says, is optimism—the belief among both teachers and students that they have the ability to change and thus to improve. In a 2009 study of newly minted teachers, she rated each for optimism (as measured by a questionnaire) before the school year began. At the end of the year, the students whose teachers were optimists had made greater academic gains.

I took these paraphrased excerpts from an article that was recently shared with me by one of our faculty members, and I felt they were worth sharing with all of our parents as well. If the quality of grit is the best predictor of success for our students in their futures, then we certainly hope we are supporting parents in developing this characteristic in students. We know students develop grit when they persevere in challenging situations. One of our informal goals for this school year is to raise our expectations for learning across the school. Having more rigorous expectations or more demanding classes will not only be very good for student learning, it would also contribute to students developing more grit. And having higher expectations for students in the context of our teachers and parents holding the strong belief that all students can grow to meet those expectations is critical. As we demand more of students, we hope parents will partner with us to support students in working harder, persevering in difficult tasks, and growing to meet these challenges.

We hope to see many of your tonight (Monday) or tomorrow evening (Tuesday) between 3:00-7:00 pm for Parent/Teacher Conferences.