How Gritty is Your Daughter?

By December 15, 2016 Head's Blog


A few weeks ago, while taking a course on program evaluation, I came across a blog post by evaluators for STEM programs in schools. I was fascinated to read that although their program evaluations often probe the affective (e.g. emotions, interests) and cognitive aspects (e.g. intelligence, abilities) of learning and achievement, the conative (e.g. volition, initiative, perseverance) side of academic success has been largely ignored in educational assessment.

They went on to explain that while interest and content knowledge do contribute to achieving goals, psychologists have recently found that “grit”—defined as perseverance and passion for long-term goals—is potentially the most important predictor of success. In fact, research indicates that the correlation between grit and achievement was twice as large as the correlation between IQ and achievement.

This got me thinking, how “gritty” are Elmwood girls? After all, research shows that over 12% of girls from single-sex schools go on to study in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields compared to roughly 2% of girls from traditional coed schools. At Elmwood, our number is 50%, so clearly we are doing something that produces exceptional results for girls.

The other reason I found this research fascinating, is that “grit” can be taught. Intelligence and talent are innate. But grittiness is a learned behaviour. So if grittiness is strongly correlated with success, then overtly teaching it will produce better results for students. Studies investigating grit have found that “gritty” students:

•    Earn higher GPAs in college, even after controlling for SAT scores,
•    Obtain more education over their lifetimes, even after controlling for IQ,
•    Outperform other Scripps National Spelling Bee contestants, and
•    Better withstand the first gruelling year as cadets at West Point.

Even among educators, research suggests that teachers who demonstrate grit are more effective at producing higher academic gains in students.So yesterday in assembly, I spoke to all girls from Grade 4 to Grade 12 about this concept and shared with them Angela Duckworth’s excellent TED talk.

We then asked them to complete a survey this morning to measure Elmwood girls’ grittiness now, and then work to improve on it as the year progresses. If you are interested in doing the quiz yourself, you can find Angela Duckworth’s grit scale here. You might compare your score with your daughter’s and have a conversation with her about practical ways she can work on improving her grittiness.If you are keen to learn more, I recommend Angela’s recent book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,” as well as Carol Dweck’s “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” which Duckworth mentions in her video.

Teaching grit, and modelling it ourselves for our girls, is yet another way to support the development of the “whole girl” here at Elmwood. I look forward to continuing this work as the year goes on.


About Cheryl Boughton

Cheryl has been leading Elmwood since August 2008, when she was chosen by the Board of Governors, after a global search, to be the eleventh Headmistress of the School. She has a rich and diverse background in independent education having held progressively senior roles managing independent schools in the United Kingdom.