Grit and Potential

I’m a little bit in love with TEDTalks. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may be aware that I shared my love for a Talk which looked at 30 not being the new 20. This week I was delighted to see a Talk given by Angela Lee Duckworth, which focused on education.

Angela questioned whether doing well in school and life depended ‘on much more than your ability to learn quickly and easily.’  She eventually hypothesised a predictor of success in schoolchildren: grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long term goals.

This made me reflect on my time at school, and I have to say that Angela may have a point. I’ve harped on about this time and time again, but my girls’ school did not feel like a great institution for teaching; rather a depressing place that left school leavers institutionalised. There were children that struggled, but importantly, some of these students also had much potential. It was a constant conundrum for teachers to try and figure out how best to make the most of this. Life’s knocks eventually got to some of these girls and their lack of self belief, coupled with an unfortunate decision to give up was – in many cases – their downfall. I’ve come across people who like to believe  that a child’s home life and situation will determine how they perform at school, but I don’t think this is entirely true.

As someone from a background that could be described as ‘disadvantaged’ (a term I detest), I know that students with similar humble beginnings are sometimes the ones most in need of motivation. Self belief is sometimes non-existent in a child, and not all children are lucky enough to have a trusted adult at home to instill confidence in them. This duty then falls to a teacher, the trusted adult at school. Does that mean I believe grit can eventually be propagated away from the home? Yes.

An intelligent child living on an estate where guns are swapped around like Pokemon cards, and is the youngest in a family of children who’ve not finished school, doesn’t necessarily have her destiny mapped out. However, if this girl, Student A, lacks the belief that she’s capable of finishing school with brilliant grades, then more often than not, she will lack the perseverance to go on. She may be able to grasp difficult topics quickly, and may have the starting point of intelligence on her side, but without the motivation to follow through, all of that potential goes to waste. It eventually did for her, as Student A is a person I knew. She ended up following a different, and not so rewarding path.

Now Student B is me. I was a child that was quite self-assured and came from a background where education is highly valued and seen as a way to escape hardship. Grit was my middle name at primary school, but when I was rejected from my first and second choice secondaries, and ended up with an ultimatum from the local council to find a school or they’d find one for me, I spent the next five years at an East End secondary annoyed, Unlike the student above, I came from quite a stable family, but my relative bitterness and laziness stifled any grit that I could have developed. Until year 10 anyway, where the reality of GCSEs hit me like a bad smell and I knuckled down in anticipation of life-defining exams. A few teachers eventually got through to me, and though my grades were good, they were nowhere near my full potential.

The two examples above display the need for grit. Children may already possess intelligence and the ability to learn quickly, but lack the self belief like Student A. Children may be bright and confident but be overly easygoing like Student B. However intelligence and confidence can’t be compared to good old grit. A child understanding that persevering every day, every month for years, is probably the first step in that child achieving their educational goal.

Teachers, is grit something you’d consider essential for students making the most of their potential in school? Or is there an ingredient more essential in the recipe for school success?

Broadcast Belle Fact: Isi Ewu is a delicacy eaten in the east of Nigeria. It literally means ‘head of goat’.

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