I have written before about the role of GRIT in students achieving success at school and after leaving school. For those who are new to reading my stuff, grit is defined as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals”.  Research tells us that grit has a more significant correlation to high school graduation rates than things like family income and social status.

Success is not about social intelligence or good looks, physical health nor IQ; it’s about passion and perseverance. In this sense, talent doesn’t make you gritty. Psychologists consider that talent counts once and effort counts twice.

So grit works – good! Now, how do you form grit? Where does it come from?

The experts tell us that students can develop grit when they:

  • Develop a fascination with what they are doing
  • Strive to improve each day
  • Remind themselves that they are working for a purpose

Long-term success is dependent on a core belief; to be gritty you need to scrap the theory that your abilities are fixed. Neuroscience has shown that we have an enormous capacity to mold our brain and learn new skills as we get older. Therefore, you can shape your brain through sustained effort and experience.  Now try to remember that time when you started to do or learn something new, probably you were scared that you couldn’t learn but you did! From now on use that experience to disrupt any beliefs that your abilities are fixed.

Remember Students Succeed with Dedication and Hard Work. 

So who teaches grit, parents or school or both? Who creates this “magic formula” for success? 

Parents can:

  • Make sure your child’s school includes the development of these qualities — perseverance, conscientiousness, self-control, curiosity — in their curriculum.
  • Learn more about grit. At Angela Duckworth’s UPenn site.
  • Instead of praising your child for his/her marks or for being “smart,” praise him/her for being tenacious and determined.
  • Focus on praising those qualities of “stick-to-it-ness” that help kids succeed more than praise for particular achievements.

  • If your child falls down when learning to ride a bike, praise his/her efforts at getting back up and trying again and again, rather than only praising when s/he learns to ride on his/her own.
  • Allow your child to get frustrated. Parents hate to see their kids struggle. But learning from challenges (as well as failure) is the key to making the connection for kids that true achievement doesn’t come easily.
  • Talk about your own goals and explain how you set smaller goals to achieve them. Share your own struggles and how you got past them.
  • Remind your kids every day that failure is not something to be afraid of.
  • Most of all, don’t enable helplessness by doing everything for them.

What is Enabling?

Enabling is any behaviour that makes it easier for your child to continue down a destructive path. Ultimately, enabling makes life worse for your child and for you, while helping offers the promise of real change and mutual respect.

School can:

Some of the things we can do include

  • Set High Expectations. Cultivate an academic environment in the classroom by setting high, but not impossible, expectations for students.
  • Establish a Classroom Routine: Without structure, young children often end up misbehaving. If rules have been made clear from day one, rules and consequences are clear and students will be able to learn in a secure environment. Feeling safe means that a student is willing to give it a shot and try.
  • Be Ready to Help: Particularly when things are going wrong and the student needs refocusing and reassurance that they just have not got it “yet”. But we won’t do it for them.
  • Model not giving up: That’s the real message and they should see it in us. Be a role model for the students of “grittiness.” Let them see us trying new things and talk about how difficult they are and how they don’t come easily to you.

It’s not a competition. If we work together we can make great things (like grit) happen!

Reflection: I am of an age that still remembers music as it used to be and of the music of my youth, one of my favourites was the duo Simon and Garfunkel.

I also remember reading an article about the duo where it was made quite clear that Paul Simon had a raw nerve in regard to one of his most popular songs, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (a classic tune that won five Grammy Awards and was ranked #48 on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. https://youtu.be/H_a46WJ1viA). It seems that people assumed that, given the gloriously pure delivery of Art Garfunkel, that the song was Art’s. They assumed that the song was his – written by him. People just kept approaching Art, often in front of Paul Simon, and saying “I love your song. You must be so proud of it!”

Instead of singing the song together, Simon insisted that Garfunkel perform the song alone. Later in his career, Simon admitted he had second thoughts about that decision. “Many times I’m sorry I didn’t do it,” he said. Simon would hear the rousing ovations and think, “That’s my song, man.” Paul Simon, lyricist. Not. Happy.

So what made it a great song?  The writing – pure Paul Simon, or the sound – pure Art Garfunkel?  Put the two together and you have something outstanding – like when parents and schools really work together.

So, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”, who made it great? With the possible exception of Paul Simon, who really cares? With two talented people working together with the goal of making great music, they created a great song!

“When you’re weary, feeling small
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down.”


Mr Terry Muldoon
Principal, St Columba Anglican School