Understanding the Power of Grit

Discover the not-so-hidden key to success, pass it on to your students, and create a highly productive classroom.

By Matthew Spinogatti

Success Through Failure

There are so many factors that contribute to success. Unfortunately, there may be even more factors that contribute to failure. In today's society, we do our best to minimize the effects of failure on our youth. This is encouraged by some who feel that boosting confidence is more important than actual accomplishment (every kid gets a trophy). This same mentality is discouraged by others who believe that failure is an inevitable aspect of life and it is best for youngsters to learn how to deal with it.

As teachers, we would like nothing more than to see every one of our pupils succeed; we want to see an "A" on every test, we want every single one of our learners to understand the lesson, and we want every kid to feel comfortable and confident while completing their homework. However, as teachers, we also know that this is unrealistic. In an educational system that rewards students for following rules and directions and penalizes those who do not fit into the pre-designed box, it is important to understand, truly understand, the answer to the question, "What leads to success or failure?"

What the Research Says About "Grit"

According to the latest research, "grit" is more of an indicator of success than either IQ or socio-economic background. Until recently, this word would have only been used to describe John Wayne starring in a classic western film. Fast forward to today, and "grit" is a term being utilized in the education setting. The term was recently popularized in the field of education by author Paul Tough in his book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.

Our educational system is great at testing IQ, but we now know that IQ is not a lead indicator of student success. To summarize the work of Paul Tough, let us review some of the major indicators of future success in an attempt to better understand the definition of "grit" and where we can see it in the classroom.

Character Traits that Predict Success


• Finished whatever they began
• Stuck with a project or activity
• Tried very hard even after experiencing some form of failure
• Stayed committed to goals set at beginning of exercise, assignment, or project
• Kept working hard even when they felt like quitting


• Believed that effort would improve their future
• When bad things happened, they thought about things they could do to make them better next time
• Stayed motivated, even when things did not go well or as expected
• Believed that they could improve on things they were not good at

Self-Control (school work)

• Came to class prepared
• Remembered and followed directions
• Got to work right away instead of waiting until the last minute
• Paid attention and resisted distractions

Self-Control (inter-personal)

• Remained calm even when criticized or provoked
• Allowed others to speak without interrupting
• Was polite to adults and peers
• Kept temper in check


• Recognized what other people did for them
• Showed appreciation for opportunities
• Expressed appreciation by saying thank you
• Did something nice for someone else as a way of saying thank you

Social Intelligence

• Was independently able to find solutions during conflicts with others
• Showed that they cared about the feelings of others
• Adapted to different social situations


• Was eager to explore new things
• Asked questions to better understand new concepts
• Took an active interest in learning


• Actively participated
• Showed enthusiasm
• Approached new situations with excitement and energy

Indicators of Success… Not Surprising

Most will look at this list of character attributes and not be surprised. Clearly if someone possesses these abilities, then they will most likely be successful in whatever endeavor they may pursue. Here is my question: How are we encouraging and fostering these characteristics in the classroom? If these elements of "grit" are so integral to the success and development of our current generation of pupils, how can we inspire and promote these attributes in the classroom?

When I look at this list, I see a real expansion of the teaching profession: teaching students how to cooperate, work together, and deal with a wide variety of situations. An integral component of this list is being able to accept and work through failure, something we currently do our best to avoid. However, if people never get the freedom to experience failure, then they will never know the privilege and power of overcoming it.

What are some things that you do in your classroom to promote overcoming obstacles or dealing with failure? Share your ideas and practices with the Lesson Planet Community.

Related Resources:

Teach Beyond the ContentUnderstand the Potential of All StudentsEncourage Positive InteractionsTeach Feedback and Encourage a Positive Mindset