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Grit, Resilience, and a Growth Mindset

Grit, Resilience, and a Growth Mindset

You can hardly read an education blog, a newsletter, or a mainstream publication today without hearing talk of topics like grit, growth mindset, perseverance, and resiliency.

Do a quick internet search and you’ll find slogans like “Grit, don’t quit” and some creative folks have developed an acronym for Grit: Guts, Resilience, Initiative, and Tenacity.  So, what’s all the fuss about?  Is there reason to believe that a focus on these skills and the development of a growth mindset is worth our time? And more importantly, if we do focus on developing these skills, where do we start?

First, let’s all acknowledge that the topic of grit, resilience, and a growth mindset is really appealing.  That partially explains its popularity right now.  As educators, every day we work with students who have some real deficits in this area.  It’s a challenge to help students develop content knowledge when some of them struggle so mightily when it comes to facing adversity or difficulty situations.  It seems like many of our students give up before they even start!

The topic of grit and resiliency is really popular right now…and for good reason.  Many of our students seem to be lacking when it comes to the skills and attitudes necessary to face challenges.

To answer my first question – is a focus on resiliency, grit, and a growth mindset worth our time – the answer is unequivocally yes!  And I’m not alone in this assessment – thousands of educators all over the country are finding innovative and effective ways to help their students develop these skills.  The more timely questions are, where do we start and what techniques and strategies are likely to be effective?  So, let’s dig in and uncover some truths and figure out where we might begin (or continue our journey).

Here are 7 things to know about grit, resiliency, and a growth mindset:

  1. Even though it is a popular topic right now, it’s anything but new.  Carol Dweck first published her ground-breaking book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success in 2007.  That publication gave birth to an industry; you can attend mindset conferences and heavy hitters such as Paul Tough and Angela Duckworth have written great books on the topic.
  2. While the term “grit” is popular right now, most of the seminal research investigated topics related to the concept of resiliency.   In fact, in the early 1990s Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith published Overcoming the Odds; a book that described how risk factors and protective factors impacted children as they grew up.  The current discussion of grit and mindset is firmly planted on the shoulders of great researchers such as Werner and Smith.
  3. Having a growth mindset and a set of resiliency skills sets people up for success when times become challenging.  When a person is resilient – when they have “grit” – they are more equipped to face obstacles, trials, and difficulties.  How a person thinks about those challenges (more specifically how they think about themselves and their own abilities) is their mindset.
  4. Developing any skill takes time.  If you’ve come to the conclusion, like so many of us have, that helping students develop these skills is worthwhile and important, you need to take the long-term view.  Developing any skill, habit, or mindset (positive or negative) takes time and commitment.  If we really believe this stuff is important, it needs to be part of the daily and weekly rituals of our schools and classrooms.  Doing something occasionally (like talking about mindset once or twice a month) will, at best, be a novelty.  If we want change, we need to commit to it and plan for implementation of specific practices and strategies.
  5. Speaking of specific practices and strategies, it must start with us.  We must exhibit the skills, attitudes, and mindsets we expect to see in our kids.  We cannot tell kids to persevere when times get tough only to scold, yell, and give up on kids when they challenge us.
  6. Long-time colleague and mentor, Dr. Eric Jensen is fond of reminding us to not beat ourselves up when we fail to live up to our own expectations.  Tomorrow is a new day and the truth is that none of us are always, 100% of the time in a growth mindset.  In fact, Carol Dweck’s most recent work focuses on that very point.  Even though we may have a growth mindset for most things, we all sometimes get pushed back into a fixed mindset.  The goal is to have more of a growth mindset more often.  Perfection isn’t the goal.  Growth and improvement is.
  7. Start small, but start!  While we don’t have space in this article to outline too many strategies, below I’ve outlined a couple of ideas.  If you haven’t begun your journey, why wait?

 

  • Share stories of success – Stories are special things and students can easily relate to examples, models, and stories of individuals who have overcome adversity and maintained a positive view of life.  The best stories are ones that match the daily realities and challenges of your students.  The internet is full of examples and there are a ton of YouTube videos that show students real-life examples of grit in action.
  • Incorporate writing & reflection – Utilize writing tasks that call for students to reflect on their growth, successes, and challenges.   Ask them to dig deep and dream big.  In this way, writing becomes reflective and serves the purpose of thinking about growth and change.  No need to use these types of tasks for a grade…simply start the conversation and give them time to think via writing.
  • Give feedback via S-E-A – Thanks to Eric Jensen for this wonderfully simple strategy.  When giving feedback and debriefing with students, help them attribute their successes or their challenges to something under their control as it relates to a specific strategy they tried, the amount of effort they put forth, or a specific attitude they adopted (or a combination of the three).  All those things – a Strategy, an Effort, or an Attitude – are under the child’s control.  Children have do not control over things like socio-economic conditions, IQ, etc. but we want them to realize that what they do have control over matters more than those other factors.

Why not start now?  If we want our students to be risk-takers, let’s model it by taking a risk ourselves.

Bryan Harris, Ed.D. is the Director of Professional Development for the Casa Grande (Arizona) Elementary School District. In his 20+ year career in education, he has served as a teacher, district-level specialist, principal, and central office administrator. His work focuses on student engagement, motivation, classroom management, brain-based learning, and standards implementation. As the author of three highly-regarded books published by Routledge, he has a passion for helping educators discover ways to inspire and engage students.

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