On Developing Grit: Part 3 of 3

Part 3: A Quibble 

I think Tom Hoerr has it absolutely right when he says that “teaching for grit is more an attitude than a strategy” (Fostering Grit, p. 10). In fact, when we set out to write a lesson for grit-building, I think we get it wrong.


Photo courtesy of Crossroads College Preparatory School

A lesson plan that sets out deliberately to give the student a frustration experience disregards a fundamental principle of compassion. The well-known quotation, attributed both to Ian MacLaren and (apparently erroneously) to Plato, captures it well: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  We don’t know what challenges our students face outside of our line of vision, but we can count on the fact that they exist.

It seems to me that the best teachers create an environment, provide resources, and plan learning activities with that sweet spot in mind: thplace where the student both must work for it and has a reasonable chance of eventual success. I believe it is at the outer edges of what Vygotsky refers to as the student’s zone of proximal development — rather than beyond it — that we find the model for developing grit. This framework keeps us rooted in the essence of our work while helping students in our care to learn, to trust, and to develop resilience.


On Developing Grit (Part 2 of 3)

Part 2: A Concern


Girls on the Run St. Louis, 11/16/13

Girls on the Run is a program designed to encourage development of positive self-image, camaraderie, and perseverance toward goals in pre-adolescent girls. The program, offered in 200+ cities throughout the U.S. and Canada, runs for 10-12 week sessions in an after-school format, culminating in a 5K run in each venue.

I love the concept and considered it a privilege to be able to participate with my friend Elizabeth in the St. Louis run (at a brisk walking pace) last month. The St. Louis event was a sight to behold: nearly 6,000 participants filled the streets, a giant pep rally of girls from ages 8-14. The level of organization and the spirit of the event were impressive.

As Elizabeth and I were chugging along, enjoying the scene of runners in their red shirts stretched out before us, a girl and her mother gradually overtook us. As they passed, we heard a bit of whimpering in a nine-year-old voice. And then the adult response, teeth obviously clenched, in a low growl: “Just suck it up.” 

Which leaves me wondering, as you might imagine. In our coaching of parents to give their children opportunities to endure some discomfort in order to learn and grow (the blessing of a skinned knee, so to speak), are we inadvertently asking already-anxious parents to manage one more thing?

On Developing Grit (Part 1 of 3)

Part 1: An Important Idea — and a Valuable Resource

It seems clear from the research summarized by Paul Tough in How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, particularly the work of Angela Duckworth, that “grit” is an important characteristic of successful people and a quality that schools and parents should foster in children.

What should we consider in creating a school environment that encourages the development of grit? Thomas R. Hoerr offers a helpful, practical resource in his new book, Fostering Grit: How Do I Prepare My Students for the Real World?, published by ASCD in August as part of their Arias series. It is a quick read that will stimulate some thinking.

Hoerr diverges ever so slightly from Duckworth’s definition as perseverance and passion for long-term goals, instead describing grit as “tenacity, perseverance, and the ability to never give up” (p.1), a component of our executive functioning that provides us with self-monitoring and emotional control. He urges us to think of teaching for grit as an attitude, one that may require us to stretch our adult comfort level with student struggle.


Among the important points Hoerr makes is his reminder that our own behavior serves as the most powerful of lessons. “Our students need to know that somewhere along the way – maybe lots of places along the way – we used grit to find our success” (p. 13). I would add that teachers will find it easier to adopt this mantra if school heads and principals, too, recognize the value of sharing their own vulnerabilities in their journeys toward their goals.

You may enjoy reading these other responses to Fostering Grit:

In her blog Principal J, Jessica Johnson, an elementary school principal and district assessment coordinator, emphasizes the relationship of Hoerr’s offering to Carol Dweck’s work on growth mindset.

Sam Patterson, a K-5 technology integration specialist, reviews Fostering Grit in his blog, My Paperless Classroom. Patterson describes it as “a great primer on active teaching for socio-emotional growth” and commends it for its clarity, noting that the book “reads like a well-planned PD session.”