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.