Grit and the Growth Mindset

March 28, 2016

I just finished watching a YouTube video by Angela Lee Duckworth entitled, “The key to success?  Grit”.

Lee Duckworth (2013) defines grit as ” having the stamina, passion, and perseverance to pursue long-term goals” and she talked about the importance of having a growth mindset.  I’ve read a lot about growth mindset and it has given me hope, both as an educator and as a life-long learner.  Why?

According to the Glossary of Education Reform (2013), Carol Dweck is a renowned psychologist who brought the terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” into the forefront in her book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  According to Dweck:

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.”

With this type of mindset, we no longer see our level of intelligence as something that is static, fixed.  Making mistakes then becomes not about proving that we’re not good or smart enough, but rather about collecting information about what doesn’t work…and then using it to figure out what will work.

What are the implications of this for us as instructors and learners?

  1. We need to make our classrooms a safe place to make mistakes because it is there that we ALL learn what does (and does not) work.  If we stick to tried-and-true methods because they have worked for us before and because we’re afraid of trying something new for fear of failure, our students will not benefit and we won’t either.  They’ll be bored and we’ll be frustrated and disengaged.
  2. By not taking chances in our teaching, we also model for our students that it is not safe for them to take chances, either.
  3. We need to create assessments for learning, not just assessments of learning.  Learning becomes less about demonstrating what students know and more about growing toward what is possible.

When I was young, I was told I was bright and could do anything I set my mind to.  While one would think that would be encouraging, I found it horrifying.  I knew early on there were things I wasn’t naturally gifted at and eventually I knew others would see that, too.  At some point, I wouldn’t be able to achieve any more or go any further because I just wasn’t smart enough.

As an adult learner, I have continued to struggle with what Dweck calls the fixed mindset, which is a belief that I am either smart or I’m not.  Every new thing I try is terrifying for me because I’m afraid I’ll prove I’m not really that smart after all.

The best gift we can give our students (and ourselves) is to model a curiosity and love of learning, to demonstrate through taking risks that the learning is often in the mistakes, not in spite of them.

How would education change for you if it felt safe?


Duckworth, A. L. (2013, April). The key to success? Grit. Retrieved March 28, 2016, from

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.
Growth mindset (2013, August 29). In S. Abbott (Ed.), The glossary of education reform. Retrieved March 28, 2016, from

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