What’s this whole Grit thing?

How can grit help my children and inspire my parenting? 

I want to motivate my kids and give them a strong work ethic but where can I start?

How can I make sure my kids care about what they are doing?

I’ll let the expert, Angela Duckworth, take this one:

“When I talk about grit, I really mean this combination of perseverance and passion for what you’re doing over the long term. It’s not just being mentally tough in the moment, it’s all the other moments, it’s all the practice that goes into being truly world-class in what you do. It’s actually being kind of preoccupied by what you do. When I look at individuals who have grit, it is invariably a characteristic that I find in high achievers in every domain that I’ve studied.”

– Angela Duckworth, author of “Grit, the Power of Passion and Perseverance”

As a theater teacher and director of children, I take my pep-talks seriously.  My own pre-show motivations run the gamut from sounding like one of Coach’s speech on Friday Night Lights to a theater-games-inspired moving meditation.  I like to remind kids how far they’ve come.  Furthermore, I feel like it is my honor to inspire kids to be a lightening rod for a great story.   Finally, I like to incorporate this concept of “growth mindset” and grit, as I commend them for their legitimate hard work and persistence.


I’ve learned a lot about the ways to praise kids – and while I’m sometimes still guilty of giving out the hollow, “Good job!” I’m working on getting more specific with my affirmations.  


I’ve been inspired reading the work of Angela Duckworth on Grit and Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset.  It’s clear that kids thrive when they know that their effort gets results.    

Ways to Praise and Alternatives to “Good Job”

Below is a video from me about the Good Job conundrum and the other options you can use to praise.  Check out the excellent weigh-in from Dr. Aliza Pressman of Seedlings Group





Part of the way that I can inspire my casts to get their “grit” on is in the pre-show pep talk.   The following are my notes for what I’ll be sharing with my company of The Music Man Kids tomorrow before their big show.  



Congratulations and welcome to show day!  Your effort got you here.  What happened between the first rehearsal and the time you take your final bows will be the result of hard work, determination and your persistence.  Also, let’s not forget about Magic.  And by that I mean that amazing thing that takes over us artists, when we have done all that hard work.  Some people call it Inspiration other’s Creativity.  Whatever it is, I encourage you now to let that swell over you.  We can simply let go into the characters, listen, react, live and tell this story…you have done everything you need to do.


Cast your minds back to the first day of rehearsal…


We worked on getting ourselves into the mindset of people who lived 100 years ago. In doing so, you let go of our own mannerisms of kids from 2017 and your started to pay attention to the text and the given circumstances of your characters.


While we did this, we strove to connect to some fictional people in a town so far from Brooklyn it was in Iowa.  You got to know them and you became them.  


For our characters, life is hard and their icy manners are a thin veneer.  They are as tough as their winters, as stiff as their clothes.  These people are feisty, suspicious, determined, resilient.  They have grit.  You came up with these words and many others as we combed through the text searching for clues about our characters.    As we understood life a century ago, we almost couldn’t believe that there was no such thing as  access to instant information and or next-day delivery of your favorite product.  Where we have Google, they had only the library.  We have Amazon, they had only the “Wells Fargo Wagon”.  


As we walked around in character, or improvised, or interviewed each other, we gradually got more and more familiar with who these people were. We found new centers to work from, even created an animal alter-ego for our characters. While all the games were fun, it only worked because we went back to the play and applied the things we learned.   You showed off your grit when you stayed asking those questions and digging into these lives that are not your own.


Let’s remember the process that got us here…


…You started memorizing your lines, drilling them over and over until you repeated them in your sleep. Amazingly, the words became second nature, and now you can’t remember a time when you didn’t know them!


…How about the time our Music Director, Mike, and it seemed impossible to count backwards and clap and keep that complex pattern in your head.  But you practiced it each week, and now it’s, well…easy.


…When you stayed late to go over that choreography, working to figure out how your arms and feet could move like that, they’d never done it before, but now they do.


…Don’t forget about that time when none of the words coming out of your mouth seemed to make any sense.  The language is dated, stilted, a vocabulary from turn-of-the-century Iowa that doesn’t really make sense at first.   But then you decoded it, and translated it for yourself, and you started saying, “Egads!” just around the house.


And the grit that it took to see it through…

…There was that rehearsal a couple weeks ago when you all knew your lines but not when to say them, or even when to enter.  “Learn your cues!” I kept hammering at you during our stumble-though. Sure enough, you did.


…Remember when you stopped in the middle of your solo, went up on your lines, forgot your blocking…and felt like you wanted to floor to eat you up? (That, by the way, is because you care.)  And then we drilled it here, you went home and practiced, and then next week when you nailed it.  That wasn’t just luck, by the way, that was WORK.


…When our costume designer, Charlotte, brought in all those hats for you to try on.  While they immediately made you feel like the character, they were also weird and bulky and you had to get used to working with them.  But now, you can just put that hat on and you know who you are.


…How about that time that our choreographer, Emily, came up with a dance with all that jumping.  In order for it to look right it had to be in unison.  So we drilled it, and drilled it and drilled it, and now it feels like we are all one person jumping at the same time, and how cool is that.


…Don’t forget about that rehearsal where I sat in the back of the church.  I basically yelled out every time I couldn’t hear you, “I’m your grandma and I’m missing this story! What?!”  By the end of class, I was hoarse and you were all kinda mad at me.   I think you forgave me, at least I hope you did!  Well, you can rest assured that your Grandma will hear you.  Your voices are so clear and loud, filled with conviction and purpose.  Yes!


At the end of the day we are telling a story…


People are calling it, empathy.  That’s when you get really adept at putting yourself in the place of others. That’s the setting aside your set of experiences and walking – for us quite literally – in those of someone else.  It is actually quite hard to do, and the theater is truly the best place I know to learn how to do it.  A librarian who thinks she’ll never marry, a mayor who just wants to be loved, a salesman who can’t seem to tell the truth, a little boy who’s severe lisp makes him shy.


But what’s our story about? How would you talk about it? Isn’t it about how art can change lives? How a guy, Harold Hill, who was by all accounts a swindler, a huckster, came into a town and through inspiration changes everyone


Sure, he doesn’t really know anything about music (“Think the Minuet in G”) but he somehow believes in the transformational ability of art.  He gets what it means to strive to make something.  He understands the power of the Company, just like we do.  In this case, their ensemble is the band. Maybe their music isn’t great. But maybe it is.


And we honor their story and that’s what we tell today.  


So you can just let go of your nerves.  That’s just you in there, and we have to make room for the characters now.  They have a great story to tell, to dance to sing out loud.  
Thank you for your passion and persistence.  Thank you for your grit.  You have all done a tremendous thing in bringing this story to life, and now let’s go share it!

Learn More Games to Inspire Purposeful Play