The Need for Growth & Grit: A Commentary

What happens when your future is already planned out for you? What occurs when we’re told our learning takes place in a box, in this small finite place where IQ and ability has predetermined our destiny? What happens? What happens is children function as pawns in a game, as players in a chess match moved through an endless cycle of memorization, tests, and results. Education becomes boring. It becomes lifeless and growth is nowhere in sight. However, a new wave of educational philosophy is drifting into the horizon as more and more educators are aligning themselves with a growth mindset: the belief that intelligence it not a fixed entity, but a process that develops and improves.

As I dive deeper into the understanding of this philosophy, I must take into account my own experiences in learning and teaching. As an elementary student, I struggled. I was constantly placed in the “low group” and was knocked down by failure after failure. During middle school and high school I got by but never truly shined academically. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college that a professor stopped me in my tracks, looked me in the eye, pointed to a paper I wrote, and said, “I know you can do better than this”. This. This was always my mode of operation, my way of meeting requirements and passing through. But now someone knew I had something better in me. It was a challenge, a fire that lit inside my belly that wanted to prove to myself that yes, I could do better, and yes, I have what it takes.

This tiny voice is what some researchers are calling “grit”. It is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. It’s “living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint” (Duckworth 2013). Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth’s research team looked at success in many different contexts. They researched West Point Military Academy cadets, National Spelling Bee contestants, rookie teachers working in tough neighborhoods, and salespeople. Throughout all of these contexts there was only one predictor of success. “And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit” (Duckworth, 2013). Additionally, during a study done in Chicago public schools, Duckworth (2013) noticed that grittier kids were more likely to graduate even when matched to characteristics such as family income, standardized achievement test scores, and how safe kids felt at school. So, what does grit mean for us?

Although research has not revealed the exact way to teach and learn grit as a noncognitive skill in students, there are studies that show how teachers are creating an environment where attitude and self-perceptions are critical in the learning process. In Paul Tough’s (2016) article titled, “How Kids Learn Resilience” in The Atlantic, he highlights a study done which showcases the time spent between teacher and student and the results on student behavior. He writes, “somehow these teachers were able to convey deep messages–perhaps implicitly or even subliminally–about belonging, connection, ability, and opportunity. And somehow those messages had a profound impact on students’ psychology, and thus on their behavior” (Tough 2016). It is with this importance that we must remember the impact teachers have on students. These noncognitive abilities play a huge role in success and growth.

When I think back to the time my academic world was jolted, I will always remember the simple phrase my professor told me. It is something that I strive to say to each of my sixth grade students. However, it is more than a simple phrase. It’s an attitude, it’s a philosophy, and it’s a mindset. I know that each of my students are capable of far much more than this. High expectations and a commitment to growth instead of achievement has to be a focus in education or we will shut down the future of our next generation. Although education can be messy, it can be beautiful. When you see the light bulb go on and a smile drift onto a student’s face who has struggled for so long, it is all worth it. Let’s get gritty.

Grit TED Talk

Resilience Article


Briceno, E. (2012) “The power of belief-mindset and success”. TEDX Manhattan Beach Talk.

Duckworth, A. L. (2013) “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance”. TED Education Talk.   and_perseverance?language=en#t-706766

Tough, P. (2016) “How kids learn resilience”. The Atlantic. archive/2016/06/how-kids-really-succeed/480744/

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