Developing “Grittier” Students for the 21st Century

The following post was shared by Sandra Intrieri, Principal of Millbrook High School in Dutchess County New York.  

I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Notre Dame for their annual Excellence in Teaching Conference at the end of October. As opposed to the “hustle and bustle” of most conferences where hundreds of practitioners present their best new ideas, Notre Dame offered only four sessions that were led by renowned researchers in the field. The most current research was shared on several topics, including Creating Digitally Native Students, Problem Based Learning through Project Lead the Way, and the Importance of Formative Feedback. However, perhaps the most interesting and relevant session was on “The Psychology of Achievement.” Presenters on this topic were lead researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Duckworth Lab on “Improving Student Academic Performance and Learning by Developing Students’ Non-Cognitive Skills” with Andrea Duckworth.The central idea in this session was an explanation of why schools need to teach kids to be more self-controlled and “grittier.”

Through Duckworth’s research, it was determined that many educators know little about how to build “grit” in students. The presenter noted that schools are not using true predictors of success when they only measure students through IQ and general knowledge tests. Therefore, teachers should place a greater focus on building students’ non- cognitive skills such as “belonging, goal-setting, self-efficacy, mindset, capital, and social attainment motivation.” As Duckworth stated, “Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.” As educators, schools need to teach students that they can fail and persevere at the same time.

What are some practical ways for schools to build “grit” in students? Here’s a few ideas…

  • Challenge students to reach for success by developing a “change is possible mindset” where they understand that past behaviors are not necessarily predictors of the future. This can be accomplished through using real life scenarios to teach students how to overcome problems, as well as giving students “grit scales” that help them identify their weaknesses when trying to accomplish goals. The Duckworth Lab offers a variety of useful resources, including these “grit scales,” that are available for educators.
  • Provide “wise feedback” (or criticism with high standards) to prepare students for what lies ahead. This can be achieved by creating a “culture of coaching” where teachers provide regular feedback to students that is specific and useful for improving student performance. Grading practices where a teacher simply provides a “check-mark” for work completed does not help a student to grow or improve in their performance.
  • Focus more on designing learning experiences where students see a real life application and value in what they are doing, especially when it comes to planning for college. Counselors and teachers need to give students deliberate positive messages and hands-on exercises that not only prepare students to apply to college but also help them to make the successful transition between high school and college. This means removing negative attitudes about college and helping students all the way through college matriculation. This might include opening college emails together, signing promissory notes, registering for classes, and filling out health forms with students. Many children come from homes where there is no support for these types of activities and without this help, students could easily develop a negative mindset about the future.
  • Reduce the “hand-holding.” Researchers suggest that academic independence should increase the older students get. By the time students are juniors and seniors, teachers should not allow extra credit and should instead focus on assignments that require long-range planning that promote self-advocacy through internship type programs.
  • Always help students plan for the “obstacle in mind.” When large projects and tasks are at hand, teachers and counselors need to take time to help students develop a plan of action for success. As an example, before students begin an assignment or task, they should write down the goal of the project, the best outcome they expect, an obstacle they might face and then an “if/then plan” to overcome and persevere to get the project finished. This is a useful strategy that can be utilized in all subject areas, as well as for longer range planning such as college.

For additional information, the presenters provided the following resources:

Character Lab:

WOOP/MCII website:



Over the last few years, research on the topic of developing self–control and grit in students has grown a great deal. Through on-going collaboration with practitioners, these research findings will help schools to further develop independent, persistent and diligent students who are ready to face the challenges ahead of them.

Do you have other ideas for how we can develop persistence in children? Please feel free to share!



One thought on “Developing “Grittier” Students for the 21st Century

  1. Pingback: Developing “Grittier” Students for the 21st Century « Transformational Resiliency

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s