Hitting The Wall

Over the next few days we will be looking at the topic of “grit.” Grit is “the quality of being able to sustain your passions, and also work really hard at them, over really disappointingly long periods of time,” according to Angela Duckworth, an expert in this area.

So why are we talking about grit? What is so important about it? Well the research on grit is compelling for parents and educators: students with high levels of grit are more successful in both academic and non-academic pursuits. It has been proven that it is more important than IQ when it comes to success.

As I was reading articles about the topic of grit I came across a quote that really stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking. Tom Hoerr, the head of a private school in the U.S. said, “One of the sayings that you hear around here [his school] a great deal is, ‘If our kids have graduated from here with nothing but success, then we have failed them, because they haven’t learned how to respond to frustration and failure.” He followed up that statement by saying his goal is “to make sure that no matter how talented [students are], they hit the wall, so they can learn to pick themselves up, hit the wall again and pick themselves up again, and ultimately persevere and succeed.”

What he is describing is a huge paradigm shift. In most schools the environment is very different, where failure is avoided at all costs by both students and teachers. Students become afraid of failure and take steps to make sure they never face it. A lot of students for that reason never learn to take risks or pursue aspects of learning that push or challenge them.

As a head of school I am starting to ask questions about the whole issue of passion, perseverance, grit, self-control, and other aspects of character development that are an important part of being ready for life. Could we and/or should we make some paradigm shifts here to create an environment where students can learn to develop and flex their “grit” muscles? How do we do that? What changes need to be made? How can we encourage the right kinds of failure without discouraging the students and more importantly the parents? How do we create a grit-friendly culture?

These are all important questions and honestly ones that do not have easy answers. The first step is to start asking the questions and then having the grit to start working towards answering as best we can.

Karl Steinkamp
Blog #27
Day 27 of 30


One thought on “Hitting The Wall

  1. Agree that asking questions is a great place to begin! Another way to teach grit is to teach students about ‘famous failures’…when you search this, several great examples show up. I’ve had success sharing parts of these stories (have to consider age group) with my students…kids need to understand that there’s a lot of hard work that comes before success. In fact, Vince Lombardi said “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary”…I share this with my students too 🙂 Deliberate practice, the idea that it takes 10,000+ hours to become an expert at something, helps with this understanding as well. So glad you’re writing about this…it’s a bit ‘counter the instant-gratification culture’ and a topic I’m passionate about!


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