At a workshop I attended last week, I met a lovely woman who mentioned that her daughter had almost finished college, but wasn’t able to graduate because of one class she needed. She just couldn’t pass that one class. She had tried three times and was ready to give up. I immediately felt sympathy for her daughter and what she must be going through. We talked about fear and learning and talked about possible methods to get her past her fear, including taking the course elsewhere as a non-credit course to take the pressure off her.
I’ve been thinking about the young woman a lot since then and grit, a current buzzword in education, and whether she has it. If not, how could she get it?
Grit, according to Angela Duckworth (see video below), is passion, perseverance and stamina. The student had tried to take the course three times, so it would seem she had perseverance, at least a good amount of it, and stamina, because she took it three times! Passion, I doubt she had it for this particular class, but who has it all the time? Maybe a passion for graduating would help, because I could not imagine getting that far and letting it go for one class!
The situation also made me think of other examples of grit I’ve observed, particularly one from my childhood. My parents wanted their children to have a knowledge of music. My older brother, younger brother and I took lessons. I took piano, my older brother Saxophone and my younger brother took guitar lessons.
The lessons came easy to me, but I hated them. I ran through my scales quickly, regardless of the metronome, ticking away beside me, much to the annoyance of my instructor. I wanted to play Mozart or Beethoven and she had me doing scales. It was an exercise in frustration for both of us. My older brother had a similar situation, in that it came easy to him, but he didn’t want to take time out to practice. My younger brother, was tone deaf, but loved playing the guitar. It was painful to hear, but he worked at it day after day and got better and better. Today, he can play well, regardless of his abilities because he had grit, or passion, perseverance and stamina. My older brother and I gave up quickly and don’t play at all.
So, what’s more important, grit or talent? Having both is great, but often they do not go together. As an art instructor of mine once said, everyone can learn to draw competently. Will they be a Rembrandt? Probably not, but few are. The trick is to do the best you can, regardless of your innate abilities and you will likely succeed. You may not be first, but you will be ahead of many others who gave up along the way. As Carol Dweck author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success states, “IF, like those with the growth mindset, you believe you can develop yourself, then you’re open to accurate information about your current abilities, even it it’s unflattering. What’s more, if you’re oriented toward learning, as they are, you need accurate information about your current abilities in order to learn effectively”.
So, how do we teach our students grit? I think we lead by example. If we show passion, perseverance and stamina, it will set the example for our students. Encourage them to keep trying and finding alternatives when they hit a roadblock. Suggest they try and brainstorm with others in the class or friends outside to find new ways. In other words, it is important to have a growth mindset, rather than a fixed mindset. Giving up is easy, but nothing feels better than succeeding against the odds. Just ask my brother, the guitar player.