Halstrom Blog Post

Why Grit and Determination are Important Life Skills

​By:​ Lisa Bournoutian Sandoval M.A., M.Ed.
​Halstrom Academy​

Understanding your child’s learning preferences

The Harder You Work, the LUCKIER You Will Get

We all want our children to succeed. We push them to be the best students they can be by arming them with the tools they need to be successful-- we enroll them in the best schools, we hire private tutors if they need additional support, we monitor their grades with utmost anticipation and we reward them for every "A" they earn. But what if I told you your child's grades are not the sole indicator of their success? What if research has revealed that your child's GPA isn't enough to guarantee they will achieve their academic dreams? What if there were other key factors in play?

These other factors have become a hot topic not only in the world of academia but in the business and sports worlds as well. Numerous coaches, counselors, motivational speakers, business leaders and clinical professionals recognize the importance of developing a "growth mindset" and demonstrating grit, particularly during challenging situations. Carol Dweck, renowned professor of psychology at Stanford University, has changed the way we look at challenging situations by asserting that with each challenge we allow ourselves the opportunity to grow. Research has proven that in order to be successful you need to embrace the challenges you are presented with and believe in your ability to become better.

Both Carol Dweck and Angela Duckworth, professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, studied students in a number of challenging situations with the intent to uncover who would be most successful and why, and both raised an interesting question: "Why do certain people succeed while others don't?" Through their research, both women have insightfully illuminated the importance of staying motivated and developing a strong work ethic for an extended period of time rather than looking for immediate results, or in this case, the quick grade. Dweck's research proves that when students understand they are on a learning curve they are more likely to embrace the journey, and as a result, each step, each class, each grade, is a path to the future. When students adopt a growth mindset they recognize their abilities can be developed and that every challenge is an opportunity to grow, not an obstacle to feel defeated or judged by.

In the traditional world of education, GPAs and IQs are how we tend to measure success amongst students, but plenty of students with good grades and high IQs are not going the distance and achieving the success one would expect of them. It has become increasingly clear that doing well in school and in life is not just about getting good grades; it's about how hard we work, how resilient we are, and how determined we are to improve. Students need to recognize failure is not a permanent condition, and if they don't understand a lesson or score high on a test, it simply means they haven't mastered the material yet. But if you are a parent or work in education, you know a child's impression of the future is short sighted at best, and due to their limited scope and patience, it can be quite challenging to teach them these vital skills. We need to be creative and persistent in encouraging our children to set goals and work day in and day out to achieve them, even if the results are gradual.

In a TED Talk titled, "The Power of Believing that You Can Improve," Dweck challenges parents by asking: "How are we raising our children? Are we raising them for now instead of not yet? Are we raising kids who are obsessed with getting 'As'? Are we raising kids who don't know how to dream big dreams?"

So how can we bridge the gap between now and not yet and encourage our kids to see their process as an achievement? How can we help them recognize that each step they take to get to the finish line is praiseworthy? Simple. We need to praise the process! We need to recognize their effort, their focus, their improvement, their persistence, and their determination as equally important, if not more, than the final result.

In another life, each semester I would walk into my classroom at San Bernardino Valley College to a fresh group of students ready to tackle English 101. On the first day of class I asked my students to raise their hands if they believed they would improve their English skills and pass the class feeling more confident in their abilities. I waited as a few self-assured hands (and a handful of partially confused hands) went up. Then I asked them to raise their hands if English wasn't their thing and would never be their thing and that passing the class would be nothing short of a miracle, no matter what I might pull out of my professorial bag of grammatical tricks. As expected, the majority of the class emphatically raised their hands and it was in that moment I told them they were right; whether they were successful or not was entirely based on the effort they chose to invest toward improvement. Every semester, I stood in front of my students on that first day and asked them to believe in themselves and to acknowledge their successes, no matter how small, because otherwise, why were they investing the time to come to class at all.

In another noteworthy TED Talk titled, "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance," Duckworth shares that as parents and educators, we need to teach our children and students the importance of grit. Duckworth defines grit as "passion and perseverance for very long term goals…Grit is living life like it's a marathon and not a sprint." According to Duckworth, so far the best idea we have is embedded within Dweck's idea of growth mindset. The caveat in all of this is that in order to develop a growth mindset, students need to understand what it is. Dweck's research has proven that students who are taught what growth mindset is show increased improvement in performance because, for them, every challenge is an opportunity to grow. The hard part for children, and sometimes for parents, is that for those opportunities to present themselves, failure needs to occur, and for many, embracing failure isn't a natural reaction.

Understanding your child’s learning preferences

Students need to be taught that the ability to learn, their ability to learn, is not fixed but rather it can change with effort. Our job is to help students recognize the importance of the journey and to embrace the challenges they encounter along the way as opportunities. Halstrom Academy is proud to offer a Mindshift course as part of our middle and high school curriculum. This course was specifically designed to educate students and families about the importance of developing a growth mindset, with topics such as redefining "genius," learning from failure, and creating your own "grit" story. As the world of education continues to evolve, educators and parents alike need to refocus their energy from pushing for the highest grade, to pushing through the greatest challenges. To quote Duckworth, "we need to be gritty about getting our kids grittier."

Want to know how gritty you are? Check out the grit scale: CLICK HERE!

Angela Duckworth, TED talk, "Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance." CLICK HERE!

Carol Dweck, TED talk, "The Power of Believing that You Can Improve." CLICK HERE!