Pioneering Psychologist and MacArthur “Genius” Award Winner Angela Duckworth Visits Seaside By Christi Commander Ferry
Angela Duckworth is effervescent. Her easy charm belies the fact that she has emerged as one of the nation’s leading voices for improving educational outcomes in a post ‘teach-to-the-test’ era. She breezed into the Assembly Hall a half hour before speaking at the event sponsored by the Seaside Institute and Seaside Neighborhood School in March and immediately put everyone gathered at ease.
Despite pouring rain, the community turned out in force to hear The MacArthur award winner speak on her groundbreaking research showing the importance of perseverance, tenacity, determination and fortitude in a child’s development. Her theory is straightforward — Grit is the best predictor of success in life.
As head of the Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading research psychologist, Duckworth has discovered grit is not only associated with success, but also happiness. She began her talk with a simple assertion: “To be happy, people must feel useful and excellent. We are fulfilled through service to others.” Some of her earliest research looked at super-achievers to identify what they have in common.
Duckworth summed up her findings with a Francis Galton quote: “Success stems from ability combined with zeal and a capacity for hard labor.” It seems a simple idea that has been around for years, but in a climate where education has focused on talent and testing, Duckworth’s research on developing perseverance and resilience could have a profound impact in helping children to realize their full potential. Another key to developing that full potential is the focus of Duckworth’s more recent research — “deliberate practice.” This, as Duckworth describes it, is the difference between those who are average and those who achieve excellence in a particular skill. Deliberate practice involves setting specific goals, concentration and getting immediate and informative feedback. “Those who become experts reflect, refine and repeat as they practice,” she said.
The attentive audience included parents with children in tow, athletes including the South Walton High School baseball team and 30A residents and visitors happy to meet a MacArthur “genius.”
As Sandi Fiske, interim executive director of the Seaside Institute, stated, “To have the caliber of someone like Angela engage our children is a privilege. She is an innovative and creative thinker.” The lecture was inspiring for all in attendance and Duckworth proved to be a wonderful example of a super-high achiever who remains approachable, amusing and completely relatable. The Seaside Institute and Seaside Neighborhood School plan to bring more creative and innovative speakers to Seaside in the coming months. Duckworth’s book will be available for purchase in May at Sundog Books.