Grit “in psychology is a positive, non-cognitive trait based on an individual’s passion for a particular long-term goal or end state, coupled with a powerful motivation to achieve their respective objective.” (Wikipedia) Angela Duckworth has made a career out of studying grit; how grit affects success, where it comes from, how to get it, and why we should seek it. She has presented a powerful TED talk on the subject that is worth the time to view. She has developed a Grit survey and scale for evaluating your own level of grit and compiled a lot of research around the subject of grit.
In Duckworth’s research she has been able to correlate an individual’s grit with their ability to meet and overcome challenges in life. For her, “Grit has two components: passion and perseverance.” (p.56) Hence the subtitle of her book. What this translates into is recognizing purpose in some activity, be it playing the piano, serving others, compiling research, finishing an education, etc., and then pursuing that goal in spite of challenges and set-backs over a long period of time. She writes, “…here’s what science has to say: passion for your work is a little bit of discovery followed by a lot of development and then a lifetime of deepening.” (p. 103) For Angela, how you see your work is more important than the job title (p.152).
Grit is a factor for students returning to school. The more grittier the student, the more likely they are to complete their program of study. Although you can complete the Grit survey and determine where you fall on the Grit Scale, that really is only a starting point. Grit can be developed. It develops from practiced and determined effort from the inside out as you find purpose and passion, and then begin to bring commitment into the picture. She states, “The point is that you can, in fact, modify your self-talk, and you can learn to not let it interfere with your moving toward your goals. With practice and guidance, you can change the way you think, feel, and most important, act when the going gets tough.” (p. 193)
Grit also develops from the outside in, which is just as important or even more so. Here is the connecting point for the Instructor. As the course Instructor you have the ability to influence and strengthen a student’s GRIT. According to Duckworth, “…there’s a hard way to get grit and an easy way. The hard way is to do it by yourself. The easy way is to use conformity – the basic human drive to fit in – because if you’re around a lot of people who are gritty, you’re going to act grittier.” (p. 247) It really does matter whom we associate with; associate with gritty people and you become grittier yourself, associate with individuals who never seem to quite commit and are constantly bouncing from one thing to another and you will find yourself being influenced by that example. “If you want to be grittier, find a gritty culture and join it.” p. 245. In the classroom this translates into building a gritty culture. You might think this is impossible, especially in the five-week courses, but it can start with the choices you as the instructor make and the words you use from the first email you send the week before the class starts and the first words you speak on that first night of class.
I encourage you as you begin this new year that you take up the challenge of being more gritty yourself, and helping your students to develop this important trait.