This was one of the enduring lines which arose on Tuesday’s Channel 4 programme, “The Secret Life of Four-Year-Olds”.
The first episode saw educational psychologists observe the behaviour of a group of children at nursery, where they were privy to hilarious comments such as the one above, as well as other, more thought provoking ones, such as “stop ringing me, Richard. You’re not the dad!”.
The show also saw the children put through a number of experiments, such as a den-building challenge. Endearingly, despite the other group being declared winners, one boy, Christian, returned to the task and completed it alone, displaying what the psychologists described as “grit”, a key predictive factor in future success.
This concept of “grit” or resilience has garnered a number of educational headlines recently, with The Character and Resilience Manifesto (the Manifesto) released yesterday.
This report, by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility and CentreForum, looks at how to ensure pupils are able to successfully move through the school system and into the workplace.
Once of its key findings was a need to place greater emphasis on the development of “character and resilience”. These qualities, the “grit” that Christian is already demonstrating at the age of four, are a huge aspect of an individual’s ability to succeed in life, whether their school results suggest they can or not.
Though school exam results are important and certainly open doors in terms of University placements etc., the Manifesto has drawn attention to the fact that self-belief, drive and perseverance are also major keys to success.
Baroness Claire Tyler, an author of the Manifesto declared that “where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you achieve in life”.
It seems that looking merely at the ‘Big Five’ personality traits, (generally understood to be extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability and intellect), is insufficient to determine whether or not an individual displays “grit”. More than mere resilience or a desire to achieve, it is instead considered to entail “the capacity to sustain both effort and interest in projects that take months or even longer to complete…Individuals high in grit do not swerve from their goals, even in the absence of positive feedback”. Or interestingly, in Christian’s case, negative feedback.
So if grit is such an important factor in personal success, and schools should make it part of their “core business” to develop “character and resilience” in pupils, as the Manifesto demands, how exactly can this be done?
Damian Hinds, the chairman of the APPG on Social Mobility has said that self-belief, drive and perseverance are “not just inherent traits…they can be developed in young people”. Developing these skills and traits, alongside an academic focus, could be a key to improving social mobility in the United Kingdom, he argued.
Former Education Secretary Michael Gove agrees, stating that:
“As top heads and teachers already know, sports clubs, orchestras and choirs, school plays, cadets, debating competitions all help to build character and instil grit, to give children’s talents an opportunity to grow and to allow them to discover new talents they never knew they had.”
While these ambitions are wonderful, the focus on academic achievement in schools can, on some level, distract from them. Education author Mark Solomons, in his article for SchoolsImprovementNet, argued that the current focus on league tables and exam results was creating a culture of “spoon-feeding” in schools, leaving pupils without “the necessary skills to stand on their own two feet”.
His article drew attention to ways in which these characteristics could be nurtured as part of the current school system while pupils work towards achieving academic results which open doors for them outside of school.
Christine Blower, the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers said:
“It remains the case, however, that the present curriculum and high-stakes testing are far too rigid.”
Solomons called for parents and teachers to be less risk-averse and to allow their children to experience risk and reward. As part of his new book Building Resilience: The 7 Steps to Creating Highly Successful Lives, Solomons also outlined a number of strategies school scan employ to help their pupils learn “grit”.
These included creating a positive mindset through short affirmations and exercises which can be used in the classroom; helping young people to learn how to plan and set goals for themselves; encouraging young people to try new things in lessons, make mistakes and learn from these as well as encouraging pupils to be more physically active, as this can encourage the development of mental strength, resilience, determination and positivity.
So while there are lots of young people out there who, like Christian, have displayed grit from a young age, others can also learn this skill. In an increasingly competitive employment market, such personal attributes are as vital as good GCSEs.
Sources: Duckworth, A. L, Peterson, C., Matthews, M.D. and Kelly, D.r. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social psychology, 92, 1087-1101. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-26118581 http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2015/feb/11/secret-life-of-four-year-olds-review http://schoolsimprovement.net/guest-post-building-resilience-the-7-steps-to-creating-highly-successful-lives-in-school/ http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/11/10/the-big-5-model-of-personality/