Grit and Resilience

Paul Tough’s new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character introduces readers to the psychologists and neuroscientists who are solving the mysteries of character. Mr. Tough says non-cognitive skills such as persistence, self-control, curiosity, conscientiousness, grit, and self-confidence are more crucial than sheer brain power in achieving success.

Tough writes that the recent findings can be summarized in one sentence: character is created by encountering and overcoming failure.  Now, for some, failure can serve as a roadblock; for others, it is an obstacle to navigate around to a higher ground, and still for others, it provides the inspiration to “get it right.” I am certainly not suggesting that students start failing tests and courses just to get the experience of what it feels like. I am suggesting that we allow students to take intellectual risks and to try something new that intrigues them, whether a new language or a different sport, taking up an instrument, or going out for a play or musical, pushing their personal boundaries and not always playing it safe. In other words, trial and error.

Sir Kenneth Robinson, a leader in the development of creativity and innovation and a professor of Education, best expressed this concept at a TED conference when he said, “If you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”

In an article written a few years ago, titled “Brainology” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck highlighted the value of trial-and–error in child development. Dweck researched the differences in children who have what she calls a fixed mindset about intelligence versus those who have a growth mindset. Those with a fixed mindset believe that “intelligence is fixed, that each person has a certain amount and that’s that,” while children with a growth mindset “believe that intelligence is a potential that can be realized through learning. As a result, profiting from mistakes and persevering in the face of setbacks become ways of getting smarter.” Dweck tells us that even “Einstein wasn’t Einstein until he had put in years of focused hard work.”

I would hope that our GFA students can learn to espouse a “growth mindset” and know it is OK to make mistakes as a way to learn. Of course, many students already possess these qualities, but I want all students to be prepared to be wrong, not feel stigmatized by their mistakes and to rebound successfully and happily, having learned something important about themselves and their own resiliency. As the New York Times reviewer states, fewer and fewer young people are getting that combination of support and autonomy that is integral for building character. My fervent wish for our students is that through the the partnership of faculty at GFA and their parents, our young people will get that combination of support and autonomy.

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2 Responses to Grit and Resilience

  1. dana mccreesh says:

    I am so glad that you wrote this. I have been engrossed by the book and wishing that more people would read it. Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone.

    On Sep 28, 2012, at 3:15 PM, From the Desk of Janet Hartwell wrote: Janet Hartwell posted: “Paul Toughs new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character introduces readers to the psychologists and neuroscientists who are solving the mysteries of character. Mr. Tough says non-cognitive skills such as persisten”

  2. Roz Koether Stephanak says:

    Thank you, Janet!

    I am excited to share your blog and the TED talk with my son. I am off to Barnes & Noble tomorrow to buy the book! It is so important that students know, even at a young age, the importance of taking chances, making mistakes and moving ahead. It is often such a hard path to take in a pressured society that has a habit of measuring success in platitudes.

    I always enjoy your insights, sharings and perspectives!

    Best, Roz

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