By: BTC Admin
“Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” -Angela Lee Duckworth

In a world where instant is always demanded, an old ideology is being overlooked nowadays: Character. Which points to what is presently being developed under the current of education called grit. Added to grit is resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. These personal qualities, often referred to as noncognitive skills or character strengths, have taken the right turn at the corner; researchers in education and learning have begun to study this set of personal qualities.

Now, passion have been in the vocabulary of anyone, whether in education or otherwise, when talking about a desire that envelopes the whole persona of the speaker. Passion and the character strengths mentioned above, in particular, grit, are pairing up to turn children and adolescents to success stories through defying obstacles in their way.

But the problem is that grit and passion are immeasurable and intangible, thus capturing these into translatable data is the main challenge faced by proponents of the studies correlating to these ideals. Quite because of this reason also, teaching grit and passion is not like teaching Math or Speech or History. These academic subjects have standard and set rules whereas becoming gritty and passionate do not present itself like a syllabus. But these seem to make a big difference in the academic success of children, especially low-income children.

Scholars have yet to find a reliable way to teach kids to be grittier or more resilient. Quite the irony, educators who are the best teachers to give out lessons about grit and passion to their students often “teach” these capacities without even knowing it—indeed, they often do so without ever saying a word about them in the classroom.

What is emerging is a new idea: that qualities like grit and resilience are not formed through the traditional mechanics of “teaching”; instead, a growing number of researchers now believe, they are shaped by several specific environmental forces, both in the classroom and in the home, sometimes in subtle and intricate ways.

The grime of grit and passion for the long haul

In contrast to the behaviorist theory that was prevalent in the 70’s to the 80’s, which is essentially the linear punishment and reward system, a body of thought emerged called self-determination theory by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan, two professors at the University of Rochester. This is to be the root of what we know today as character strengths.

Deci and Ryan argued that we are mostly motivated not by the material consequences of our actions but by the inherent enjoyment and meaning that those actions bring us, a phenomenon called intrinsic motivation. They identified three key human needs—our need for competence, our need for autonomy, and our need for relatedness, meaning personal connection—and they posited that intrinsic motivation can be sustained only when we feel that those needs are being satisfied.

These three human needs, if fulfilled, provide a healthy arena where grit can be taught, which students will need if they are to be in the long-haul of where their passion will take them. When teachers are able to create an environment that fosters competence, autonomy, and relatedness, Deci and Ryan say, students are much more likely to feel motivated to do that hard work.


There is no clear-cut way to teach grit and passion but incremental lessons on resiliency count as an effective method to integrate the lessons of character strengths into the everyday academic work. According to studies at Northwestern University by economist C. Kirabo Jackson, who has begun investigating how to measure educators’ effectiveness, creating an environment that motivates students to start making better decisions—to show up to class, to persevere longer at difficult tasks, and to deal more resiliently with the countless small-scale setbacks and frustrations that make up the typical student’s school day—proved that although grit can’t be taught like arithmetic or reading, it does not mean it can’t be learned. Such students’ decisions improved their lives in meaningful ways. Did the students learn new skills that enabled them to behave differently? Maybe. Or maybe what we are choosing to call “skills” in this case are really just new ways of thinking about the world or about themselves—a new set of attitudes or beliefs that somehow unleash a new way of behaving.

In the end, grit and passion must stem from within. Camille A. Farrington, a former inner-city high-school teacher who now works at the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, published a report titled “Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners.” The report was in many ways a reaction to the recent push among educators to identify, assess, and teach noncognitive skills. While Farrington agreed with the growing consensus that a student’s ability to persevere in school was important, she was skeptical of the idea that perseverance could be taught in the same way that we teach math, reading, or history. “There is little evidence that working directly on changing students’ grit or perseverance would be an effective lever for improving their academic performance,” Farrington and her colleagues wrote. “While some students are more likely to persist in tasks or exhibit self-discipline than others, all students are more likely to demonstrate perseverance if the school or classroom context helps them develop positive mindsets and effective learning strategies.”

They went on to identify a phenomenon they called academic perseverance—the tendency to maintain positive academic behaviors despite setbacks. What distinguishes students with academic perseverance, they wrote, is their resilient attitude toward failure. These students continue to work hard in a class even after failing a few tests; when they are stumped or confused by complex material, they look for new ways to master it rather than simply giving up. Academic perseverance, in Farrington’s formulation, shares certain qualities with noncognitive capacities such as grit and self-control and delay of gratification.

In essence, what Farrington found was this: If you are a teacher, you may never be able to get your students to be gritty, in the sense of developing some essential character trait called grit. But you can probably make them act gritty—to behave in gritty ways in your classroom. And those behaviors will help produce the academic outcomes that you (and your students and society at large) are hoping for.

The environment stated above is the most conducive atmosphere in developing academic perseverance, alongside character strengths, but it isn’t fool-proof in teaching grit and passion. A student’s attitude, self-perception, and mental representations, produced by countless environmental forces, are strong elements if a student can learn the traits for a successful life. Teachers and administrators talk about character—their term for noncognitive skills. The central premise is that character is built not through lectures or direct instruction from teachers but through the experience of persevering as students confront challenging academic work.

“Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology: Collection: Volumes 1 & 2” edited by Paul A M Van Lange, Arie W Kruglanski, E Tory Higgins

“Teaching Adolescents To Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance” by Camille Farrington, The University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research


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