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Sorting out Resilience, Perseverance and Grit

There seems to be a bit of a buzz around about perseverance, resilience and grit, especially since Character has gained a prominent place in the national debate. Sorting out the differences between them, if you need to, rather depends on what and who you read.

Resilience seems to be defined fairly narrowly as the ability to bounce back after adversity or disappointment; being able to manage and adapt to sources of stress or adversity

Perseverance tends to be associated with a steadfastness on mastering skills or completing a task; having a commitment to learning.

Grit is a more recent import, much researched by Angela Duckworth, and is defined as the tendency to sustain interest and effort towards long term goals. It is associated with self control and deferring short term gratification.

But however you distinguish these three terms they all boil down to the emotional characteristics of successful learning that are essential in keeping learners engaged in learning.

Many schools tell us that pupils seem to be lacking these characteristics…they give up easily, they shy away from challenge, they are easily distracted, they are disheartened when things go wrong and they have little sense of purpose or goals. The focus in schools on achieving exam success is not necessarily enhancing pupils’ capacity to develop perseverance. Spoon feeding, over scaffolding, even indiscriminate differentiation, and an emphasis on ‘good’ behaviour means that pupils become unaccustomed to dealing positively with failure, to learn how to overcome stuckness, to have time to determine their own goals.

Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk

Schools that have taken up Building learning Power know just how important these emotional behaviours are in the classroom and beyond. They surface these learning behaviours and pay attention to growing them. At Arkholme C of E Primary School near Lancaster a teacher discussed the issue of being stuck with her pupils. Their response to ‘What do you feel like when you get stuck?’ produced a range of negative emotions: worried, nervous, confused, frustrated, angry, sad and even ‘ jealous of others’. They then set about devising strategies for overcoming being stuck, dealing positively with challenges and managing distractions. When they later explored their feelings after overcoming stuckness, their responses were just as varied but far more uplifting. They included surprised, satisfied, tired, delighted, happy, relieved, ‘pleased with myself’, and ‘what was I worried about?’. Dealing with being stuck is but one aspect of perseverance but these pupils, through careful coaching by their teacher, were beginning to channel their emotional energy more positively and starting on their journey to becoming perseverant, not just because they believed they could, but because they had practical strategies for getting unstuck.

How might we encourage pupils to be resilient, perseverant and gritty? We need to go far beyond using encouraging comments such as ‘ keep going’, ‘nearly there’, ‘stay focused’, ‘try again’. We humans have a tendency to be lazy. We like things to be easy; for ideas to come into our minds quickly; to get jobs done and out of the way. So being able to stick at something, however tricky, and in a range of circumstances for a long time is a skill or habit we have to learn to accomplish over time. We have to accumulate strategies; to be turned on by our own effort and to know how to manage our learning environment. It’s a valuable life skill, not just one for the classroom. Such habits aren’t just missing one day and established the next. They develop through a finely balanced development process, with the help of teachers and parents and life’s circumstances over time.

What is needed is a route map – something that guides teachers and pupils through stages or phases of becoming increasingly perseverant. What do such phases look like? How does the language of learning change as the stages advance? What do teachers need to do differently to encourage pupils to become increasingly perseverant, resilient and gritty?

There are many strategies that can be used in the classroom to build Grit / Perseverance. We offer courses to provide a detailed route map through the growth of grit and other learning behaviours, and provides practical steps for teachers to follow to build learning power progressively, safely and securely in their pupils.

Contact us, to discover how together we can help your students become better learners.

Language to shape learning: Perseverance, aka ‘Grit’



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