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?


Interview: Carol Dweck’s Mindset


During August’s PechaKucha presentations, one student cited Carol Dweck’s amazing book, Mindset.  I love her approach and definitely work to cultivate this growth mindset in my classrooms.  So what, exactly, is this growth mindset?  Watch Dweck’s interview below:


A separate student in class talked about the athleticism and skills required to race a bike, so I felt this video was perfect on multiple levels.

Have you read Mindset?  How has Dweck’s work influenced you?

Superteachers: Dealing With Failure


Some students fail.  Failure happens on speech day when a student doesn’t prepare.  The student hasn’t shown up to class or has shown up but hasn’t paid attention to lecture material, discussion, or application in class.  In these cases, the student doesn’t understand the material we’ve covered in class, or refuses to work as hard as a strong presentation requires.  When a presentation fail happens, it’s painful for everyone involved: the student, the audience, and especially the instructors.

Failure also happens on a larger scale.  Whether it’s a live class or an online class, sometimes, students fail my class and have to retake it again.  More often than not, this “failure” happens when a student gives up and stops working; he or she doesn’t attend class, doesn’t turn in assignments, doesn’t respond to me reaching out to help.  In most cases, a student fails my class because he or she isn’t working hard enough.  If a student doesn’t hold up his or her end of the “education” bargain, it’s obviously difficult for that student to do well.

When I fail at something, I get angry at myself.  I see myself as not measuring up, and I don’t like it.  Since I’m a perfectionist, I raise my standards even higher to meet the challenge using a different approach.  But some of my students, it seems, come from the land of low expectations.  If they fail, it’s because I am too strict or don’t like them, the assignments are too hard and confusing, there aren’t enough hours in the day, etc.  Luckily, only a few of my students have this attitude.  Unfortunately, this is the student population that takes up a lot of my time complaining, protesting, and appealing grades.

Image Credit

Let’s look at a hypothetical case that happens in classrooms every single day.  Sally Smith is a student in superteacher Professor Taylor’s class.  Sally fails the class.  As a superteacher, Professor Taylor went above and beyond to try to help Sally, but Sally still failed.  Some rules were bent in order for Sally to earn the grade she did, but Sally wants ALL the rules to be bent to accommodate her. Instead of seeing failure as a chance to regroup, rethink, refocus, and try again, Sally sees failure as something that happened to her.  Sally appeals her failing grade to her instructor.  She claims that Professor Taylor doesn’t like her, that some sort of personal vendetta is involved, that the policies in place are unjust and unfair.  Sally appeals the grade to Professor Taylor’s boss and then to the boss’s boss.  During these appeals, Sally tells all kinds of stories about things happening in her home life and distorts the truth about what happened while she was taking the class; all of these efforts have one central focus: to try to talk her way into passing the class.  She speaks to one Dean after another, continuing to pressure someone into changing her grade.  Sally is persistent.  Everyone who meets her or speaks with her explains that if she would have put the same effort into her schoolwork that she’s putting into her appeal process, she would have passed the class in the first place.  Unfortunately, there are students like Sally Smith in every class in every university in every city and state around the country.  And, unfortunately, Sally will always try to talk her way into a passing grade because it has worked for her in the past, and it will work for her in the future.

Where are the people who stand up for failure?  Failure is a good thing!  Without failure, we don’t know what disappointment looks like, what success feels like, what hard work tastes like.  Without failure, we can’t possibly work toward a goal or a dream.

Where are the people who will explain to Sally that failure is a direct result of her work ethic?  Failure and success are not based on external forces; they depend upon the amount of effort a person puts in.

I love Carol Dweck’s ideas on failure in the classroom, and I’m working each day to embody the growth versus the fixed mindset.  Dweck explains in “Helping Students Deal with Setbacks and Failure” that many students don’t link hard work with success.  “It’s much better, Dweck believes, to praise children for effective effort and explicitly teach them that mental skills can improve by persistence and work” (Source).  Dweck shaped my belief that success and failure in school are based exclusively on effort as opposed to someone’s intelligence or those pesky external factors.  So what does this have to do with someone’s mindset?

“From the perspective of a fixed mindset, failure indicates a lack of ability, and therefore a lack of capability or intelligence. People who have a growth mindset, however, view struggle or failure as a natural part of the learning process and an opportunity to improve” (Source).  It’s important that as superteachers, we nurture students in the classroom by pushing them to work hard.  Learning isn’t about getting it the first time, but we’re all so worn down by the fixed mindset that it’s difficult to actually see and teach that way.

If we all had growth mindsets, maybe the Sally Smiths of the world would see failure differently.  And maybe if Sally cultivated a growth mindset herself, the failure wouldn’t even happen in the first place…

As superteachers, how do we encourage students to work hard and to see failure differently?  And how do we explain to the Sally Smiths of the world what failure is and what it means in the education system?

Review: Carol Dweck’s Mindset


After a morning of hysteria from snapping my work laptop in two, I curled up in the guest bedroom to finish reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  This book is incredible, and Mindset is definitely a must-read for superteachers.  Dweck focuses on what makes an effective teacher as well as an effective student, parent, athlete, businessperson, and leader.  Her ideas about switching from a “fixed” mindset to a “growth” mindset really resonated with me, and I hope you’ll find the same inspiration from her work.

Dweck explains that there are two mindsets: “fixed” and “growth.”  People with fixed mindsets believe traits, personalities, talents, and relationships are fixed – permanently set in stone.  A fixed mindset believes we’re born a certain way, and we can’t do much to change that position.

People with growth mindsets believe everything is  work in progress.  Traits, personalities, talents, and relationships can always grow with hard work.  A growth mindset believes we’re born a certain way, but we have the power to develop exponentially.

Image Credit

Dweck gives us example after example showing the difference between a fixed and a growth mindset.  Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods are two examples of growth-mindset athletes; John Wooden is an example of a growth-minded coach; and Jack Welch is an example of a growth-minded CEO.

Some reviewers found Dweck’s central message from Chapter 1 all they needed from the text.  For example, Daly writes, “I found the ideas she presents – or rather, singular “idea,” since there really isn’t more than one – to be quite interesting, as I’d hoped. Unfortunately, the book itself isn’t. As I said earlier, reading a single chapter gets the point across: intelligence is not fixed, it can be changed. It is only our “mindset” that holds us back. If we believe we can’t learn, if we believe our abilities are restricted, then they will be. Our limitations are learned and set by ourselves. If we think we can improve ourselves, we will. If we insist that we’re unable to achieve, we won’t” (Source).  Chapter 1 definitely lays out Dweck’s core idea, but the best way to really digest that message is to read the examples in her industry-specific chapters.  She covers sports in Chapter 4, business in Chapter 5, relationships in Chapter 6, and education in Chapter 7.  This approach worked for me, as it allowed me to see a larger picture.  Another reviewer writes, “What makes Mindset particularly compelling is the avalanche of vivid stories from lives of the ordinary and the celebrated in the worlds of business, science, education and sports. […] Each chapter is filled with anecdotes from everyday people as well as names still making headlines today, demonstrating how a fixed mindset can constrict a life while a growth mindset can liberate and empower” (Source).

Sometimes, I tend to agree with the first reviewer when I’m reading.  For example, I didn’t much like the book I read before Mindset because I felt Chapter 1 was all I needed to understand the core idea.  Sometimes, though, I tend to agree with the second reviewer.  Clear examples and stories to support the main idea help me better understand that argument.  With this particular book, the chapters helped me develop a better understanding of what it means to be a truly empowering leader, mentor, and superteacher.

What have you been reading lately?

Superteachers: Part Four on Optimism


Students aren’t learning.  Presentations are broken.  Lectures don’t work.  It is time for a teaching and learning revolution.  In Superteachers: An Introduction (read more here), we learn that superteachers embody five key qualities.  Part One on CreativityPart Two on Passion For Learning, and Part Three on Doing The Work cover the first of these five characteristics.

Today, we focus on the fourth characteristic of a superteacher: natural and genuine optimism.  Why is a superteacher optimistic?  Because he or she has a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset.  In her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol S. Dweck explains the difference between the two approaches.  People with a fixed mindset “believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort. They’re wrong” (Source).  On the other hand, people with a growth mindset “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. Virtually all great people have had these qualities” (Source).  So how does a growth mindset relate to our fourth quality of a superteacher: optimism?  Because a growth mindset is all about optimism.  Developing a growth mindset means seeing “failure” as an opportunity to learn.

Earlier this year, I overheard a Public Speaking teacher on campus talk about charisma. Charisma, she argued, was something people were either born with or not; it was an inherent, fixed trait.  I argued (to her and, later, through a series of blog posts) that charisma was something people had to develop over time, practice, and effort.  The basic difference between our arguments was that this particular Public Speaking teacher has a fixed mindset about charisma, and I have a growth mindset.  It’s important as instructors that we ditch the fixed mindset; otherwise, tests determine intelligence and failure is a permanent measure of someone’s worth.  With the growth mindset, instructors support students as continuously learners, and the instructor’s goal is to cultivate and expand that learning.

Image Credit

Superteachers are people who possess an optimistic, growth mindset, and these instructors see the maximum potential in everyone.  As long as a student puts in the necessary effort, he or she can work to do well and learn material.  This isn’t an act; a superteacher truly exudes confidence and encouragement because this is a way of thinking, a mindset.  A superteacher knows his or her job is to cultivate learning, to be a curator of knowledge, and in order to see students grow, the teacher must believe the students can improve and develop their skills.

Dweck tells us that growth mindset teachers set high standards, create a nurturing learning environment, and push students to work hard.  Teachers with a pessimistic outlook would hold different students to different standards; these instructors believe that some students are just “dumb” and won’t ever “get” it.  Pessimistic teachers only nurture some students.  They support and adore “smart” students but cast away, ignore, or give up on “dumb” students.  Pessimistic teachers never push students to work hard.  They believe intelligence is “natural.”  Some students are smart; some aren’t.  This is a sad way to live, and pessimistic teachers with that fixed mindset are hurting the field of education as well as each and every student that passes through the classroom doors (Source).

Now, we’re not talking Pollyanna here.  Sometimes, teaching situations suck, and the optimistic growth mindset is difficult to maintain.  For example, earlier this year, my fellow superteacher, Chiara Ojeda, led a really difficult class.  Read Chiara’s account in her blog post “Losing My Superteacher Way And Finding It Again.”  Chiara didn’t lose her growth mindset; she knew the students could be great if they tried.  However, the students weren’t willing to put in the time or effort necessary for success.  Even with the difficult classes, optimism still resides inside of a superteacher.  Sometimes, the optimism is simply believing, “I’ll manage a challenging class better next time” or “I’m looking forward to trying again next time.”

How do you cultivate optimism?  To learn how to change your mindset, click here.