Grit, the “inclination to pursue long-term goals with passion and perseverance” (Duckworth et alia, 2018. All quotes are from the original article), is known to be associated with positive behaviors and academic success. However, little is known about the factors that encourage or discourage this psychological disposition.
In a new study, Angela Duckworthh, the author of Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance, set out to investigate how their perception of school culture influences the development of grit in middle school students.
To do so, her team borrowed two important concepts from Goal Theory: “mastery-goal orientation” and “performance-goal orientation.” In their words:
“A mastery goal orientation focuses on acquiring and improving new skills for their own sake, whereas a performance goal orientation encourages demonstrating ability in relation to others.”
More precisely, the researchers hypothesized that these different orientations were relevant, not only at the indivdual, but also at the classroom and even at the school level, depending on its culture.
Surveying close to 1,300 students in the USA, the team assessed the goal-orientation of their school through their degree of agreement with such statements as: “This school is a place where mistakes are okay as long as we are learning” or “This school is a place where only a few kids are praised for their work.”
Participants were also asked about their level of grit, both through a similar self-report and through their teachers’ observation.
As predicted, results showed that students who perceived their schools as more mastery-goal oriented were grittier than those who perceived it as performance-goal oriented.
Interestingly, this also translated in their report card grades.
As noted by the authors of the study, “when students perceive their schools as emphasizing mastery, they are more likely to demonstrate greater passion and perseverance for long-term goals, and this in turn predicts earning higher report card grades."
Park, Yu, Baelen, Tsukayama, and Duckworth (2018), "Fostering grit: Perceived school goal-structure predicts growth in grit and grades", Contemporary Educational Psychology, 55, pp. 120-128.