Committee for Children Blog

Embrace Grit Through Social-Emotional Learning and More

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In my last blog post, I talked about grit and having the passion and perseverance for achieving long-term goals. The first step to building grit is knowing what it looks like, but because grit is partially fostered by experience (see Angela Duckworth’s questions and answers about grit), in this post I also consider the “how to” of building tenacity and perseverance.

There is much yet to be known about developing grit in youth. It’s not magic. It does not just appear, and it requires more than just embedding the idea of grit in the classroom. It encompasses teaching youth how to have more grit by being a coach and leader who cultivates strengths, provides a path, and creates opportunities. One way of doing this is through social-emotional learning (SEL), which is integrally related to grit. Self-management, one of five core SEL competencies identified by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), is a skill often associated with grit. Self-management can be taught!

Consider the relationship between emotion-management skills and grit. Those with more grit may be less prone to negative emotions, or more effectively able to manage them. Moreover, negative emotions may result in someone giving up more easily, so helping students manage negative emotions when they encounter barriers to their goals could help provide a pathway for grit. Positive self-talk, a specific emotion-management strategy taught in the Second Step program, is just one of the many examples of this. In turn, having enough grit to learn and master something can also elicit positive emotions. See how this works?

For those of you implementing the Second Step program, several of the lessons connect directly to grit, such as Handling Making Mistakes and Finishing Tasks in Grade 2, Managing Disappointment in Grade 3, and Identifying Future Goals in Grade 8. You can build in further opportunities to discuss and model grit through these social skills lessons.

There are other ways to foster grit in your students. Try some of these ideas for starters:

  • Help students see how their efforts contribute to the well-being of others.
  • Nurture a growth mindset, a belief that the ability to learn is not fixed. Teach students how the brain can grow and change with effort (see Carol Dweck’s work, and my previous blog post on Understanding and Inspiring a Growth Mindset).
  • Ask students to set their own long-term goals; revisit these goals often and give time for practice and planning for how they will meet their goals. Model this by sharing what you tried to obtain your goals, how difficult that was, and what you did to persist.
  • Build in regular opportunities to identify mistakes and correct them, making it part of regular practice.
  • For older students, try a variation of this grit pie activity to teach about overcoming obstacles
  • Teach Amy Lyon’s perseverance walk activity, which involves picking someone who has shown grit and interviewing them about their goal, obstacles, and payoff. See the video example, free lesson guide, and worksheet
  • Focus discussions on effort, tenacity, and learning from failures. Give examples for students to visualize.Does grit resonate with you? If so, what do you plan to do to foster grit?