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Rooted in Relationships: Episode 1.1 Angela Duckworth


Rooted in Relationships: Episode 1.1 Angela Duckworth

Resource Audience

Adults Youth Program Leaders Teachers School / Youth Program Staff School / Youth Organization Leaders District Leaders

Resource Type


Read Time

31-60 Minutes

Bringing out the best in young people Grit is critical to achievement and performance but does not necessarily lead to youth thriving in life. Young people must also feel that they are cared for and be given the opportunity to internalize character strengths into their own sense of identity. In this episode, Dr. Angela Duckworth provides practical tips for creating caring communities that bring out the best in all young people.

Welcome to the Rooted in Relationship podcast, where we talk with renowned researchers and experts on the scientific insights that can help you build meaningful relationships with young people. Today’s episode is hosted by Benjamin Houltberg, CEO and President of Search Institute. Their own research over the past 60 years has proven relationships to be what kids need to grow and thrive. Joining Ben today to discuss the topic of character is Dr. Angela Duckworth. Angela is a renowned professor, author, researcher and founder of Character Lab.

Even as a child, Angela says she had a sense and fascination with the finite nature of life. Even though she didn’t have clarity on what she wanted to do, she did have a sense of urgency and felt at an early age that her life was on a clock. While in college she volunteered and found herself working with kids. She went on to become a professor of psychology. Now, she studies character strengths related to effort in kids. It was a combination of her curiosity of human behavior and empathy and interest in children that eventually led her to the path she’s on now. For her, it wasn’t the inability to work hard, but rather taking time to discover what to work hard on.

Angela meets with expert teachers every Thursday and likes to talk to teachers who go above and beyond for their students. She gives the example of one of the teachers in her network who she recently was discussing gratitude with. Angela says that even the little things we do to give back to students can make a big difference, and she often sees students give that back to teachers around this reflective time of year. The great American philosopher and psychologist William James said, “teach students like they’re good and love them.” Angela says this has become part of her teaching philosophy, explaining that she may not be the best teacher but she really cares about her students. Students know when you really care and love them which makes the rest details.

Helping kids develop passion and perseverance is a balancing act between allowing them to fail and supporting them to succeed. Anything you want to do that is hard is less about how easily things come to you and more about your passion and perseverance over time. So much of being a great teacher is the ability to stick with things, rather than the natural talent. Grit is stamina in your passion and perseverance and it is a good marker of your success and achievements. While she hasn’t found any point at which too much grit is a bad thing in her research, she explains that in part it’s because she’s not comparing other people’s outcomes, or other personality traits. She says that there may be negative affects on those around you and potentially the rest of your personal character.

While some people prefer other terminology outside of character, Angela says there is ultimately very little difference in what outcomes they’re working toward. When you have strong character, Angela says things go better for you and the people around you. To integrate strong character into a student’s life, she tries to make it part of their identity. Identity is very important to character, and young people are getting their ideas about character and identity from the adults around them. Identity is a category, rather than a continuum, Angela says and it comes with a script. Young people get their identity in various ways, it’s part modeling the behavior we want from kids and also the language we use when talking to and describing the young people in our lives.

As the episode ends, Ben reiterates that the motivating force for grit should be unconditional love. He also asks Angela to give her advice to teachers, parents, and students going through a difficult time in the pandemic. She says that every paragon of grit she’s interviewed has been through a time where they are carrying heavy burdens. Angela stresses that we are all human, we carry burdens, and things will get hard. The important thing, she says, is to remember that it is true for everyone else as well.


0:43- Ben introduces himself and the podcast.

2:10 - Angela is introduced to the podcast.

12:27 - What makes a great teacher who shaped character?

21:14 - The importance of grit.

32:52- Finding identity in character.

38:28 - Angela’s advice to teachers.

Follow Benjamin Houltberg.

Learn more about Search Institute.

Follow Angela Duckworth.