Academic learning is important, but it is only part of what students need to succeed in life. A critical part of our character strengths education program involves our students learning how to respond to challenges. At WHPS, our students have frequent opportunities to reflect on aspects of a project, plan, or assignment that did not go so well. In school, we want every child to find success, and an important part is knowing how to respond to failure. People who have not learned to respond well to frustration and failure are likely to choose paths without much risk or challenge and thus, destine themselves to a life of predictability, safety, and mediocrity.
In his seminal book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, author Paul Tough presents evidence why character strengths—or non-cognitive skills—are vital to success. Tough explains that these skills are highly malleable and can be grown and developed throughout life. They include:
Tough outlines surprising ways in which adults often do—and do not—help children develop these skills. Woven into the story of How Children Succeed is the research of Dr. Angela Duckworth at the University of Pennsylvania—one of the preeminent researchers into the neuro-psychological development of children. Among her distinguished accomplishments, Duckworth designed a test that was more predictive of the success rate for incoming recruits at West Point Academy than the military's own assessment. What she terms "grit" entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years, despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.
I like to think of our program as inspired by Paul Tough and Dr. Duckworth. Our teachers think very carefully about how and where we challenge students. They provide scaffolding and encouragement for students to work at skills that may be unfamiliar or feel less comfortable. And, perhaps most importantly, they provide a safe, loving place for children to make mistakes and learn to fall and get back up, developing coping and resiliency skills. While Paul Tough states that many schools are not set-up to teach and foster the non-cognitive skills of respect, caring, honesty, responsibility, fairness, and perseverance, you will see children in our school receiving regular feedback and reinforcement with these skills. I believe Dr. Duckworth and Mr. Tough would be impressed with the level of “grit” our children are developing.