Holistic GRIT — Passenger or Pioneer?

College students working together with their laptops and a professor

“Intentional imperfection.” That’s the term I so often apply when talking anyone through the first, bold steps of a worthy new quest. I think it applies to pioneers everywhere. And, that’s exactly the term we used when we put together the initial Gauge-and-Grow-GRIT Strategy with Dr. Lee Ann Nutt, her team, and the Pearson team, at Lone Star College in Tomball, TX. The shared mindset was (and is) that the need to improve student persistence, completion, performance and success is too crucial and urgent to wait for some hypothetically flawless or guaranteed formula to emerge some decade in the future.  

Sure, we had the encouraging evidence that both the pieces and composite of GRIT™ were validated over many years of application and research with other populations. But we had only a substantiated suspicion, not rock-solid proof, it would work at Lone Star College. Here’s why leadership matters. There are times someone has to step up and say, “We don’t know for sure, but it’s sure as heck worth finding out.” That’s exactly what President Nutt did. She led the charge, and invested the effort and resources to embark on an unusually robust, pioneering study.

Two female college students sitting on a bench in a park and studyingThe responsible researcher in me is careful to couch the findings as “preliminary, initial, promising,” and “suggestive.” The co-pioneer in me wants to trumpet across the world of higher education, “Take note! Something big is happening here.”

Here’s a quick recap. We selected faculty into two groups, With GRIT and No GRIT. One was equipped with new tools and resources to infuse GRIT into their classrooms, in whatever doses and manners they preferred. The latter took an oath to do nothing more/new with GRIT, whatsoever. In both groups, students were asked to complete the GRIT Gauge™ at the beginning and end of the term, so we could measure any changes in GRIT and compare results of the two groups.

Seeing correlations between the quality and quantity of GRIT and performance, completion, accumulated credits toward one’s degree, and more, is certainly promising. But what I find even more striking is that these findings emerged despite all the flaws, and yes, imperfections of the study.

It’s important to point out, not just what this study did, but what this study lacked.

  • We allowed faculty flexibility in how much and in what ways they infused or applied GRIT in their classrooms.
  • We had no control/influence over the focus, intention, time, students put into the GRIT Gauge or any GRIT-related activities, even though past research shows creating a consistent, controlled test-taker experience strengthens and refines findings.
  • This was not a multi-term, longitudinal study. It was over a single term. Results often tend to intensify when repeated or tracked over time. (Read the case study for more complete methodology and results)

In short, the preliminary findings of this single-term study are promising and confirm our shared resolve to further investigate the impact of infusing GRIT. Based on even these “preliminary findings”, isn’t it perhaps finally time that we—as researchers, leaders, advisors, counselors, and educators—applied our own GRIT to take a real hack at this? If we embrace the pioneering spirit of intentional imperfection, why wouldn’t we embark to upgrade both the skillset and mindset of our students, and respond to the clarion call of employers, as well as society-at-large, to equip students to not just pass a class, but to truly flourish and contribute beyond our institutions, throughout their work and lives?

Ultimately, we can be passengers or pioneers. We can await the shift, or help shape it.
To learn more on the implementation of GRIT at Lone Star College-Tomball, read Dr. Lee Ann Nutt’s blog post.


About the Author
Dr. Paul G. Stoltz

Dr. Paul G. Stoltz

Paul G. Stoltz, Ph.D., is considered the world’s foremost authority on the science and method of measuring and strengthening GRIT. His methods and teachings are used at Harvard, MIT, Cornell, Stanford, Carnegie Mellon, and by top organizations in 63 countries.  Selected as “One of the Top Ten Most Influential Global Thinkers” by HR Magazine, “One of the Top 100 Thinkers of Our Time”, by Executive Excellence. He is founding director of the GRIT Institute, and the Global Resilience Institute, conducting research in 29 countries, as well as Founder and CEO of PEAK Learning, Inc., the global research and consulting firm, since 1987. Featured in the world’s top media—Fortune, Forbes, Success, Business Week, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, Asia 21, Fox, ABC Nightly News, NBC, CBS, The Today Show, and multiple appearances on The Oprah Show—Dr. Stoltz’s top priority is applying his vast experience and research within higher education, specifically to students in their first year of college. Developing effective strategies toward college completion – and sustainable employment – has never been timelier.