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True Grit: The Predictor of Excellence - September 2016

True Grit: The Predictor of Excellence

/ɡrit/ noun courage and resolve; strength of character "He displayed the true grit of the navy pilot."

synonyms: courage, bravery, mettle, backbone, spirit, strength of character, strength of will, moral fiber, steel, nerve, fortitude, toughness, hardiness, resolve, resolution, determination, tenacity, perseverance, endurance

In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Persistence, Angela Duckworth explains that a critical predictor of success is not talent, but grit. This former MacArthur Fellow makes the case that reaching excellence, despite the presence of challenges, requires the sustained and focused application of deliberate, hard work over time. It means operating with a passionate persistence and a steadfast desire to succeed.

As a former basketball coach, I see this framework play out with kids who falsely believe that talent alone will advance them to the varsity squad, the championship tournament or the NBA draft. Instead, it is those who use defeat to train harder and remain coachable despite criticism, those with tenacity and grit to stay in the game despite being far behind that come back for a win. It is your attitude and the way you approach and respond to obstacles and failures that distinguishes the good from the great.

Setbacks and challenges are part of life. How you choose to respond to adversities determines whether you succeed or fail. Do you give in to defeats and disappointments when they wear you down? Do you make excuses for the state you are in? Or do you persevere until success happens (PUSH principle)? The choice is up to you. When you feel like you can’t make a connection with your most challenging student, do you think to yourself, “I’ve tried everything, they simply can’t be helped.” Or do you think outside the box and try one more or twelve more times until something connects? When your supervisor or colleague gives you observation feedback with an area needing improvement, do you think to yourself “Now I know what I should focus on to improve my performance and effectiveness?”

As staff, teachers and administrators, we must be ever mindful about the importance of grit in our work. Educating children is a long-term investment of our time, skills, creativity and work ethic. It is a great responsibility that requires we approach the effort with a passionate persistence and a burning desire to succeed.

Just as grit is a predictor of professional and personal success, it is also a predictor of academic success. Stanford University psychologist and researcher Carol Dweck has validated the growth mindset theory – that the ability to learn is not fixed, but can change through individual effort. This means that we need to support the development of tenacity within our students. When students seem to have hit a wall and don’t understand a concept, we have to encourage them to persist through the challenge. Motivate them to persist despite life’s many setbacks. Remind them that every setback is an opportunity for a comeback. Teach them that disappointment may bend you, but it won’t break you. Tenacity and resilience will always lead to success. Most importantly, don’t let their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) or mistakes diminish your belief that they can learn the skill, master the content and succeed in school. Override negative thoughts and feelings with the resolute belief that all children have value, all children are learners, and all children can grow to be successful in school, work and life.

For four years we have defined our vision around the theme of excellence. Excellence requires stamina – sustained, maximum effort over time. It means working smarter, working harder and with burning determination. How you confront your obstacles and setbacks will determine your success in life. One football coach is quoted as saying,

“Nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it’s not about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward…. how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. You gotta be willing to take the hits and not point fingers saying you ain’t where you ought to be because of him or her or anybody.”

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You must override the temptation to settle for mediocrity, lose hope, make excuses or be discouraged. Instead, focus on your purpose with stronger resolve. Seek guidance when you need it and be coachable. Believe in yourself. Believe in your students. Believe in excellence. Expect excellence. Remember excellence is the standard – not the goal. Excellence and greatness is our destiny.

For more insights on the power of grit, watch Angela Duckworth’s 2013 TED Talks Education: