Talent or persistence. Which one would you choose for your child?

Richard Dobrenov | Deputy Principal and Head of Senior School

Often when parents are asked this choice, they respond with both but when pushed to select one, most parents choose talent, which according to one of Australia’s leading experts on parenting, Michael Grose, reflects the way society currently views achievement.  Whether it is intelligence, sporting prowess or musical ability, Grose states that “talent is purely potential, they need more than this to achieve sustained excellence in anything they do.”  The real difference is made when the talent is harnessed and developed through the character traits of hard work and their ability to persist with a task, that makes all the difference.

American Psychologist Angela Duckworth through her research, found that “character, not cognitive ability is the single most reliable determinant of how a person’s life will turn out.”  Duckworth identifies three important traits in determining long term success.  The first of these is grit, which she defines as the willingness to persist at a task, even when it is boring. The second is self-control which is the ability to delay gratification and the third is conscientiousness, which she identifies as the tendency to follow through with a plan.  All three of these traits are invaluable in both a school and workplace setting.

In his book Spoon-fed Generation, Grose highlights that when children continually experience easy success, we are essentially setting them up for failure because when they are actually faced with challenging and difficult situations, they will lack the capacity to actually persist and push through the tough times.  The current trends of “Participation Awards” and every child winning a prize in each layer of games like ‘pass the parcel,’  are testament to this trend of easy success and the expectation that just by simply showing up, your efforts should be rewarded.  One of the greatest challenges facing contemporary parents is encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and to take learning and social risks.  Gross states that “overcoming setbacks and pushing through difficulties are how character is formed.”

Schools provide numerous learning opportunities and occasions for the development of character.  Last week’s Assembly was an excellent example of this when the Rock Band led by Messrs Keevers and Alley played to a delighted crowd.  To hear Brianna and Sophie sing so beautifully, backed by their peers on stage and warmly acknowledged by the crowd, is testament to the development of character.  The Pipes and Drums mini-band followed suit and again it is through public performance that our courage builds, and our character develops.  To perform in front of your peers is incredibly daunting and opportunities through Debating, Drama and Music provide such growth opportunities.  It is these experiences which develop that essential character trait, GRIT.  Gross says that it is “critical that we challenge children and young people to attempt activities where failure is a significant option.”  Through failure we learn and modify, and through persistence we succeed.  I implore students to look for opportunities to become involved and challenged, so that growth learning opportunities are experienced.