Teaching Grit or Effort

I recently came across (for the second time) a TED talk from Angela Lee Duckworth about Grit and the power of passion and perseverance. It really hit home for me and made a lot of sense. I have put the video below if you have not seen it.

In the TED talk, she discusses that through her research she has found that one trait has a correlation to success, grit. She defines grit as passion and perseverance. While other factors might make a difference, grit was the single unifying characteristic to determine if people were successful. 

This resonates with me. Though my experience in life I have found this to be true as well. 

The question is how do you teach it? Of course she doesn’t have an answer, but points to Carol Dweck’s idea of growth mindset. I have an idea that  another way to express this to kids is talking about effort.  

In my first career in advertising, I started out at an agency that was about 300 people. After quickly losing 2 major accounts, employee numbers had to be slashed. We dropped down to a company of about only 30 people. Luckily, I was one of the employees kept on. Why though? I was one of the youngest employees and had a very low salary. While the more senior employees could work at 2 or 3 times my speed and with, in my opinion, more creativity, they also demanded a much higher salary. Of course this bothered me as they had families to support and I did not, but this is the nature of advertising. The next question is why was I kept on when comparing myself to others in my salary bracket? Well, there were a few colleagues who I felt had more raw talent, knew more computer programs, and had more experience than myself, but honestly I put in more effort than them. I arrived early and stayed late. I did my time sheets and was organized (this can be difficult for a creative). I also never missed a day of work and was reliable. I learned from this experience that effort can trump talent, skills, and even experience.  

When possible, I try and tell this story to my students. I explain to them that others might be more naturally gifted in intelligence, creativity, physical ability, etc… but by putting in more effort, those things can be overcome. Putting in effort is a choice. Nobody is more talented in effort. It is not an innate ability. We decide how much effort we put into tasks we do. I challenge my students to always put in the best effort they can and try to beat their personal best to grow.

We should be explicitly teaching students to put in their best effort and I think that will help teach them grit!


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