Master Teaching

a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher



What guarantees a student’s success in school?

We could mention a number of things that may correlate with student success: IQ, test scores, income level, talent, health, or a sense of well-being. Some recent attention, however, has been given to grit.

When you hear the word grit, what comes to mind?

Dirt. That’s what comes to my mind, and not just any dirt. I live on the edge of the Gobi Desert. No matter how often I clean, especially in spring sandstorms, every surface in my home always seems to be covered in a layer of grit. It gets everywhere, through closed windows and drawers, even in never opened packages. It’s persistent, annoyingly so.

And that is exactly what grit is. It reveals the down and dirty details of Growth Mindset’s effort. Angela Lee Duckworth who has studied this character trait defines it as passion + perseverance. Duckworth says it is “having stamina…sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality…living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”[1]

How is grit tied to achievement?

When Duckworth first set out to study success in school, she was trying to figure out why some students in her seventh grade math class, no matter their IQ, reached benchmarks and others didn’t. As she and her colleagues researched children in schools, cadets at a military academy, and even teachers working in the most challenging settings, the one common denominator—what kept people from quitting and helped them succeed—was grit.[2]

The Master Teacher might tie grit to achievement this way: Grit is the strength that helps us love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. It’s the endurance that turns struggles into faith. And when you’ve done everything else, grittily standing your ground opens the door to victory over the enemy.

How can we help our students develop grit?

Since grit is “something that you are rather than something you obtain,”[3] helping students develop it is largely a matter of changing them from the inside out, a challenging but not impossible process.

Changing beliefs: Cultivating students’ growth mindset, their belief that they can develop through effort, is a good starting point. Then, they can learn not to blame a lack of progress on something in or around them but instead work hard in spite of difficulties.

Developing positive attitudes toward failure: We also may need to help students hold positive attitudes toward failures, mistakes, and setbacks. When we talked about Growth Mindset in Teachers English Corner, my Chinese colleagues said that they like to tell their students, “I love your mistakes,” as a way of encouraging them to see setbacks in a better light. They’re trying to develop a classroom atmosphere where failure is seen as opportunity rather than something to be feared.

Developing appropriate expectations: Instead of protecting students from failure, we should teach them to expect it. They should assume that learning will at times be hard, confusing, and/or frustrating.

Taking action: How can we change students’ beliefs, attitudes, and expectations? We may first need to raise their awareness and help them identify what erodes their grit. Some of my Teachers English Corner colleagues and I dreamed up an awareness-raising lesson using Duckworth’s grit scale and Ted Talk.

Once awareness is raised, students can learn to choose gritty strategies in the face of challenges. These might include:

  • taking deep calming breaths.
  • talking themselves into more positive beliefs and attitudes (positive self-talk).
  • reliving positive experiences rather than negative.
  • laughing at themselves and their mistakes.
  • embracing challenge and even purposefully engaging in a long-term task—something they are passionate about—that requires grit (like learning a new skill or reading a book beyond their level).

My colleagues also want to try:

  • making effort/grit part of students’ final grade.
  • having students measure their grit each week, in both learning and life.
  • using gritty people as models.
  • pairing up gritty and less gritty students so that they can learn from each other.

Cultivating grit in our students comes back around to us. Students sometimes think that teachers are invincible. Instead of saving face, we should get down and dirty with them about our failures and show how we pick ourselves up and try again with gritty determination.

[1]  Angela Lee Duckworth, Grit: The power of passion and perseverance, TED Talk, 6:12, April 2013,
[2]  Ibid.
[1]  Vicki Zakrzewski, “Teaching Grit: Social and Emotional Truth,” edutopia, May 20, 2014,

Further exploration

What’s your perspective?

We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.

  • How gritty are your students? How could you help them develop more grit?
  • How gritty are you? How would more grit help you to be a better learner and teacher? How would it help you in life?
  • How does the Master Teacher cultivate grit in you?

Try it out

Use Angela Lee Duckworth’s speech and scale in a lesson with your students, and then let us know what happened.


Try out one of the ideas under Taking Action either with your students or in order to develop your own grit. Then, tell us what happened.

Post Author

Melissa K. Smith

Photo Credit: skittledog Flickr via Compfight cc

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This entry was posted on December 14, 2016 by in grit, LEAPAsia on WeChat, Melissa K. Smith, trends in education.



Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc
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