Grit, Gratitude, & Growth: Helping Students Aim High and Finish Strong

Posted by Deborah Farmer Kris on Apr 23, 2019 11:44:49 AM

As students head into the final two months of the year, they sometimes feel like sheer grit takes over: an inner strength that propels them forward through the “home stretch.” 

Grit is a wonderful trait, something that helps us persevere toward our goals in the face of ordinary and extraordinary challenges. Dr. Angela Duckworth, researcher and author of Grit, describes it this way:

Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. . . . [G]rit is about having what some researchers call an”ultimate concern”– a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow.

In our middle school Habits of Mind classes this month, we are taking a look at this and the other strengths that can help students end the year on a high note. And like most of what we cover in the class, it’s a useful reflective exercise for adults, too.

I began by asking students: Who are you as a scholar, right now?

Are you*. . . ?

  • Curious: I ask questions.
  • Creative: I use my imagination to solve problems.
  • Courageous: I take risks.
  • Humble: I admit what I don’t know.
  • Open-minded: I hear all sides and listen to feedback.
  • Tenacious: I embrace struggle & keep at it.
  • Organized: I keep my time and materials in order.
  • Thorough: I go deep.
  • Careful: I double-check my work.

I then asked them to consider: Who are you as an individual, friend, and community member, right now?

Are you . . . ?

  • Empathetic: I see the dignity in every person.
  • Grateful: I look for the good in life.
  • Confident: I know that I have a purpose, a voice, and the capacity to grow.  
  • Resilient: I bounce back.
  • Responsible: I do my part.
  • Kind: People are safe in my presence.
  • Honest: I tell the truth and act with integrity
  • Wise: I think before I act.
  • Self-Reflective: I think about and learn from my experiences.

After talking about each habit listed above, students reflected on two questions in writing -- just for themselves.

  1. What are two of your current strengths?
  2. What is one area where you would like to grow?

Before answering a third and final question, we watched a joyful, inspiring three-minute TED talk called “Try something new for 30 days.”


That left us with one last question: What’s one thing you could do in the next 30 days to become stronger in this area?

As our middle school students know, habits are essentially strong neural pathways in the brain: something we have done so many times that it has become an automatic way of being. When we make small choices over and over again that match our values, we can become routinely responsible, tenacious, or kind. As Cheshire Cat told Alice in Wonderland, if you don’t know “where you want to get to . . . then it doesn't much matter which way you go.” So as we end the year, let's aim high and move with purpose.


*Note, some of these statements are modified from our friends at the Intellectual Virtues Academy. Click here to see their list.

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