Wow! Ed: Newsletter from the Center for Educational Improvment
Grit and Resiliency
December 2017
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Dear Educators,

Angela Duckworth defines grit as "passion and perseverance for long-term goals."  This might have some relevance for how schools decide on what to teach and how. This month, Joanna Marzano writes about grit in a school in Manhattan and Nicole Colchete explores the relationship between growth mindset and grit. In the final article this month, Mary Clare Bruce delves into the painful topic of youth suicides and self-injurious thoughts and behaviors, as she addresses the role that resiliency plays in prevention and recovery. 

Also, if you care about grit and resiliency, we need your help. We are looking for k-8 teachers to respond to our Compassionate Culture Validation Study.  This will take 12-15 minutes and you have an opportunity to enter a drawing to receive $50 Amazon gift cards to teachers (we are awarding 10 of these).  
Late-breaking Announcement: Grand Prize!  Because of the urgent need to improve SEL, MEMSPA is helping to support this study with a $250 Amazon gift card - Enter our drawing to be eligible.

Bringing Grit into the Classroom

By Joanna Alice Marzano, CEI Intern
Grit has been a hot topic of discussion in the context of success. What is grit? How can we improve it, and why is it so important? Several studies have identified grit as the defining factor for success in academic, vocational, and personal achievement (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). High levels of grit are a strong indicator for high GPA in college students, even when they have lower SAT scores.

In a study conducted by Robertson-Kraft and Duckworth (2014), teachers in low income school districts who were objectively rated to have high levels of grit remained in their positions throughout the school year and demonstrated higher levels of student improvement compared to teachers with low grit ratings. College GPA, SAT scores, and ratings of leadership ability were also measured in this study, and none of these factors contributed to the relationship found between grit and teacher performance.  
Defining Grit
But what is grit? Angela Duckworth is a pioneer on the topic of grit. She became interested in the topic when she tried to identify the characteristics that were important to cadets who made it through West  Point's  rigorous schedule. She also interviewed successful leaders in business, the arts, medicine, journalism, education, law, and athletics.  As she says in her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, " The high achievers really stuck it out... In their own eyes, they were never good enough. They were the opposite of complacent.  "  (p. 8). Duckworth  describes these high achievers as having "enduring passion" for their purs uits.  According to Duckworth (2007), gritty individuals demonstrate:
  • Sustained effort
  • Perseverance despite failure
  • Dedication to one's goals
  • Deliberate practice of desired skills
People high in grit do not let their doubts and failures discourage them. Instead, they allow their setbacks to inspire them to work harder for what they want. Gritty individuals understand that talent is not something we are born with naturally, but rather we are all born with the potential to become the best version of ourselves. Grit is what inspires us to cultivate this potential and allows it to blossom into its fullest form.

Grit in Manhattan. Principal Jessica Jenkins at the West End Secondary School in Manhattan discussed her vision for WESS, a 6th-8th grade school that opened in 2015 and is using expeditionary learning. Jenkins has created a learning environment where her students can solve real-world problems using the information that they learn in the classroom. Teachers at WESS challenge students by having them think critically about their lessons. Students are asked to figure out how to apply grit to an issue that they once thought was impossible to solve. Students embark on projects that last up to twelve weeks. Their projects combine a wide variety of subjects such as math, filmmaking, and environmental justice. For example, WESS students were given a project that focused on the health of the Hudson River. They made graphs on the water quality of the river, created a documentary about it and even started a campaign to update the river 's sewer system. At first they expressed their doubts due to the length and difficulty of the assignment, but they persevered over time and now they look forward to struggling with new problems every day. Activities such as these can increase grit by teaching students that with a little perseverance, they can solve any problem that they encounter.
Developing Grit: Encourage Students to Dream Big, Make Connections, & Practice
Below are a few more strategies for incorporating lessons on grit into the classroom from Amy Moritz from the Center for Schools and Community (2016):
Help your students develop visions for their future. Allow students to brainstorm who they want to be when they grow up, and encourage their visions to be as daring as they can imagine. Show your students examples of individuals who had to risk it all to get where they are, and the many difficulties and failures they experienced along the way. Even someone as successful as JK Rowling received numerous rejection letters before publishing her first Harry Potter novel, and Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first television job and was told she was "unfit for televi sion news " before starring in her own talk show (Flood, 2015; Gillett, 2015). If these women allowed their setbacks to discourage them from following their passions, they would not be where they are today. Help your students to understand this, and explore with them their own passions. Perseverance and passion are two major components of grit, and an exercise like this one is a great way to enhance it.  
Make connections between academics and long-term goals. It can be difficult at times for students to recognize the connection between what they are learning in school and their future goals. Help them realize that their history class will give them a better understanding of current events, and that environmental science provides us with vital information for the survival of our planet. Studies have demonstrated that when students recognize the relevance of their classes they ultimately perform better  -   but only when they come up with the connections on their own (Moritz, 2016). Plan an activity that allows your students to make their own connections and watch them flourish. For example, having your students connect their passions to something they learned (or want to learn) in class is a great way to make a strong connection between school and their future.  
Discuss deliberate practice. " Practice makes perfect " i s more than just a clich é . Teach your students of Malcom Gladwell 's " 10,000-hour rule, " which states that it takes 10,000 hours of practice before one can become an expert at something. Very few are born with a natural talent for anything. The experts that you admire had to work very hard to get where they are, and if your students can be inspired to work just as hard, they could become experts of their own. 
Grit Could Be the Key to Success

Grit appears to be a major factor required for success. Consider the grit, passion, and perseverance that Oprah and JK Rowling have had. If we can encourage our children and students to find the c ourage to persevere through all of life  's many difficulties, and to follow through on their well-thought-out goals and dreams, we may very well see more success than ever before. Help your students discover their passions and provide them with tools to persevere and become the best versions of themselves. 


Duckworth, A. L. (2017). About Angela.   

Duckworth, A. L. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York: Scribner.

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. C., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals.   Journal of personality and social psychology, 92(6).
Flood, A. (2015).  JK Rowling says she's received 'loads' of rejections before Harry Potter's success.  

Robertson-Kraft, C., & Duckworth, A. L. (2014). True grit: Trait-level perseverance and passion for long-term goals predicts effectiveness and retention among novice teachers.  Teachers College Record 116 (3).
Teaching Growth Mindset to Build Grit in Students

By Nicole Colchete
Grit is a very attainable and teachable quality that can launch students toward success in school, and generally in their lives. However, grit is an abstract concept to teach. Teachers can discuss grit with students, show examples of grit, and build grit in their students during class time. But what about when students are not in the classroom? Ultimately, students will need to take responsibility for sustaining their own grit throughout their lives. What tools can teachers give students to support them in this?

As stated in the article by Joanna Marzano in this month 's Wow! Ed, teachers can build grit in students by:
  • Encouraging students to dream big
  • Making connections between academics and long-term goals
  • Discussing deliberate practice
  • Focusing on goal-setting and planning with students.
These strategies can be enhanced and supported by using a growth mindset curriculum to give students the tools to continuously build grit in themselves over time.

A growth mindset is the belief that your intelligence and talent is not decided, but that you have the ability to improve in intelligence or talent through work, learning, training, and doggedness (Dweck, 2014). By contrast, people who do not have a growth mindset have a fixed mindset.  They believe their basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits (Hochanadel, Finamore, 2015). As a result, they document their intelligence and talent rather than focusing on developing them. 

This theory is based on recent advances in neuroscience, which show that our brain is a lot more malleable than we previously believed. This recent research on brain plasticity has shown how connectivity between neurons can change and develop with experience (Sachs, 2017).  Therefore, with practice, neural networks grow new connections, strengthen existing ones, and build insulation that speeds transmission of impulses.

Grit and Opportunities to Improve. Growth mindset is conducive to developing and sustaining grit, as people with a growth mindset embrace challenges and are not afraid of failure, as they view it as an opportunity to improve.  Individuals with a growth mindset reframe problems as opportunities to improve, which will prevent them from giving up, losing hope, or losing confidence. Fostering a growth mindset in students gives them a strong sense of power and control in determining their own achievements.

An Example of a Growth Mindset Curriculum
Lesson plans for building a growth mindset can vary, and teachers have a lot of avenues they can take to build a growth mindset in students. Some teachers have found it helpful to create a structured lesson plan to teach a concept or aspect of growth mindset and to first introduce a growth mindset. For example, Larry Ferlazzo, a teacher from Sacramento California, has used many different growth mindset curricula in his ESL class. Mr. Ferlazzo found that teaching a growth mindset motivated students tremendously in his ESL class. 

One growth mindset activity Mr. Ferlazzo found to be continually effective was a sharing and reflection activity about how students have used a growth mindset to become " gritty " to overcome an obstacle in their lives. In this activity, Mr. Ferlazzo:
  1. Introduced the activity by presenting and reflecting on a growth mindset short story
  2. Had students write a paragraph or two on a time they used a growth mindset to overcome a challenge
  3. Divided students into groups of 3-4 and had them share their stories with one another
  4. Presented reflection questions for students to use to guide their group discussion
  5. Had students volunteer to present their story to the class or volunteer to share something from the discussion that they had found inspiring
  6. Ended the activity by having students outline goals and a plan of how they will use a growth mindset to overcome an obstacle that is currently affecting them 
Saving Planets, Achieving Dreams . Another curriculum that works well for teaching a growth mindset is using different forms of entertainment to demonstrate movie clips. Mr. Ferlazzo showed movie clips from popular films such as Star Wars or recent Pixar movies that demonstrated how characters used a growth mindset to succeed in saving the planetbuilding a creative invention, or achieving a dream career.  

Interactive Lessons and Growth Mindset. There are many other growth mindset lesson plans, such as those that focus on exploring the science behind brain activities through interactive activities and powerpoints
and lesson plans that focus on personal discussion, videos, and reflection activities like writing a letter to your future self

Educators can choose growth mindset lesson plans that fit with their teaching style and their classroom 's present needs . Educators can also combine scientific presentations with personal discussions on grit. Through lessons on growth mindset, educators will give students the understanding of the value and impact of grit and will motivate them to continually build grit in themselves with their educators and independently. 

Brown, P. (2017). Assimilation and plasticity help to shape the brain.  Early Years Educator 19 (1), 29-31.
Dweck, C. (2014). Teachers' Mindsets: Every student has something to teach me" Feeling overwhelmed? Where did your natural teaching talent go? Try pairing a growth mindset with reasonable goals, patience, and reflection instead. It's time to get gritty and be a better teacher. Educational Horizons, 93(2), 10-15.
Hochanadel, A., & Finamore, D. (2015). Fixed and growth mindset in education and how grit helps students persist in the face of adversity. Journal of International Education Research, 11(1), 47. 

For another resource to help with ESL classes, check out
Self-Injurious Thoughts and Behavior in Youth vs. Resilience

By Mary Clare Bruce and Christine Mason
It is one thing to talk about the need for grit and perseverance, and quite another to figure out its role with youth who are at-risk of serious self-injury.  Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 10-14 year-olds, and the second leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds (Center for Disease Control, 2015). According to Harvard psychologists Wedig and Nock (2007), self-injurious behavior is a "significant public health problem."
Imagine what it might take for a youth who has attempted suicide to turn his/her life around. What might it take to help prevent self-injurious behavior? What do youth who show the resiliency to recover do? And how are they helped by others, including schools?

The Role of Schools
Resilience is an important protective factor for youth facing adversity in general, but particularly for youth engaging in self injurious thoughts and behaviors, including non-suicidal self-injury such as cutting, drug overdose, biting, and burning. Resilience is biopsychosocial factor that is influenced by innate biological characteristics as well as social relationships with caretakers and other environmental conditions. 

Teachers who demonstrate compassion and caring have a vital role in helping to build resiliency.   Gilligan (1997) described schools as an "ally for children, guarantor of basic protection, a capacity builder, a secure base from which to explore the self and the world, an integrator into community and culture, a gateway to adult opportunities, and a resource for parents and communities."  If Gilligan is correct, then how can schools be allies and protectors for vulnerable youth?
Taub and Pearrow (2013), in a discussion of violence and bullying in schools, recommend that schools provide clear rules, boundaries, and norms, all of which the school enforces. Schools also offer supportive relationships with others and teach the values of altruism and cooperation. Prevention practices of school-based interventions with the goal of increasing resilience have considerable potential. According to a report from the National Research Council and Institute on Medicine on the prevention of mental illness, onset of many mental illnesses is age 14, and school-based interventions can alleviate problems associated with mental, emotional and behavior disorders (O'Connell, Boat, & Warner, 2009). 

For example, youth who practice and learn emotional coping, self-forgiveness, and positive self-appraisals have a reduced risk for suicide (Nagra, Lin, & Upthegrove, 2016). Additionally, youth who seek support also lower their risk for self-injurious behaviors and suicide.  On the other hand, youth who are suicidal tend to have higher levels of "dismissing attachment." Dismissing attachment is the opposite of a secure attachment.
A secure attachment to an adult is critical. Such an attachment is characterized by an intimately warm, and consistently responsive, caregiver meeting the needs of the child. The most important social factor correlated with resilience is warm, supportive, and social relationships with other adults and peers (Wang & Deater-Deckard, 2013). Such relationships can be offered at school. A "positive school climate" is crucial to stimulate resiliency through high self-esteem, emotional self-regulation, and good coping and problem-solving skills (O'Connell, et al., 2009). Other executive functioning skills like good decision-making, positive outlook on life, and self-efficacy also support resiliency (Wright, Masten, & Narayan, 2013). 


School-Based Interventions. The nurturing and teaching of resilience can be initiated through school-based interventions, such as programs concerning violence and bullying prevention. After-school programs and school recreation resources through sports, music, and art are also protective and promoting factors of resilience (Wright et al., 2013)
Instead of offering secondary prevention via programs directed at already identified students displaying "problems behaviors," (e.g. offering programs to only the youth with self-injurious thoughts and behaviors), consider prevention programs designed for all students. Although programs targeting the most at-risk youth are important and valid, schoolwide programs offer a systemic approach to promoting social and emotional competence, and prevention of bullying and/or violent behaviors (Wang & Deater-Deckard, 2013). A primary prevention approach is important for instilling resilience in the youth of America. 

What teachers and counselors can do in the moment. When youth are suicidal or engaging in self-injurious behavior, schools often are involved in problem-solving with social service agencies, families, and youth. When encountering a seemingly or clearly suicidal individual, sometimes one of the most important things is to be the supportive, nurturing adult who the student might learn to trust. And the best means of delaying or helping a suicidal person is to intervene in his/her plan. By nature, suicide or self-injurious thoughts and behavior are often impulsive decisions (Anderson, 2008), so putting obstacles in the way of acting upon such thoughts is often effective.
Teachers may be able to turn to counselors in the school or community for help, depending upon the timing and circumstances. In an emergency, you may be able to place a call into the principal or counselor, even as you continue to talk to the student. However, often your role as a teacher may be more about building a positive, trusting relationship with an individual student who has talked about self-injurious thoughts, rather than be there at the moment of crisis.
When talking with the youth, don't use the term suicide because many people have different understandings of its meaning. Instead, ask the individual if he/she has thoughts of hurting oneself.  Depending upon the specific circumstances, a counselor or mental health agency may then ask additional questions. There are times, however, when a teacher or principal may be the person who needs to proceed by asking specifically if the student has thoughts about killing oneself. Ask if he/she has a plan. The more specific the plan, the riskier the situation and higher likelihood of a suicide attempt. Ask if he/she has access to the method of hurting or killing oneself, like having access to a gun or overdosable drugs. Lastly, ask if he/she has ever acted upon these thoughts in the past and if he/she has ever attempted suicide in the past. Once you have this information,  do what you can to help reassure the youth that help is available, that you can be trusted, and that the individual is valued.
After you get through a crisis, then plans for longer term support are needed. This is where a discussion with the school counselor is important and a referral to an outside agency is often advised. Parents or guardians need to be informed and involved. However, care must be used, especially if the youth has described a conflict at home. However, the more social support the suicidal individual feels and receives, the less likely to attempt suicide.
One good resource is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255. There is also the option to chat online with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
References and Resources
A nderson, S. (2008, July 6). The urge to end it all.
The New York Times Magazine.
Beyond Blue. (2017). [ Illustration of factors of resilience].  
  Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015).
High school YRBS (Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Study) [data file]. 
Hanley, A.J. (2017).  Self-injurious thoughts and behaviors in youth: rates and correlates. ProQuest Information and Learning. (AAT 10158516)
Islington Mental Health and Resilience in Schools. (2017). [ Graph illustration of school characteristics that support pupils' mental health and resilience]. 
Nagra, G.S., Lin, L., & Upthegrove, R. (2016). What bridges the gap between self-harm and suicidality? The role of forgiveness and attachment.
Psychiatry Research, 241, 78-82.
O'Connell, M.E., Boat, T., & Warner, K.E. (2009).
Preventing mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders among young people: Progress and possibilities. Washington, DC: The National Academic Press.
Taub, J., & Pearrow, M. (2013). Resilience through violence and bullying prevention in schools. In S.Goldstein & R.B. Brooks, R.B. (Eds.),
Handbook of Resilience in Children (2 nd ed.) (371-386). New York, NY: Springer.
Wang, Z., & Deater-Deckard, K. (2013). Resilience in gene-environment transactions. In S.Goldstein & R.B. Brooks, R.B. (Eds.),  Handbook of Resilience in Children (2 nd ed.) (73-86). New York, NY: Springer.
Wright, M.O., Masten, A.S., & Narayan, A.J. (2013). Resilience processes in development: Four waves of research on positive adaptation in the context of adversity. In S.Goldstein & R.B. Brooks, R.B. (Eds.),
Handbook of Resilience in Children (2 nd ed.) (15-37). New York, NY: Springer.
Wedig, M.W., & Nock, M.K. (2007). Parental expressed emotion and adolescent self-injury.  Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 46 (9), 1171-1178.
Mary Clare Bruce is currently a graduate student in forensic psychology at George Washington University.
Dr. Christine Mason is Executive Director of the Center of Educational Improvement.

Oprah has it. Steve Jobs showed amazing grit in persevering even during the years when he lost control of Apple. Bill Gates, Walt Disney, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, JK Rowling, and Steven Spielberg - each experienced rejection and failure and didn't give up. Where is the grit in your school?

Christine Mason
Center for Educational Improvement