The Grittier, the Better: Preparing Children for Success

How do we measure success in education? GPA and standardized test scores are a time-honored metric, given their influence on college admission panels. While these metrics have their place in defining academic achievement, do they truly measure how well we, as educators and parents, are preparing our children for the world beyond school – in other words, for real life? Let me highlight a far more important measure that is often overlooked in the wash of analytical assessment data: grit. Grit is the ability to accept new challenges, even after repeated failure, with confidence, humility, and an unquenchable passion and drive. Grit is a significant predictor of success, even more so than talent or ability.

Life is not a 100 yard sprint where the slightest fault can spell disaster, but rather a series of marathons, full of ups and downs, poor starts, mid-race cramps, and both tail and headwinds. Is your child prepared for a sprint or a marathon? How do you increase their grit? First, let’s start with the premise that repeated success is far overrated, even detrimental, to the education process. Now before you quit reading, hear me out. Yes, it is vitally important that children succeed, continually reaching educational and developmental goals. But equally critical is that children (and adults as well) be continually challenged to explore new ideas and experiences. Set-backs, even failure, are inevitably part of that experience. You cannot brush the dirt of your clothes and stare a challenge square in the eye with fiery determination if you never fall in the first place.

Teaching grit is a team effort for parents and educators. Look for educational opportunities and experiences that are challenging and take your child out of their comfort zone. Children have their strengths and weaknesses. Their educational experience, both in and out of school, should challenge both. I taught skiing to elementary students in Alaska. I started the first lesson by falling in front of the students. I’d chuckle, pick myself up, and continue on. The point, I told them, is that in skiing everyone falls - the important thing is to get back up. So while we all want, strive for, and praise success, do not pass on the opportunity to celebrate a valiant “all in” effort, especially when it comes up short. Yell the loudest not when your child crosses the finish line, but when they face adversity, grit their teeth, and press on.

There is a growing body of work in the educational field championing this approach. I highly recommend the work of researcher Angela Duckworth - her lectures on the subject are available on YouTube – simply search “Angela Duckworth grit.” And remember - the grittier, the better!


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