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Former management consultant and seventh grade teacher, Angela Lee Duckworth, asked the question, “What if doing well in school and in life depends on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily?” To find her response she headed to graduate school (to become a psychologist) where her research had her asking two questions across multiple contexts to help her reach a conclusion.

Who is successful here and why?

Across all of the contexts she studied (including “rookie teachers”) one characteristic stood out as the sole predictor of success. “Grit.” Duckworth says,

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in day out; not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

For the students she studied, Duckworth found that grit was the difference-maker in whether or not they graduated – and, yes, she matched the students “on every characteristic [she] could measure,” including “family income,” “standardized achievement test scores,” and feeling safe at school. Duckworth aligns this finding and the challenge to build grit in kids with the research of Carol Dweck on growth mindset; research suggesting that the ability to learn is not fixed, but rather changes based on effort and perseverance (for information see http://mindsetonline.com/).

Check out Duckworth’s TED Talk here. Think about what it means for you and your students; and if you’re an educational leader, what it means for you and your school leaders. Finally, challenge yourself to identify “what will I start doing?” and “what will I stop doing?” Our responses to these questions and how we support students (and teachers) persevere to success will help them learn that they have purpose, can do worthwhile work, and make a difference.



Duckworth, Angela Lee. (April 2013). “The key to success? Grit,” TED Talks Education. Accessed Feb 13, 2014, at: http://www.ted.com/talks/angela_lee_duckworth_the_key_to_success_grit.html.

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