Grit: the New It Factor for Student Success


What is the best predictor of student success? IQ? Family income? Out-of-school involvement? Standardized test scores? Researchers have been trying to figure out the answer to that question for decades. In fact, each of the suggestions above has been prominent ideas at one time or another. However, psychological researchers are now suggesting that the success predictor may be something completely different: “grit”.

Grit has yet to become a household term, but it is being defined as something close to passion and perseverance for long term goals. It can be understood as a conglomeration of a number of commonly known traits and behaviors: goal-directedness, motivation, self-control, and a positive mindset. And while these character traits may be well-known (and perhaps even well-taught), Bryan Goodwin and Kristen Miller of ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) suggest that the interplay of each of these is important to produce grit.

In her spring 2013 TedTalk, Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania discusses her labs specific discoveries of grit’s role in success. During her time establishing her theory on girt, Duckworth surveyed and studied all kinds of individuals: from salesmen to beginning teachers, spelling bee contestants to West Point cadets. In all them, Duckworth found that this behavioral factor called grit was the strongest predictor of who would succeed and who would not.

Since this research, schools, non-profits, and for-profits alike have been grabbing at grit as a new staple in their toolbox. But there has still remained one question: how do you teach grit?

Though recent research has plenty of suggestions for possible ways to teach this concept to students, it is still ultimately unclear. Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University suggests the implementation of the “Growth Mindset” in students as young as possible. The “Growth Mindset” involves reframing “failure” as a state of mind, rather than a state of being. Dweck suggests that this understanding is essential for a foundation of grit.

NPR featured a story this spring on teaching “grittiness”.  Schools highlighted were working on creating an environment where struggle and risk-taking was valued more than just getting the right answer.  Words like “smart” and “gifted” are being replaced with “focus”, “determination” and “hard work”.

As more research continues to emerge about this golden ticket, schools and non-profits with aims at student success should consider how they can begin to integrate grit concepts into their curriculum and activities with students. Duckworth has developed a 12-Item Grit Scale as a means for measuring grit in individuals.

Transform Consulting Group works to remain current on emerging research and practice that can improve outcomes for children and families.  Interested in learning how you can align your programs and services to research-based practices?  Contact Transform Consulting Group today for a free consultation.