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#10: 8 ways to help students grow their grit

Grit is a great predictor of academic success--here are strategies teachers can use to help students improve their own grit

[Editor’s note: This story, originally published on May 11th of this year, was our #10 most popular story of the year. Happy holidays, and thank you for tuning into our 2018 countdown!]

For a relatively new buzzword, grit certainly has a lot of supporters. It is grit, and not necessarily IQ or talent, that can predict students’ academic success. And as educators seek to understand students from a motivational and psychological point of view, grit pays an important role.

“Grit is passion, perseverance for very long-term goals, stamina,” says Angela Duckworth in her now-famous 2013 TED Talk.

In that talk, viewed more than 13.5 million times, she describes her study of different predictors of success and how grit emerged as a significant predictor for long-term goals.

“How [do we] build grit in kids? The honest answer is, we don’t know. What we do know is that talent doesn’t make you gritty. So far, the best idea has been the growth mindset—the belief that ability to learn isn’t fixed, that it can change with your effort,” Duckworth says during her talk.

In the years since then, educators and psychologists have taken a longer look at grit, how teachers can foster it in classrooms, and how students can leverage it for long-term success.

“Grit is stick-to-it-ness, it’s backbone, it’s perseverance,” says Dr. Laura Barbanel, former program director of the Graduate Program in School Psychology, where she trained school psychologists. Barbanel works primarily in private practice now. “Someone with grit has a certain amount of optimism, a sense of the possible, a sense of self-efficacy.”

Making a plan, taking action, and keeping a sense of optimism helps develop grit, she says. Educators and parents can encourage students to develop grit using a few strategies.

1. Advise parents and talk to them about the balance between “doing for” their child and encouraging their child to do things on his or her own.”

2. Focus on what make a child feel empowered to set and work toward goals.

3. Make the plan of action and the goal doable. “Teachers know this, but sometimes parents forget it,” Barbanel says.

Dr. Caren Baruch-Feldman, a psychologist who works extensively around grit, says a three-pronged approach focusing on mindset, behavior, and teamwork can help students increase their grit.

4. Focus on passion. Duckworth talks about passion and perseverance for a good reason, Baruch-Feldman says. “Often, passion is left out. Engage kids—how can they get passionate about something and make a connection and persist?”

5. Cultivate a “want to” mindset versus a “have to” mindset. “Help students figure out why certain things will be important to them,” Baruch-Feldman advises. “Sometimes as educators we skip that step, but it’s hugely important. Once it’s established and we agree on goals, I share with educators what we know helps build grit—optimism and a growth mindset. I teach them a little bit about what that looks like. How do you have an optimistic mindset? Not just talking about it, but doing it.”

6. Use a team approach among educators and students to help build grit. “When you need to persist, or you have a setback, nothing is as good as talking to someone who will normalize that experience, who will pick you up and let you know you’ll be OK,” Baruch-Feldman says.

7. Teachers can help students, but often students build their grit when they help fellow students.

“If you look at really gritty people, they have a sense of purpose. When kids are helping others, they’re tapping into that sense of purpose,” Baruch-Feldman says. “When we’re helping other people, it gives us positive emotions and it brings real connections.”

8. It’s important to have optimism and a growth mindset, but behavior has to follow that determination, Baruch-Feldman says. “Helping students understand the value of practice” is especially important in a world where people are used to instant gratification and don’t always understand, or want to put in, the effort required to reach their goals.

“It’s also terrific for parents and educators to model behaviors,” she adds. “If we can share our failures, our challenges, how we rebounded, how we persisted, with our kids—that’s a really important message.”

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