Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit


Angela Lee Duckworth’s “The key to success? Grit” reinforces the theories of my favorite superteacher mentor: Carol Dweck.  Duckworth explains that learning is based not on natural intelligence but on hard work.  She references Dweck’s work around the 5:00 mark:


Duckworth defines “grit” as “passion and perseverance for very long term goals; having stamina; sticking with your future day in and day out FOR YEARS; working really hard to make that future a reality; living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint” (Source).  The best part is that grit isn’t even related to natural talent!

Building grit in students is all about encouraging and nurturing the growth mindset.  When I first heard of Dweck’s work a year ago, I was blown away.  Dweck’s book highlighted everything I’d been experiencing as a teacher, and she helped me to put my teaching philosophy into words.

Dweck’s work also inspired me to teach my college students the growth mindset starting on the first day of every new class.  On Day #1, we write down three goals.  I have mine, and the students develop theirs.  I explain again and again that to be a great public speaker, to be a great presenter, you have to work hard.  It’s not about natural talent or charm or charisma… It’s about working your butt off.  You can see that all three of my goals encourage that growth mindset.  Most students embrace this because most people are comforted by and embrace the growth mindset.

With public speaking and presentation, a growth mindset is essential.  A teacher I worked with a few years ago claimed that “charisma” was this innate, natural quality that you were born with… She taught her students that some people had charisma and some didn’t.  I find this fixed mindset in the presentation field alarming and damaging.  The fixed mindset says you are either born with the ability to present well or you’re not, and if that’s the case, why bother taking a speech class?  Why bother taking any classes at all?  If you’re born with all the smarts you’ll ever have, education as a whole is pointless!

I highly recommend that you read Dweck’s book and watch Duckworth’s TED Talk.  Today, I will be searching for more of Duckworth’s work so that I can see her contributions to the field and learn more about teaching the growth mindset to my students.  Superteachers, is it possible to teach the growth mindset to college students?  How do we encourage that growth mindset to those super fixed mindset students?


3 thoughts on “Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit

  1. Thanks for sharing this talk and your thoughts, Alex. Like you, I teach presentation and communications skills to post-secondary students and repeatedly emphasize the importance of resiliance and a growth mindset. I think, though, we need to careful about assuming that this character of resiliance and grit is something that students can simply be told/encouraged to muster when necessary.

    Walter Mischel’s “Marshmallow” study of the 1960s showed that this grit – the ability to withold immediate satisfaction for long term gain – is indeed a learned trait. However, this trait is laregely rooted in a student’s socioeconomic position. Specifically, Mischel’s study – and others since – found that children who grow up in econoimcally disadvantaged environments have been given little reason to “trust” that reward will be forthcoming and lack the “safety net” necessary to take the risk of delaying gratification.

    What does this mean for us teachers? I don’t really know. I suppose we stay the course while recognizing and demanding that our institutions also play a significant role in building the characters of our students by diluting privilege, closing economic gaps, and providing opportunities to succeed.

    You mentioned you were looking for more information on the topic: I would suggest Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed”. He was also featured on this awesome This American Life episode (

    P.S. Keep up the great work on the blog! I frequently draw inspiration from it and direct my students to your work. Thanks!

    M. Spencer (@instructor_mike)
    Professor, Communications and Liberal Studies at Georgian College
    Barrie, Ontario

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