This is part 1 of 2. Part 2 will focus on providing practical strategies to advisors and academic coaches who are applying growth and grit to their advising practice. Part 2 will come later in the Winter 2018 Term.
“Mindset” and “grit” are now among higher ed’s buzziest buzz words, but they are not “fad concepts” like MOOCs, which have come and gone. Rather they are proven to be successful approaches in student development, and for good reason.
So what is mindset? What is grit? Is grit different than perseverance? Why are they important to student success?
Briefly, mindset is an area of study in psychology pioneered by Carol Dweck and several research colleagues. In their work they discovered that there are two basic mindsets that people have: either growth or fixed. In short, a growth mindset is the idea that one’s ability, talent, and intelligence can grow and be strengthened, much like exercising muscles. On the other hand, a fixed mindset is the idea that one’s ability or intelligence is (you guessed it) fixed and unchangeable. A growth mindset is one centered around self-development, while a fixed mindset ties one’s success or ability to identity. In a growth mindset, a “failure” or “set back” is a learning opportunity, but in a fixed mindset, a failure is an attack on one’s self-identity, whatever it may be.
Growth mindset is supported by new research in the field of neuroplasticity that has recently discovered the brain is always growing new neural pathways when actively learning and actively applying previously learned skills and information.
What about grit? Grit and perseverance are generally the same, and have gained more traction the past several years through research by Angela Duckworth. Duckworth may not have discovered grit the same way Dweck discovered mindsets, but her work is nonetheless important to understanding our students and how to support them the best.
The remarkable link between mindset and grit is how a growth or fixed mindset may influence a student’s grit or perseverance. A student with a fixed mindset has been shown to have low grit. In other words, if you believe you can’t do a task, and you believe no amount of effort will make you better, then you’re likely not going to work any harder at achieving or completing your task. Flip the coin, though: if you have a growth mindset and you know that with the right amount of effort combined with appropriate strategies that you can learn or complete that which is difficult, you are more likely to persevere when the difficulty emerges.
In the example above, a gritty, growth mindset will stick to the difficult task until it is done, or until the appropriate learning is accomplished. A gritty, growth minded student understands that learning is hard and requires lots of effort to be highly successful, whereas a low-grit, fixed minded student will often buckle under or give up as the earliest signs of struggle or challenge.
So why are these concepts important to student success?
As educators, counselors, advocates, advisors and coaches, financial aid officers, administrators, accessibility officers, career practitioners, health officers, residence staff, or whatever you do, we all have a role to play in helping our students unlock their gritty, growth minded potential.
You can learn more from these resources:
Mindset, by Carol Dweck
Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset, animated video by Sprouts
The Power of Yet, TedxNorrköping, Carol Dweck
The Power of Belief, TedxManhattan Beach, Eduardo Briceno
Grit, by Angela Duckworth
Grit: the power of passion and perseverance, Ted Talks, Angela Duckworth
Grit, animated video by Sprouts
Take the Mindset Quiz and Grit Scale Self-Assessments
The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge
The Brain that Changes Itself, The Nature of Things Documentary