Frustration and Grit

There is a lot of talk about grit in the teaching world right now. There is a reason.

Grit from Midwest to West Coast by Wiggling Scholars

What It Looks Like: Midwest vs. West Coast

Having moved from Wisconsin to California, I am now seeing the issue.

No, not that west coast kids have less grit.

I used to think that my students were gritty; really full of the stick-to-it attitude that is required to be successful. I was right. The students I came across in WI were very willing to stick to it to please me. It seems that many of them were looking for my approval. Sure, they stuck to it, but there was a huge external motivation issue.

In CA, the students don’t really care to see projects through all that often, but also aren’t as concerned with seeking my approval. They almost seem to be less concerned. So while a lot of work goes unfinished (or reminders become necessary), they are also less likely to care about external factors like adult pleasing.

I’m not sure if either situation is better or worse. It’s just what I’ve noticed.

Frustration is Where Grit Begins by Wiggling Scholars


But let’s get into grit for a bit. Grit is deeper than just plowing through until completion. 

Grit is a combination of courage, determination, and endurance.

Really, one question will sum it all up:

How do you deal with failure?

The thing about grit, failure doesn’t exist. Yes, I know… that sounds so beyond cheesy! But really, it’s far more logical than inspirational. Failure really should be identified as lacking the appropriate tools, time, desire, or coaching.

This is where grit truly begins. Anyone can set out to attempt a goal and then fail. Grit comes into play when attempts run dry.

A few years ago, I worked in a kindergarten classroom with an aide who regularly wanted to help out students. That sounds great, right?! An aide wants to help students.

She was a kind and loving person, but her coddling overshadowed the students in the room. If there was a chair to be pushed in, she did it. Runny nose? Not for long! The list goes on and doesn’t end with just menial tasks. She often told children how to spell words and even drew parts of their pictures to make them “a little nicer.” (GASP!)

She wasn't allowing the students to be frustrated. She would swoop in and "save" them.

Again, she wasn’t doing this to steal learning from the children. She was trying to take care of the children. But what they learn isn’t how to tie their shoes or spell. No, instead they learn how to be needy.

Growth Mindset in the Classroom by Wiggling Scholars

Growth Mindset:

Carole Dweck has lit up education with her Growth Mindset. The underlying premise is that your intellectual abilities can grow. The belief that you can achieve a goal is your growth mindset. However, this requires a willingness to believe you can “grow your brain” and hard work.

Some students will say, "That's too hard," or "I'm not good at math." Your students are communicating a belief that their brain is "unteachable." Growth Mindset indicates that all people (including students) can increase brain power.


Where Growth Mindset Meets Grit by Wiggling Scholars

Where Grit and Growth Mindset Connect:

When a student says, “I don’t know,” it’s nothing to worry about. In fact, in my classroom, we say, “Brain, you are about to learn something!” I am helping to celebrate ‘not knowing’ as a starting point, not a deficit.

Your students will never learn to solve problems unless they face problems. They will never learn to care about solving problems unless they solve problems they care about.

Grit and Frustration for Kids by Wiggling Scholars

I remember the Full House episode in which Michelle was learning to ride her bike. (Admit it, you know the episode, too!) You imagine that the story began when she was a baby with a baby seat on the bike followed by a tricycle. Then, she gets the bicycle with training wheels. She’s feeling brave and wants to do it without the trainers. Uncle Joey goes for the classic ‘run along’ and ‘let go’ technique. Michelle goes right into the bushes and gets angry with Joey for letting go of the bike. All the people in her life start pleading, bribing, and even tricking her by claiming they just want a picture of her on the bike in an attempt to make her try again.

Cue some sappy music and Uncle Joey give a little inspirational speech and convinces her that even though something is hard, if you keep working at it, it can be a lot of fun! So off to the park where she rides her bike successfully.

If you think that story through, her growth mindset is opened up when Joey delivers the “inspiring” speech. She applies grit when she gets back to the park and mounts the bike.

In Your Classroom:

This is going to look similar in your classroom. When a student is “stuck,” you are asked to trigger a growth mindset. Help your student understand that s/he is capable of building his/her brain. Support the child in accessing the correct tools or supplies to try again. Then… and this is hugely important… back off! Let the child ‘fail,’ try, struggle, and get frustrated. Repeat as necessary.

As an Educator:

Ever try something new as a teacher? How about workshop model? New curriculum? It’s not always easy! It is even possible you will be pushed over the edge. You may even pout, fuss, and insist that your district is doing all wrong! As an adult, put on your big kid pants (no, not adult diapers) and give yourself a little pep talk. Yes, that’s a little harsh of me. I’m not sorry. If you are going to do what is best for your students, you need to demonstrate a little personal grit and have a growth mindset.

Let me repeat that~ If you are going to be effective as an educator, you MUST have determination, confidence to try and possibly fail, and the willingness to become better.

More Info:

To get connected with the idea of grit, check out this TED talk from Angela Lee Duckworth

Or this article from Education Week by Carol Dweck.

Happy Growing and Grit!


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