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Grit: The Other 21st Century Skills

with 7 comments

Due to the interest of my post The Other 21st Skills, I decided to discuss individually each of the skills or dispositions I proposed that are in addition to the seven survival skills as identified by Tony Wagner.


This post focuses on Grit:

6a00d8341c721253ef017d3d5bc316970c-800wiHere is Angela Duckwoth’s TED Talk about Grit that provides an overview about the topic.

Angela Duckworth developed a scale to measure Grit found at

Some of characteristics or dispositions of Grit include:

  • Perseverance and Tenacity
  • Deliberate Practice
  • Ability to Delay Gratification
  • Passion-Driven Focus
  • Self Control and Self Discipline
  • Long Term Goal-Oriented
  • Stick-to-it-ness Under Difficult Conditions
  • Consistency of Effort


So how can Grit be taught or facilitated?

  • Awareness of grit can be brought more into conscious by first, teaching learners about grit and then by helping them reflect on their degree and level of grit.  This can occur through discussions, writing or journaling, or through some form of artistic expression – a series of drawings, photos, or videos about examples of when and how they experience sustained and deliberate practice, consistency of effort, and ability to delay gratification.
  • Grit can be practiced through having learners do long term project-based learning activities and/or working on long term independent studies based on their interests and passions.

Students should be provided with opportunities to take on higher-order or long-term goals that are “worthy” to the student—goals that are “optimally challenging” and aligned with the students’ own interests. An important principle is that students are likely see goals as “worthy” when they engage their interest and enthusiasm through alignment with specific interests or established values and goals. When students have opportunities to work toward goals that are meaningfully connected to their future success, cultural values, lives outside of school, and/or topics that are personally interesting and relevant, they are more likely to persevere when faced with challenge. In many cases, particularly with unfamiliar material, educators need to engage students in activities that bridge from their interests and familiar experiences to the learning objectives to help students attain more complex learning goals. (Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century)

  • Grit can be reinforced though provide emotionally and intellectual support for grit-related behaviors.

Rigorous and supportive learning environments instill, for example, high expectations, a growth mindset, expectations for challenge and early failure, cycles of constructive feedback and iteration, and a sense of belonging; and support for strategies to plan, monitor, and stay on track. (Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century)

  • For grit to flourish, learners need to be given tangible resources.

Students are also more likely to persevere in learning environments that provide the tangible resources—materials, human, and time—necessary to overcome challenges and accomplish their goals. Depending on the type of goals, materials can include access to particular programs, technology, rigorous curriculum, equipment or materials to complete projects, course tuition, or physical facilities where students can do their work. Human resources can include mentoring, tutoring, peer guidance, teachers with particular training, or special services. Time can also be a precious resource—in optimal challenge, students need to have adequate time to grapple with their difficulties, reflect, get feedback, iterate, and try new approaches. (Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century)

  • As a final note about promoting or facilitating grit, giving extrinsic based rewards does not help in developing grit.

Perseverance that is the result of a “token economy” that places a strong emphasis on punishments and rewards may undermine long-term grit; in particular, while these fundamentally manipulative supports can seem to “work” in the short-run, when students go to a different environment without these supports, they may not have developed the appropriate psychological resources to continue to thrive. (Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century)

Vicki Davis in the Edutopia article True Grit: The Best Measure of Success and How to Teach It has these additional suggestions for “teaching” grit in the classroom:

  1. Read books about grit.
  2. Talk about grit.
  3. Share problems.
  4. Help students develop a growth mindset.
  5. Find a framework.
  6. Live grittily.
  7. Foster safe circumstances that encourage grit.

Additional Educational Resources:

While there is a great deal of work in this area broadly, the importance of grit, tenacity, and perseverance in education is not necessarily widely known, and stakeholders at many levels may not understand the importance of investing resources in these priorities. In many settings, awareness-raising is necessary so that teachers, administrators, parents, and all other stakeholders in the educational community see these issues as important and become invested in supporting change: Educators, administrators, and parents who understand the importance of these issues and are passionate about shifting educational priorities, within their own institutions and beyond, need to become proactive advocates for change in the educational community to gain buy-in, tangible support for students as they pursue big goals, financial resources, and political support. (Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance—Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century)

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 1, 2013 at 1:45 am

7 Responses

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  1. Fabulous blog… thanks… I have re-blogged it today!

    Kate Swaffer

    July 7, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    • We need to gritty about getting our kids grittier. I learned grit at an early age seeing my parents drive and determination, so I grew up gritty and grind-ed; still grinding; therefore my son will see the example living proof as I did and have that same grit, perhaps more grit. It isn’t necessarily taught, more so observed and learned by witness of example.


      December 12, 2018 at 3:03 am

  2. In Finland they have a word for grit, they call it Sisu.


    July 8, 2013 at 12:37 pm

  3. In my book “On Character and Mental Toughness” (Amazon/B &N/Kindle) I define mental toughness as the ability to keep your character under pressure. I also define the core Mental Toughness traits. These are skills I teach on a daily basis. I have been a public school teacher and coach for over 20 years. These #grit traits transcend athletics and academics. When we discuss 21st century skills, this EVERY century skill that separates the victorious from the vanquished too often gets left out. Keep grinding on grit Jackie! This is a rising tide which will lift all of our students!-@coachbillmoore


    January 23, 2014 at 2:02 am

  4. Can you recommend a book (fiction or non-fiction) to use in a first year university class that might help foster grit or resilience or at least provide a start to a conversation about these topics?

    Judy MacLean

    February 8, 2016 at 2:36 pm

    • I’d probably use Growth Mindsets by Dweck.

      Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

      February 8, 2016 at 9:26 pm

      • I look forward to Angela Duckworth’s new book – Grit – which I think comes out in May or June.

        Patrice Palmer

        February 8, 2016 at 9:51 pm

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