There is a lot of discussion around the topic of developing grit in students, but how do we develop grit in educators? After perusing “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century,” a study prepared by SRI for the US Dept. of Education, it seems clear that in order to teach students the value and importance of grit, teachers must be able to model it themselves. Working as an instructional coach, I often find the grittiness factor has a significant impact on how willing and open teachers are regarding changes in education. How might we help educators up their grit score?
The study bundles grit, tenacity, and perseverance, defining them as “multifaceted concepts encompassing goals, challenges, and ways of managing these.” Grit is the ability to maintain effort and interest over time despite failures, challenges, or distractions. It is how we achieve our long-term goals. The study also addresses the role that sociocultural context plays as well as how learning environments impact the development of grit. Additionally, the research explains how students can develop psychological resources that promote grit, tenacity, and perseverance through three facets; academic mindset, effortful control, and strategies and tactics. All of these can be applied to educators as well.
“Sociocultural context plays an important role. It can be a significant determinant of what students value and want to accomplish, the types of challenges they face, and the resources they can access.” This is also true for teachers. At times, teachers can be less than supportive of fellow educators who are willing to take risks and venture out on the limb. Limited social support can undermine perseverance toward new challenges and at times, can cause many to give up and return to the “way we always do it.” While grit can help us move forward, it can also become detrimental when driven by fear of testing results and district pressures to perform. Many teachers exclaim that time is the obstacle and trying something new will interfere with “covering” all of the material before the test. They feel they must persevere and push students through all of the required curriculum before that fateful deadline, foregoing more engaging and authentic learning experiences.
Learning environments also play a role in promoting grit. SRI research pointed to two important environmental factors. One, “students need opportunities to take on ‘optimally challenging’ goals that, to the student, are worthy of pursuit. “ Promoting a school environment that allows risk taking and challenges educators to focus on goals that they find valuable, can draw in educator’s passions and personal interests and bring on renewed tenacity for success. Second, “students need a rigorous and supportive environment to accomplish these goals and/or develop critical psychological resources.” As teachers face the many challenges of educational change, including technology issues, outside distractions, lack of resources, and adverse circumstances, they need an environment that feels respectful, establishes high expectations for both teachers and students, focuses on effort, and provides as much support as available. Three facets arose from the study that point to ways to develop psychological resources for promoting grit, tenacity, and perseverance.
For students and educators, this is how you frame yourself as a learner. An academic mindset includes one’s beliefs, attitudes, values, and ways of perceiving oneself. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, talks about a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe “they are the way they are.” They tend to avoid challenges, obstacles, see effort as fruitless, and ignore negative feedback as it feels like a reflection of self. In a growth mindset, you believe that your brain can be trained. You are more likely to embrace challenges and your self image is not tied to your success, therefore you are more willing to persist through failures and learn from others. While this is extremely valuable for students to succeed, it is just as important to develop a growth mindset among staff. The educational environment is in a high state of change, and those that are willing to learn and grow within the chaos, are more likely to stay in the field.
In general, people are often faced with many tasks to reach a long-term goal. Some of those tasks are less than desirable and contain little motivation in the short-term. In order to reach those goals successfully, willpower is needed to maintain attention in the face of distractions. The world of education is full of distractions. Students and teachers who are able to call on their grittiness to continue forward are shown to be happier and better able to handle stress. As an educator, it’s important that we model effortful control both in staff meetings and in the classroom. Every job offers up challenges and tasks that are mundane and boring. Recognizing those moments and remembering to refocus on the end result, in this case, always looking for ways to improve the student experience, can help push through the small roadblocks.
Strategies and Tactics:
“Students are also more likely to persevere when they can draw on specific strategies and tactics to deal with challenges and setbacks.” Also true for teachers. Finding better ways to provide professional development is critical for helping teachers persevere. Helping them develop actionable skills that support them in being flexible, creative, and resourceful and finding new ways to deliver and engage them in professional development will move classrooms further into the 21st century.
In the end, the study has several conclusions and recommendations for improving and bringing awareness to grit, tenacity, and perseverance. One is identifying and defining best practices. Part of those best practices are establishing long-term goals that are “worthy” and a learning environment that is rigorous and supportive towards accomplishing those goals. Working on a growth mindset is foundational to the culture and failure should be framed as an act of learning. “Evaluations of performance should be designed to support perceptions of competence and future expectations of success.” Offering teachers frequent and constructive performance feedback with time for reflection will strengthen a growth mindset, and supporting teachers with the integration of technology will increase grit as they began to see opportunities instead of headaches.
The study proposes that “American children in the 21st century need support as they encounter a variety of challenges unprecedented in history. As the world becomes increasingly complex, technical, multicultural, and competitive, children and adolescents also face a weakening of the family and informal community support that was once available.” I would say that educators in the 21st century need that same support as we face a variety of challenges unprecedented in educational history. The rapid shift in technology and educational tools, changing student needs, and often stressful and chaotic learning environments require today’s teachers to have a heavy dose of grit, tenacity, and perseverance.
“There are no quick fixes—making significant progress requires the efforts of all communities of educational stakeholders and fundamental paradigm shifts in the culture of education.” Let’s get gritty. Find out your grit score.
Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach