Dr. Billi Bromer is a Professor of Education at Brenau University
My top ten tips on how to develop grit in students evolve from many of Angela Duckworth’s ideas, and from many years of teaching non-traditional college students. Angela Duckworth explains grit as, “passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out. And working really hard to make that future a reality.” On Dr. Duckworth’s website Character Lab, she incorporates the concept of grit into the concept of character, explaining that character consists of:
- strengths of will that include grit and self-control
- strengths of heart that include gratitude and kindness
- strengths of mind that include curiosity and creativity
The Character Lab website includes multiple tips for building grit that you can apply to students of any age. They can be useful to consider in teaching college students who often need encouragement to adhere to the long-term goal of completing a degree–or sometimes just the short-term goal of completing one course.
My Top Ten Ways to Develop Grit in College Students
An instructor has the potential to help any student develop passion and perseverance by showing the elements of character pointed out above and encouraging the student to show them as well.
An instructor can be tough but caring at the same time or have high expectations but also provide lots of support to a student in meeting those expectations. An instructor can help students stay with their future, as Angela Duckworth suggests, so they can turn an unexpected event into a catalyst for success.
- Be a good gritty role model for your students by sharing your own story of passion and perseverance.
- Find something unique in all your students, so you can help them build on their strengths.
- Don’t hesitate to tell them what their unique “superpower” may be. It can be the one thing that keeps them going when the going gets tough.
- Make asking questions an expected part of your course so students know they aren’t the only ones asking.
- Create many opportunities for success through low-stakes assignments, especially early in a course.
- Be caring. Some students really do have recurring crises in their lives.
- Give second chances. Don’t you really want a student’s best work and not just the work that met a deadline?
- Highlight small successes and pay less attention to failures.
- Encourage rational thought in your students when emotions creep in. Failing an exam may feel lousy, but it may not mean it’s all over for the course. Tell them.
- Couple high expectations with full support. This doesn’t mean changing the rules, but it could mean being a bit more flexible about them.
A True Student Story to Inspire You
This true story of one of my students, a recent college graduate who decided to pursue a graduate degree, is an example of both grit and character. This student turned unexpected grief into passion. It’s an inspiring story for any student who has a long-term educational goal but for whom life provides an unexpected obstacle. Anyone can turn that obstacle into something else, just as she did. Here’s her story in her own words:
I had just recently graduated with my Bachelor of Science degree in the summer of 2021. Fall of 2021 was going to be a great semester. I had just been accepted into the Master of Arts in Teaching program. As the first person in my family to ever graduate from college, I had a goal to go on even further to pursue my master’s degree. I began the fall semester with excitement and everything was going as planned.
Then, something terrible happened. My father came down with Covid-19 and was placed in the ICU and put on a ventilator, all in a matter of a few days. I was the only family he had and being a single parent, there was no one to support me. I tried to stay strong through all the traumatizing events which quickly took place. From the numerous phone calls from physicians, all bearing bad news, to the dread of possibly having to bury a parent, I was under a lot of stress. I could barely concentrate or even hold on to a thought for very long.
How was I supposed to concentrate on my classes? Things got even worse. The physician said my father was suffering and there was no chance of recovery. I had to make the decision to take my dad off life support with all my classes looming in the background. With work piling up each day, I left them unattended. I had a dream for my dad to see me graduate with my master’s degree I wanted him to be alive and well and that was not going to happen. He was taken off life support and I had to make funeral arrangements. I was grieved. I was going to try to keep up with my assignments, but I had gotten too far behind. There was no way I could catch up.
I became very discouraged but a professor gave me some encouragement and I began to see a glimmer of hope. I worked day and night turning assignments in. I took my grief and turned it into passion. That is all I knew to do. I could not just give up. I had the faith and the determination to succeed. By the end of the semester, I had finally caught up and there was a huge feeling of accomplishment! I passed all my classes and earned high grades on top of that! I still cannot believe to this day the events which took place and how I overcame my obstacles. I feel like a much stronger person now.
If we go and hide under a rock and give up over every problem we encounter, what purpose does that serve? Facing challenges and obstacles head on will always bring victory.
Start Building Grit Today
The above story illustrates in real sense what it means to have grit—persevering through even the most challenging circumstances with the mind set on one goal. This student had many reasons to give up, but those were outweighed by one reason she saw to keep pushing. You can take Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale survey to find out where you stand and get a sense for the areas you could focus on to develop your own grit. If you can apply this information in your own life, you can encourage your students to do the same.
Duckworth, A. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Scribner.
Interested in learning more ways to empower your students to succeed in and out of the classroom? Check out our list of 10 Ways to Boost Student Confidence.