St Catherine's students smiling and laughing in the school
16 March 2017

Getting Gritty

​​​Grit is a term that has been used to describe that stuff that gets between bathroom tiles, it gets stuck, it’s hard to budge. It needs a person’s own grit – their perseverance - to get rid of it. And thus, ‘grit’ has become the popular term for perseverance in positive psychology, made famous by psychologist Professor Angela Duckworth, in her book ‘Grit – the power of passion and perseverance’1. It’s true, no one is passionate about cleaning their bathroom, but that grit that gets stuck is passionate about staying there.

There is a greater need for grit and perseverance than ever before. Based on our Social, Emotional, Wellbeing testing completed by ACER, students are entering Year 7 progressively less gritty. As they progress through Senior School we see a dip in their grit-related responses, but an improvement for Year 10 and 11.

There are a few reasons for this dip and then improvement in grit. Firstly, in Year 9 and 10 students start to have more agency over their subject choices with three elective subjects, and Year 11 where other than mandatory English, students choose the subjects they want to study. This is supported by Duckworth who writes that “kids whose parents let them make their own choices about what they like are more likely to develop interests later identified as a passion.” This means that while you may not be excited by your daughter’s choice of subjects, remember that the ability for them to have true agency in their subject choices will inspire greater passions and grit.

Another reason for the improvement in grit as students’ progress through Senior School is that they consistently feel that teachers believe they can succeed (from 94% in Year 9 to 96% in Year 11 in one cohort and 93% in Year 9 to 97% in Year 10 in another cohort.) In order to practise true grit, students need to know that they have a support network. Duckworth states that “encouragement during the early years is crucial because beginners are still figuring out whether they want to commit or cut bait”. Year 9 is the year where students are most likely to start to question their own ability (we see a decline in the response to “I am confident with difficult work” from Year 8 to Year 9), however, a supportive teaching faculty and academic care program can bolster this doubt and inspire grit. St Catherine’s students consistently believe that teachers have faith in them and encourage them. In response to the statement “teachers encourage persistence” our students’ responses were always above 95%, whereas the national average is 88%. In response to the statement “a teacher talks to me about things other than school work”, our students’ responses were up to 25% more positive than the national average (86% compared to 61%).We know we have a great support network of teachers trained in positive psychology and promoting grit in the classroom, and the impact is clear in these SEW results.

And finally, students need to see grit role modelled. In the test results we have seen responses to the statement “parent discusses persistence at home” decreases from Year 9 – 11, but increases from Year 7 – 9. Discussing persistence at home is great, but practising it is even better. Angela Duckworth suggests the ‘Hard Thing Rule’ whereby every member of the family has to do one hard thing that involves “deliberate daily practice”. You also have to persist at it until it reaches a natural end – the end of term, the end of the season, the completion of the project. This is important because it means you cannot give up on the day it gets tough, but have to persevere. But the most important part of the ‘Hard Thing Rule’ is that everyone gets to choose their own project. This is so it is based on your own interests, and no one else’s.

I love knitting and crochet, and I always make gifts for babies. Why? Because they are small and I finish them quickly. I get a sense of accomplishment more regularly if I make beanies instead of blankets. So this year, my gritty project is to make a knitted jacket for myself. I started in mid-January and I. am. still. going. It is taking FOREVER. I’ve only just finished one arm. It is the same tricky stitch over and over, but I know that when I finish it (and get to wear it), I will be proud that I stuck to it (and really what will I do with a half-finished jacket?) I will probably go back to making baby beanies afterwards, but at least now I know I can persevere with a larger project.

So, why not spend a family dinner coming up with everyone’s grit project – whether it be preparation for exams, gardening, a sporting goal or learning a musical instrument. Show your children you can stick with it, and discuss the feeling of engagement and accomplishment when you complete your project. You may even learn a new skill in the process.

Because a gritty person is constantly learning, and they never give up.

If you want to know more about grit, try taking the Grit Scale test written by Angela Duckworth here.

1Duckworth, A 2016, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Ebury Publishing, London.

Duckworth, A 2013, ‘Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance,’ TED, viewed 9 March 2017,

Director of Positive Psychology Daisy Turnbull Brown​Mrs Daisy Turnbull Brown
Director of Positive Psychology
B Arts B ComGrad Dip EdMA (Theology)

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