Growth Mindset & Grit

As a parent and educator, I constantly reflect on the challenges and joys of parenting. My children are nearly 26 and 23. As my wife Kathy and I have watched our children grow through the different phases of life, we have become conscious of the different roles through which we have transitioned as parents. When our children were babies and toddlers, they relied on us for virtually everything. A three-hour trip required the planning and packing of a three day excursion today. In the primary years we oversaw our children’s growth, friends, and life. We were on call at all hours. When our children then hit middle school our children continued to develop independence as we took on the role of managers, helping schedule their life and act as their chauffeur. We continue to manage through gradual release through their high school years as they developed the skills and independence to transition to college. For us, college flew by and we are now in the envious role of being consultants for our young adults.

As I reflect on our own children’s growth from children to adults, we had many goals as parents. We loved them and cared for them throughout their youth, and we kept them safe with clear boundaries through their middle school and high school years. We made sure they received outstanding educations in our wonderful school systems, and we sought a lot of advice along the way. Of all of our charges as parents, one of the most important was their development of their own growth mindset and agency. Both are interrelated and needed for success in our rapidly changing, competitive world.

The related term permeating the literature today is grit. In her Ted Talk, Angela Lee Duckworth defined grit as “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals.” In her talk, she asked the question, “How do we build grit in our kids?” Angela summarized that her research has illuminated the importance of grit in success. It overshadows talent, looks, family income, and many other studied factors. Although we continue to collectively learn how to build grit in our kids, one factor Angela identified is one in which I have deep belief. It is the concept of building a growth mindset, a term coined by Stanford’s Carol Dwek. In fact, I would recommend that every educator and parent read Dr. Dwek’s book, Mindset. Dr. Dwek’s research provides us with insights into ways we can collectively build growth mindsets; she shares actions we can take to help children internalize the concept that our ability to learn and succeed are not fixed, but instead connected to our effort.

District 30 continues to benefit from our own growth mindset. One powerful example includes the job-embedded professional development being deepened through our Lab Classroom model. Seventeen teachers participated last week in our first official round of lab classroom visits. Our consultant, Ellin Keene, also worked with our lead teachers at Willowbrook on Thursday, and at Wescott today. I was excited to be able to join in this important work for one of the days. After Ellin and one of our talented lead teachers coplanned a lesson, discussed the components of the lesson with a focus on literacy developing strategies along with the big-picture reasons for each.


It was fascinating to see very talented teachers deepen their understanding of these important strategies along with their ability to clearly share reasons for each with their students. We also had a wonderful discussion contrasting when to provide direct support to students and when and how to allow students to develop agency. This is a great example of the power of job-embedded professional development, and it continues the very important conversation around how do we build grit in our students.

This is indeed an important conversation worth continuing across District 30 within our classrooms and homes. An article in Forbes Magazine article from 2013 entitled 5 Characteristics of Grit – How Many Do You Have?, Margarete Perlis summarizes that grit’s five characteristics include:

  1. Courage
  2. Conscientiousness: Achievement Oriented vs. Dependable
  3. Long-Term Goals and Endurance: Follow Through
  4. Resilience: Optimism, Confidence, and Creativity
  5. Excellence vs. Perfection

As educators and parents, we can intentionally build these characteristics. As importantly, we should be aware of our well-intended actions that may be getting in the way. These important characteristics are certainly developed by accepting challenges (sports, challenging tasks, etc.) at which our children do not immediately succeed. We can help create the understanding of the difference between not succeeding and failure. Often, the things worth doing don’t come easily; they require sustained effort.

How do we learn to persevere? It is by persevering through loss, defeat, challenges, etc. At times, the best thing we can do is encourage sustained effort by our children instead of stepping in to solve problems, which robs them of the opportunity to grow and unintentionally sends the message that we don’t think they can succeed without us.

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