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What’s the Deal with Grit?
posted by: Melissa | October 04, 2017, 06:40 PM   

If you’ve been in education circles the last year or so, you’ve doubtless heard of “grit.” Grit as a named concept first started making waves when psychologist Angela Duckworth gave a TED talk on the topic, and later published her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. In both, she explains that success is not dependent on talent alone, but is highly influenced by a person’s grit, which she defines as a measure of their passion for a project along with their tendency to stick with a project even when it’s difficult.

Grit became an instant buzzword in education for a couple of reasons. Duckworth herself had a history as a teacher and so while her work didn’t limit itself to educational applications, she did talk about grit’s potential in education to a great extent. The concept also strikes people as being a very commonsense one. Of course if a student cares more about something and works longer and harder at it, they’ll be more successful than if they give up quickly and easily. Additionally, Duckworth’s work nicely dovetailed with Carol Dweck’s concept of growth mindset and the work of Paul Tough, whose book How Children Succeed was making waves at the same time.

Grit’s role in the schools is still uncertain and it is not a panacea for all of the problems facing students. It can, however, predict who can make the most out of their circumstances, even when those circumstances are not ideal. Grit is not something that is easily measured mathematically. Despite that, some schools have tried to give students a grit score. Grit has also been misapplied by schools that confuse stick-to-itiveness with conforming to school routines, procedures, and norms.

Further confusing things is that there is little evidence on how schools can “grow grit.” Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset provides a framework for one way educators can influence grit, but it is far from a full picture. There are also worries about the inefficiencies that could happen from focusing on grit. Time spent on “grit lessons” means time that is spent not on academic subjects and most students do not need to exhibit extraordinary levels of grit to succeed in school.

The concept of grit is just one concept out of many in what is becoming a new focus on personal character. More educators are realizing that a wide variety of factors influences how much students learn in school, and that a student’s IQ may not always determine their outcome. They’re also seeing the value in teaching students that where they come from does not have to be their destiny and that dreams partnered with effort can be achieved. Grit may not be able to be measured, and it may eventually be given a new name, but it will doubtless have a place in classrooms for years to come.

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