Resilience & grit: teachable traits that lead to success


Over the last several months, I’ve been reflecting on why some students, often in very difficult circumstances, seem to be able to persevere through challenges while others cannot.

As the principal of Student Success, my work is focused on supporting students who, for a number of different reasons, are struggling to make progress towards the requirements of the secondary school diploma. In this role, I see students who successfully overcome really challenging circumstances as well as those who seem to give up when they meet any kind of barrier to their success.

So, I started to look at the research and determined that what I am observing in those who overcome challenges and persevere is resilience and/or grit.

What is resilience?

  • the capacity to adapt to the challenges of life
  • not a magical trait that a few special kids have. Rather it is “ordinary magic” that is part of healthy development

Definition from: Hurlington, K. (2010). Bolstering Resilience in Students: Teachers as Protective Factors. What Works? Research into Practice, Volume (25), pp.1.

What is grit?

  • passion and perseverance for very long term goals
  • having stamina
  • sticking with your future, day in and day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years
  • working really hard to make one’s desired future a reality
  • living life like it is a marathon not a sprint

Definition from: 

Why is it important for all young people to be resilient and/or “gritty”?
Navigating the complex employment landscape, today and in the future, is going to require both resilience and grit.  The definition of “career” has evolved; one no longer enters a career, instead one must be focused on career/skill development and goal setting related to one’s desired future over the long term. Holding one job for all, or most, of one’s working life is now the exception rather than the rule. In fact, the average person changes jobs 10 to 15 times (with an average of 11 job changes) during his or her career (Doyle, 2013), which means a lot of time is spent adapting to the challenges of changing employment.

Doyle, A. (n.d.). Citing Websites. In How Often Do People Change Jobs?  Retrieved December 3, 2013, from

So, how will we prepare today’s students for this new reality?  How do we foster resilience and grit?

Five strategies that foster resilience @ school and @ home

  Tips for educators  Tips for parents
Make connections/Create positive supportive relationships
  • Make explicit “I care” messages to students
  • Get to know your students’ strengths, interests, needs, and their non-school environment
  • Teach your child how to make friends, including the skill of empathy
  • Build a support network (family, friends and community members) for your child
Help your student/child by helping others
  • Create learning partnerships for students with their peers
  • Develop peer support activities like Reading Buddies
  • Volunteer to help others and include family participation
  • Have your child assist you to accomplish a task
Set reasonable, attainable goals
  • Break down work into manageable parts
  • Provide feedback on the process
  • Practice taking steps toward goals
  • Focus on process of accomplishments
Nurture positive self -view
  • Encourage students to acknowledge their strengths and develop skills through practice
  • Recognize individual contributions to the group
  • Remind your child how they have successfully managed previous challenges
  • Help your child practice and trust their own decisions
Accept change is part of living
  • Develop routines to support change throughout the day
  • Demonstrate growth by providing feedback related to individual growth
  • Prepare children for changes by modeling behaviour  that can refocus goals
  • Demonstrate how children have already managed positive changes

After doing the research, I was so glad to discover that, like the definition of resilience says, these are not magical traits – they can be taught and learned. There are actual concrete strategies that both educators and parents can do to develop these critical traits for success in their students/children.

In fact, the upcoming student Equity in Action Symposium (February 25, 2014, at Georgian College) has a “resiliency” theme. We are in the process of developing workshops for both students and teachers that focus on how to develop resiliency. (For information on last year’s symposium, click here).

We are also looking forward to hearing from two keynote speakers:

  1. Dr. Michael Ungar, the Network Director of the Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts Network and founder and Co-Director of the Resilience Research Centre that coordinates more than five million dollars in funded research in a dozen countries. That research is focused on resilience among children, youth and families and how they together survive adversity in culturally diverse ways.
  2. Wab Kinew, the Director of Indigenous Inclusion at the University of Winnipeg. In 2012, he hosted the acclaimed CBC Television series “8th Fire”.

More details about the student symposium will be posted on in February. For details about Equity and Inclusive Education at the SCDSB, click here.

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  1. Pingback: It takes a village: A comprehensive approach to combat bullying | Sharing Simcoe

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