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What Students Need Before Perseverance

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What's your advice for building grit right now?

I'm asked this question a lot. My answer may surprise you.

Yes, I believe in hard work. Yes, I believe resilience is a skill all students can learn. And yes, I see an important role for teachers to model hard work and resilience for studentsnow more than ever.

But grit isn't just perseverance. Grit is passion, too, and when I think about which to prioritize for young people, passion comes first. 

In 1985, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom published a landmark study called Developing Talent in Young People. After interviewing 120 world-class performers in sports, mathematics, music, and more, Bloom observed that serious practice was almost invariably preceded by a fun, unserious period he called "the early years."

"For example," Bloom explained in an interview, "no matter at what age you start learning science, you should begin learning it playfully, almost romantically, with wonderful teachers who make it exciting and interesting." 

Premature seriousness kills the joy that is so vital to passion.

So when I taught a new undergraduate course this semester called Grit Lab, I began with passion.

"You'll never be great at something unless it's intrinsically interesting to you," I told my students. 

"That sounds right," one student replied. "Now how do we figure out our interests?"

There's no magic formula for developing an interest so deep that, eventually, it leads you to commit to a disciplined routine of practice, feedback, and improvement. There are no shortcuts. There is only exploration and self-reflection, sampling one activity and then another, constantly learning more about what captures your attention and, at the same time, evolving as a person in ways that you can't predict from the start.

As a teacher, you have an opportunity to model what it means to work hard at something you love. Share your story. How did you end up in education? What were you dreaming about when you were the age your students are now? What do you find so fascinating about your craft?

The more you understand the psychology of interest, the better you can support its growth. To learn more, join me at Educator Summit, a unique online professional-development event this summer. 

Perseverance is essential to achieving our goals, but passion is paramount to identifying goals in the first place.

Angela Duckworth, the founder and CEO of the education nonprofit Character Lab, is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. You can follow Character Lab on Twitter @TheCharacterLab.

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The opinions expressed in Ask a Psychologist: Helping Students Thrive Now are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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