Why Developing Grit Is Valuable To Your Students & Staff

The way in which we handle failure determines how successful we are. We’re not always the best at admitting we’ve failed, to ourselves or to others.

Success is not possible without failure and part of growing and realizing this fact while learning to cope with the struggles we encounter. This holds true for ourselves as campus professionals and for our students. This learning opportunity can be especially salient for our students, as they venture off to college on their own and are confronted with problems they may never have faced alone.

A popular concept right now in the education realm is the concept of developing or tapping into ‘grit’. Angela Lee Duckworth wrote a best-selling book on grit which highlights her research on the topic, and it promises to overcome the issues modern college students face with lack of resilience and coping skills. NASPA highlights the importance of coping skills when it comes to mental health and perseverance in this blog post last year. The concept of ‘grit’ supports the idea that determination, commitment, and goal-setting are all far more helpful to people than things like IQ or physical fitness. Duckworth and other grit experts explain we need to help facilitate the development of ‘grit’, resilience, and perseverance with our students rather than coddling students.


While there are criticisms of this approach, the simple premise is sound: We need to know how to deal with life’s problems on our own and resist quitting when the going gets tough. Certainly, many of us have support networks, but we can’t always rely on them for everything. Having some innate ‘grit’ is helpful to anyone. Professionals at institutions often suffer from burnout, and students tend to teeter on a thin balance beam with overwhelming expectations and a lack of developed coping skills. We need to work to help ourselves be more resilient, and we need to acknowledge the gaps existing here for our students as well.

A great example of how this can be directly valuable to your work in a more tangible way is utilizing data to track at-risk student behaviors. If a student is struggling to cope with the transition to college, they might be pulling away and withdrawing. This could take shape as missing class, not going to the dining hall, not turning in assignments, either not leaving their room or not entering the residence hall at all, or perhaps acting out and getting in trouble.

If we tracking their involvement through card-swipe technology, for instance, with data that is just waiting to be used, we can work to proactively address these red flags before the student applies for a leave of absence, asks to withdraw, or fails out of their courses. An engagement platform that tracks student behavior surrounding involvement can be used between departments and increase communication between professionals to improve retention.

While fostering resilience and grit with students and staff isn’t an exact science and reframing conversations around failure can go a long way. We can’t stop at the first sign of difficulty or frustration. Similar to when we coach students, we need to be able to push on with a firm idea of where we want to go and commit to doing it, no matter what. This goes for us as professionals and for our students. Recent research goes into the value of resilience specifically for professionals and institutions. For more help on resilience in general, there is plenty out there to search for right now (both supportive and critical) but here are some of our favorite blog posts from The Student Affairs Collective, Ryerson Student Affairs, and the University of Windsor.

To wrap up this post on grit, we’re sharing this awesome video from Rutgers University Student Affairs:

We hope this helps you be more resilient yourself, as well as helps you foster and support your students more this academic year.

Reach out to @HelloPresence on Twitter with your thoughts! We’d love to hear from you.


Dustin Ramsdell

About the author: Dustin is a graduate of the Rutgers University College Student Affairs Ed.M Program. He is a proud nerd and self-affirmed "Higher Ed Geek" who is excited to connect with folks who share his love of deep conversations! Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.