The Importance of Effort

This is the week our lower school parents receive a written report about how their son is progressing in school. Report cards typically come with either a cause for celebration and a plan to continue on the same path or a cause for concern and a need to formulate a new plan to see better outcomes. I spoke in my blog a few weeks ago about learning from failure. A report card that reflects strong effort may suggest that learning is occurring after much trial and error. As our boys navigate through new lessons and new material, we expect them to have a few setbacks. This is truly where the learning takes place. Bouncing back from those setbacks, discovering new ways to avoid mistakes, and gaining confidence from failures-turned-into-successes are crucial elements of education. A report card is ideally about how a student is working rather than about what accomplishments were reached. If your son’s effort grades reflect a desire to improve through hard work- consider the report a reason for celebration.


Angela Duckworth is a research scientist who studies this question- what is the role of effort in a person’s success? She is an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania and, through her research there, she has developed tests for measuring “grit” and stamina. She believes that individuals can build and learn effort and perseverance.

These traits are better predictors of future success, according to Duckworth. The Duckworth Lab, which will publish a book in May 2016 titled Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, focuses their study on “two traits that predict achievement: grit and self-control”. Much like our report card grade for effort, grit is defined as the ability to sustain interest and effort towards long-term goals. Self-control, like our grade for conduct, is defined as the “voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions.” At Gilman, while competency and mastery of specific units of study play a role in assessment, the main emphasis is always on effort and behavior.


In the lower school we realize that, in the words of Jessica Smock in her Huffington Post article about the topic, “it’s clear that our education system’s relentless focus on skills, on test preparation, on acquiring knowledge disconnected from the reality of facing adversity and thriving when faced with real world challenges is not enough.” This article, linked below, talks to parents about how to teach “grit” to your child. Similar to researcher Carol Dweck’s thoughts about how to compliment your kids, it suggests praising them for their being tenacious and determined rather than “smart” or getting good grades. There is a link in the Smock article you, as parents, may find interesting. The NPR program, “This American Life”, did a back-to-school podcast a few years ago about this idea of effort and grit. They talk with Paul Tough about his book How Children Succeed and include interesting interviews with children featured in the book. The take away- “that character strengths make up perhaps the single most compelling element of a child’s education.”


We certainly believe this in the lower school and hope that your son’s report card this week reflects the character strengths that lead to future school successes.


I hope that my communication with you each week encourages “talking points” to inspire weekend conversation with your son or sons. Here are some “talking points” for this weekend.



  • If you are in Kindergarten- Did you enjoy making stories with the Koma Koma app on your iPad?
  • If you are in Pre-First- What did you do to create a “circle story”? Who did you share it with? What was the book The Invisible Boy about and what did you discuss with Mrs. Teeling after reading the book?
  • If you are in First Grade- How did your math test go this week? What songs are you rehearsing for your holiday concert? Did you enjoy writing a story in French?
  • If you are in Second Grade- How is football going now that it is not a “banned” game? What did you do for those many indoor recesses this week? Did you enjoy making your imaginary creatures in art class? What does yours look like? Have you started meeting with the visiting poet yet?
  • If you are in Third Grade- Did you enjoy the field trip to Marshy Point this week? What Native American group did you learn about? Why did you have paint symbols on your faces when you returned?
  • If you are in Fourth Grade- Who is playing the ukulele for the music performance next week? What songs are you singing? How is your fantasy football team doing?
  • If you are in Fifth Grade- Did you enjoy making a “disguised turkey” for Thanksgiving? What are you working on for this holiday season? Are you enjoying the songs that you are learning in chorus for the holiday concert?





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