Grit, Mindset, Prior Experience… and Parents


We had professional development about Angela Duckworth’s Grit. Duckworth refers to “grit” as the combination of passion and perseverance, and claims that this combination is what leads to success. Based on her story about the West Point survey, it seems that she is defining ‘success’ as being able to achieve goals that you’ve set for yourself.

mindset.jpgThe discussion did not really examine this definition of success, which was a shame, as the ability to set appropriate goals is a skill in and of itself. A goal that’s too difficult to reach creates discouragement and frustration, while one that’s too easy doesn’t provide a sense of accomplishment.

Likewise, it would also be helpful to explore passion. Why are different people passionate about different things? What creates passion? Understanding that might help us identify and develop passion, not only in our students, but in ourselves as well.

We did, however, start looking at perseverance. Why do some students give up while others keep trying? We discussed motivation (intrinsic/extrinsic) as well as locus of control, and that brought us to the concepts of “fixed” and “growth” mindsets that Carol Dweck discusses. Students with a fixed mindset view success or failure as based on inherent ability, while those with a growth mindset see it as more connected to the effort they put in or the strategies they used.

And we also noticed that there’s often a correlation between the mindset a student demonstrates and what we hear from parents.

“I can’t do anything with him.” This was presented as an example of a statement that could cause a student to develop a “fixed mindset.” However, more significantly, it shows that the parent has developed a fixed mindset in regards to the child.

But part of the point of Dweck’s research is that these mindsets themselves are not fixed. People develop them based on their prior experiences. The above parent statement could also be expressed in a “growth” manner as “I’ve tried everything I can think of to get him to make positive choices, and none of it seems to make any difference in his behavior.”

Therefore, an effective response to this sort of statement would focus on what strategies have been tried previously, and what the response was. Listening before responding is also incredibly important. It’s important to remember that with a fixed mindset, any judgement of the situation is seen as a judgment of the person.

What we can do as teachers is provide students with opportunities to act in ways that reinforce a growth mindset. These actions will be challenging for students with a fixed mindset. However, neurological research shows that our experiences, including our actions, can influence brain development. This means that performing actions that are consistent with a growth mindset, even if the person doesn’t believe in the effectiveness of that action, will still strengthen that paradigm.

But it’s important to understand that people don’t develop their worldviews overnight. And while we can provide support for shifting that perspective, we’re not likely to see significant change over the course of a single term. This is part of what makes teaching such a challenge. It can be difficult to demonstrate the long-term value of what we do, because there are so many interconnected variables.

There’s a good deal of hope and trust that we’re doing what’s best for our students. We read the research. We share with our colleagues. We learn from our own experiences.

And we do the best we can.

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