By Guest Blogger Mike Knutz
OSU Associate Professor
and 4-H Educator
Yamhill County, Oregon

During these uncertain times when programming has ceased as we know it, as well as most other aspects of our life being upended, it can be discouraging or even overwhelming. It seemed a perfect time to continue my read and study into the concept of “Grit” by renown researcher and author, Angela Duckworth. In her New York Times best-selling book “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance”; she lays out her initial studies at the U.S Military Academy at West Point. Duckworth’s quest was to discover a better predictor of why the 20% of cadets dropout or what reliable indicators exist for the 80% who succeed.

Although all the recruits had a stellar record both physically and academically to be admitted, they faced the formidable challenge of doing things they could not yet do. Essentially they were asked to perform tasks that exceeded their current skill level. How did successful men and women continue in this daily exercise of being stretched beyond limits on every front? Duckworth writes, “the highly successful had a kind of ferocious determination that played out in two ways. First, these exemplars were unusually resilient and hardworking, Second, they knew in a very, very deep way what it was they wanted. They not only had determination, they had direction. It was this combination of passion and perseverance – in a word, they had grit.”

I was encouraged by these two indicators. As Extension professionals, it takes hard work and resiliency to engage our community and to have positive program impacts. Although our direction maybe unclear during this time of “Stay at Home Orders”, our passion to make a difference has not waivered. We are being stretched in finding creative and alternative ways to serve our communities and each other.

One small way that I have recognized youth for their achievement during this time of cancelled graduation ceremonies is by highlighting a graduating senior on the 4-H Facebook page. Just a few statements about their accomplishments and engagement in 4-H as well as their future plans. Youth now, more than ever before, need to keep their eyes on the future. A future where their goals can still be achieved. Whatever setbacks or obstacles that COVID-19 may have put in their path, encourage youth with the words of Angela Duckworth, “Grit is sticking with your future, day-in, day-out. And working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

You can learn more about Grit from Angela Duckworth’s website which includes a quiz to assess your level of passion and perseverance, and her popular TED Talk on the topic at.

By Guest Blogger Mike Knutz, Oregon State University

As a youth development professional of nearly 20 years and former high school teacher, making a positive difference has always been the passion that drives my work with youth. The goal to impact young people is even more attainable with the 4-H Thriving Model. It is derived from years of research in developmental psychology and youth development.

In my quest to better understand the components of the 4-H Thriving Model, I have explored resources available from the Search Institute.  Since 1958, the Search Institute been studying how to strengthen youth success and bring research-based solutions to the most pressing challenges in the lives of young people. The 4-H Thriving Model aims to help youth develop a Thriving orientation (a mindset or outlook for continual growth). The Search Institute identified six indicators for a thriving trajectory that have been incorporated into the 4-H Thriving Model.

  1. Openness to Challenge and Discovery
  2. Hopeful Purpose
  3. Transcendent Awareness
  4. Positive Emotionality
  5. Pro-Social Orientation
  6. Intentional Self-Regulation

There is a wealth of research and some amazing researchers behind the studies that support each one of these indicators. I started by delving into Openness to Challenge and Discovery, which comes from research on Growth Mindset led by Carol Dweck, Professor of Phycology from Stanford University. Growth Mindset is an approach to life that where skills and abilities  can always be improved through effort and hard work. Challenges are embraced as an opportunity to grow and learn.  Feedback is something that is useful in trying new strategies to master and improve a skill or ability. Setbacks or failures are part of the learning process and should just spur you on to work harder and preserver.

I am sure we can all recall a time where we faced a challenge in developing a skill or ability. I recall my first time public speaking as a freshman in high school. It was the FFA Creed Speaking Contest which required one to memorize five paragraphs verbatim. That task alone demanded persistence, practice, and effort. I had written each paragraph on a 3 x 5 card and kept them in a pocket while I did my farm chores. I would recited the first paragraph until I master it and then move on to the next. When I couldn’t recall a sentence, I would pull out my card to serve as cue. The day of the contest came, I did fine on the delivery, but froze and failed to answer the judge’s question. To me it was a failure to overcome the daunting task of memorizing five paragraphs. That setback served to propelled me on my journey to develop public speaking skills through further contests and opportunities to serve in leadership.

One of the greatest obstacles in this journey to growth is being ruled by a Fixed Mindset; the belief that qualities are fixed traits and therefore cannot change. People with a fixed mindset focus energy towards validating their intelligence and talents rather than working to develop and improve them. It’s holding the belief that talent alone leads to success, and effort is inconsequential. This gives way to avoiding challenges for the risk on failing. Failure communicates that you are lacking talent. When this happens, a person with a Fixed Mindset may respond defensively or blame or make excuses for the setback. Carol Dweck reminds us that, “we’re all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets”. We need to be aware of our thoughts and actions when facing a challenge. Anxious feelings, an inner voice saying you’re not competent, or being crushed instead of interested in learning from a failure are signs of a Fixed Mindset.

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I picture an elephant restrained by a rope tied to a stake in the ground. Like that elephant, youth need to know that their current abilities have potential for growth. This message is freedom to rise to one’s potential. Those who work with youth can help them understand the dynamics of a Fixed and Growth Mindset and thereby free them to experience that effort and the right practice, leads to improvement in skills and abilities.

In Extension, we are accustomed to providing research-based solutions to problems. Teaching youth the Growth Mindset can help them succeed. In one of Dweck’s studies, 7th grade students were taught about neuroplasticity – how the brain changes when you learn new things. They were shown the evidence that you really can change your intelligence by challenging yourself and learning new strategies. Those students did significantly better on their math test than students in the control group who were not taught the lesson on Growth Mindset.

How we encourage and praise youth can support either a Growth Mindset or a Fixed Mindset. This illustration from Carol Dweck shows examples of both.

This is just a brief look at one of the six Thriving indicators. There is so much more to learn about how we can up our game at empowering youth to reach their full potential through the 4-H Thriving Model.

Mike Knutz is an Associate Professor at Oregon State University and 4-H Educator in Yamhill, County Oregon. Mike currently co-leads the Professional Development subcommittee of the Advancing the 4-H Thriving Model -Program Leaders Working Group (PLWG) Task Force.

Thriving Thursday: On Becoming a Growth Mindset Master at Camp

By Guest Blogger Virginia (Mom Bear) Bourdeau, State 4-H Camping Specialist

You can teach an old Mom Bear new tricks!  But only if she has a Growth Mindset!

When Mary Arnold introduced us to the Thriving Model one of the lessons was on Growth Mindsets.  People who have a growth mindset believe they can get better at things by working hard and putting in effort.  This theory excited me because it validated antidotal experiences I had as a 4-H parent, volunteer leader, and educator.  If you didn’t participate in Mary’s training series, or need a refresher, see Carol Dweck in this YouTube video.

Project-based 4-H experiences encourage youth to do their best when they exhibit their work at fair.  Some times their efforts don’t quite meet the standard 4-H has set for excellence, and they receive a red ribbon.  A red ribbon means “not yet.”  They can try again for a blue ribbon in the future, and this encourages a Growth Mindset.  Unlike school where youth receive a grade and move on to the next lesson, 4-H challenges youth to become better. In fact, it is in our 4-H Motto: To Make the Best Better! Continue reading