BLANDING: Perseverance key to student success

What is the single most important factor for student success? If we expand the question beyond education, to is the single most important factor for success in any endeavor, an answer is beginning to emerge.
Apr 11, 2014


In efforts as different as winning a spelling bee to graduating from West Point, it turns out that the same factor leads to success in both.

Angela Duckworth, a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, has been studying success for the past few years in schools, businesses, the military and sports. She looked at a number of personality traits, but one consistently stood out. It turns out to be rather simple: grit.

Perseverance was a better predictor of success than any other trait. Kids who can stick with a difficult task wind up being our most successful leaders.

Knowing this as educators and parents leaves us with the nagging question of how to develop this in our young people. The first step is often to change our own mindset.

Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University, says that we need to have a “growth mindset,” the belief that success comes from effort; and not a “fixed mindset,” the notion that people succeed because they are born with a “gift” of intelligence or talent.

We also must develop this mindset in our kids. When, from a young age, we tell children, “You are so smart,” we start to build the fixed mindset. When a child with this mindset faces a difficult task that they have not been able to solve, they may assume it is because they are not “smart” enough. A better approach may be to praise the effort and hard work that went into that accomplishment. When children who have been raised with this growth mindset face adversity, they believe that they just need to work harder to accomplish the task.

Nowhere in education is this more evident than when dealing with the subject of math. For too long we have allowed kids and adults to say, “I’m just not good at math.” The reality is that, for many, math can be a challenging task. As educators, we are tasked with helping students recognize that success in math and math-related areas can be strongly influenced by the determination one brings to the task.

Locally, we are making shifts in our instructional methods which include:

• Moving beyond one right answer to incorporate higher-order thinking skills.
• Having students draw, describe, model and visualize mathematics.
• Providing realist problems and real-world contexts.
• Making “Why?” “How do you know?” and “Can you explain?” classroom mantras.

Students are being asked to shift as well by:

• Looking for the meaning of a problem, not just the solution.
• Understanding that, in the real world, not all information is given and that they must seek out both the known and the unknown.
• Developing plans toward complex solutions.
• Looking for patterns in order to gain insight into solutions.
• Changing course when necessary.
• Asking themselves, Does this solution make sense?
• Learning from diverse approaches to problems and solutions.

Overall, with the pressing need for leaders in math and science areas, this is too big an issue not to address. As John Quincy Adams said, “Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.”

Kevin Blanding is principal of Rosy Mound Elementary School.



Patience and perseverance are difficult things to hone in a young person. In order for that to happen they need a vision. A vision of how their life can be 15 years down the road. Also a negative vision - what will your life be 15 years down the road if you choose to give up too easily. College can be grueling - a professional sequence of courses can be so sickening to a person who has only experienced academia for their first 19 years. But what worked for my many foster kids - was to take them to factories and tool & die shops on 90 plus degree days. Show them they misery they will feel if they fail college and show them often. Show them the math on $14/ hr with only 1 weeks vacation and the new car they will never have, the nice house they will never own and pay off. Let them see the stinky, bad breath foul mouth skilled trades workers in those places. They were young and good looking once - but the factory destroys em. That is how I motivated my foster kids to pursue professional careers.


not sure your least three sentences will sit well with those who are bustin there humps in the jobs you mention.


and all along I thought it was our race that determined our success and not the content of our character.


Perseverance is the key! I enjoyed this column and I am happy to see that the concepts discussed are being promoted in our local schools today.

The factory settings that I know of today, include no air conditioning for those who work at skilled trades. Large fans and distribution of drinking water are for the skilled trades, while the office workers enjoy air conditioning. Further, the factory worker has a much higher rate of injury to contend with in comparison to most other jobs out there.


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