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Determination + Passion = Grit

If one is tenacious and dogged about a goal but the goal is not meaningful or interesting then it is, to use Angela Duckworth’s words, ‘just drudgery’. Having perseverance and a direction that one cares about is what enables people to keep going.
Dr Frazer Cairns
Former Head of Dover Campus

Frazer Cairns started his career as a management consultant and journalist after graduating from the University of York in the UK. He retrained as a science teacher and subsequently taught in the UK, Indonesia and Switzerland. Having worked in international schools for most of his career Frazer is particularly interested in the way language is used in multilingual educational settings. He continues to study and contribute to research in this area, holding both Masters and Doctorate degrees in education.

An ex-runner, Frazer enjoys sport, particularly mountain and road bike racing, despite his knees not being what they once were. He is also a keen snowboarder and mountain walker though both are quite difficult in Singapore. Frazer is married to Rebecca and has two children, Matthew and Hannah, both of whom attended UWCSEA Dover.  

In July 2017, Frazer and his family moved back to Switzerland, and Frazer is now the Director at International School of Lausanne.

Determination + Passion = Grit

The power of making meaning when things go wrong

It is not often that I write about people getting things wrong but three things recently have made me think about how diverse the conditions for developing ‘grit’ can be and how important the necessity to stumble or fall from time to time is. The first was the Middle School recital, Cadenza, the second was the Microthon held in the Dover Campus IDEAS Hub and the third a young man coming out of an IB Diploma examination.

First Cadenza: it is no easy thing to be in front of an audience (albeit an appreciative one) of parents and teachers. Cadenza is a chance for some of our Middle School musicians to stand alone and last week differing levels of ‘poise’ were on show. Introductions varied from the self-assured (‘Hello!  My name is..’) to the apprehensive (‘Umm right, yes..’) and the complexity of the pieces ranged from the ‘solid’ to the ‘extraordinary.’ Unsurprisingly, given that this was the first solo performance for some of the musicians, and even though the standard of playing overall was good, several people made mistakes. One musician faltered and momentarily stopped. Importantly all gathered themselves together, picked themselves up and continued on.

The Microthon, held on the same day, aimed to teach an introduction to coding for younger audiences. It is an annual event and this year teams were asked to either build a story or project to solve a problem (for younger students) or use the time to prepare whatever they would like to build (for older students). There were attempts to find solutions to environmental problems, to control the tracking of solar panels, and to let you know when plants were too hot or too dry. As with Cadenza, projects ranged from the ‘solid’ to the ‘extraordinary.’ Also as with Cadenza there were mistakes. There were solutions that didn’t work the first (or second or third) time. There were disagreements about how to go forward. And again students gathered themselves together, picked themselves up and continued on.

And finally the young man coming out of an exam. He and his friend were engaged in the inevitable post-exam dissection of the questions:

‘What about question 3? Hard eh?’

‘Yes hard … but I’d got one a bit like that wrong before so I knew I could do it if I thought about it.’

‘Grit’, University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth’s concept, much like Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘10,000 hour rule’, has been propelled to mainstream popularity. It is often understood to hold that talent isn’t the only key to success; hard work, determination, and perseverance are what truly count. There is truth in the importance of hard work but there is, however, something missing in this reading of Duckworth’s work that is in the title of her book and was visibly present in Cadenza and the Microthon - passion in what is being done. If one is tenacious and dogged about a goal but the goal is not meaningful or interesting then it is, to use Duckworth’s words, ‘just drudgery’. Having perseverance and a direction that one cares about is what enables people to keep going.

Makerspaces like the IDEAS Hub, with the unstructured time and materials they offer for young people to work on their own projects, solve problems together, and try things out over and over again, are a way to tap into young people’s passions and to teach them this kind of perseverance. So are the experiences that young people have in music performances, through service and on the sports field. All of these have an extraordinary ability to help turn a ‘ding’ in one’s confidence into a chance to learn. Like the young man I saw after his exam, it is a kind of learning that will have served several members of the Class of 2017 who walked across the graduation stage on 20 May well in answering difficult exam questions. It is a kind of learning that will continue to serve them well very far beyond their time at UWCSEA when the finer points of magnetic induction have been forgotten.

The young person in Cadenza who stopped in their piece and restarted would have learned a huge amount about herself in that moment, not least because after she was finished she received the longest and warmest round of applause.

Duckworth, Angela. “GRIT: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” 2016
Gladwell, Malcolm. “Outliers: The Story of Success” 2008

26 May 2017
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