The thinker behind “Grit” says teachers need grit, too
Posted by Dean Holden at May 27th, 2014
by Annie Murphy Paul, 11 March 2014
Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, became famous (famous for an academic, at least) for her theory of “grit”—the notion that long-term passion and perseverance in pursuit of one’s goals was a key ingredient for student success. Now Duckworth is back, arguing that teachers need grit, too. It makes sense: If you’ve ever taught, you know how challenging it can be, and how much a little grit would help.
With coauthor Claire Robertson-Craft, Duckworth has written a new paper, “True Grit: Trait-Level Perseverance and Passion for Long-term Goals Predicts Effectiveness and Retention among Novice Teachers.”
“Surprisingly little progress has been made in linking teacher effectiveness and retention to factors observable at the time of hire,” Robertson-Craft and Duckworth begin. “The rigors of teaching, particularly in low-income school districts, suggest the importance of personal qualities that have so far been difficult to measure objectively.”
The authors began by giving each teacher in the study a “grit score” based on “objective evidence of perseverance and passion in college activities and work experience.”
Checking back on the teachers at the end of the school year, Robertson and Duckworth found that grittier teachers outperformed their less gritty colleagues and were less likely to leave their classrooms mid-year. No other factors—including college GPA, interviewer ratings of leadership experience, or demographic variables—predicted either retention or effectiveness.
What is it that sets people with grit apart? Robertson-Craft and Duckworth describe their key characteristic this way: “Gritty individuals work diligently towards very challenging, long-term goals, sustaining commitment when confronted with setbacks and adversity.”
That sounds like a quality that would be immensely useful in teaching—and many other professions.
<I am a firm believer in passion (dreams) and perseverance which Duckworth defines as ‘grit’. When I reflect back on my playing and coaching journey, these are the two things that I have identified as making the biggest difference into why I was ‘successful’ – ‘successful’ meaning coaching at a high level for many years. I started at the bottom, coaching minor hockey for several years and taking educational courses (credit and non-credit) that would help me with my pursuit of coaching knowledge (NCCP clinics, university, post-graduate, etc.) I am also a voracious reader and seek out additional professional development opportunities – some that might not be directly related (learning new skills, reading (auto)biographies, mentoring, learning a new language, etc.) I was turned down for many teams – whose coaches went onto bigger and better things – but I ended up going another way. I set goals and met them. I think if you want something bad enough, you follow your dreams, your passions, and you take an active role (consciously and subconsciously) in working toward them, you will be surprised what you can achieve! My next goal is to coach at an Olympics, and I am closer now than I was a few months ago! Perseverance has served me well… – DH>