On a Time for Grit


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.

On Empathy and Thriving in a World Turned Turtle


One of the cinematic highlights in the last few years, in my opinion, is the wonderful film Mary Poppins Returns. The color, the music, oh, and Lin Manuel Miranda, the dancing, singing, the hopeful story, Angela Lansbury, and Dick Van Dyke, all coming together to remind us that no matter how dire things look right now, hope exists – even when things look the very most impossible.

But perhaps the mosted, most wonderful scene in the movie is when Mary Poppins and the children visit her cousin Topsy, played in undeniably best form by non other than Meryl Streep, on a day when she (Topsy) has turned turtle. You see, on a particular day of the week, on a particular week of the month, Topsy’s world turns Turtle – everything goes upside down, and there is no way to make sense of anything, until it rights itself again.


In his book Empathy: Why it Matters and How to Get It, Roman Krznaric explains the nature of empathy, noting that its development in humans begins as soon as we are able to distinguish a difference between “me” and “not me” at a very, very young age. The seeds of “self” and “other” are formed early in our lives, and the capacity for empathy development is deeply connected to the empathy we receive from our caretakers as infants. The empathy that infants and young children receive is a foundational part of our ability to form loving attachments with others. And, (surprise!) the science of attachment and relationships, and their buffering effects on adversity, is one of the key elements of the emerging Sciences of Learning and Development (watch the video), which is currently driving educational reform and will guide our youth development practice in the future.

Empathy has two parts – cognitive and affective. The cognitive part means simply that we are able to take another’s perspective; the ability to see the world through some else’s eyes and develop understanding. The affective part means that we are able to feel the feelings of another person, more than acknowledge them, but actually feel them. In doing so, our emotional response mirrors the other’s, and we are emotionally “in their shoes.” When we have empathy we step out of our own view, into someone else’s view, and share the same emotional response with them.

Empathy is not sympathy or pity- for neither of those require actually taking the perspective and emotions of another. Nor is empathy compassion, despite the common interchangeable use of the two terms. Compassion, literally in the root of the word, means to share suffering (co-passion). But empathy is possible without suffering. Sharing the joy (emotion) of a friend’s success when you know how hard they have worked toward a goal (perspective taking) is an empathetic response. We just tend to use the idea of empathy more as it relates to the hard stuff, rather than the joyous.

So where does promoting empathy fit in our 4-H Thriving Model? I see it clearly in three places: the promotion of pro-social development, transcendant awareness, and emotional regulation. All of these thriving indicators have to do with seeing the self in relationship with the other. What is “me” and what is “not me” is linked by our human ability for empathy. The capacity for empathy can be developed, like any habit. In fact, Krznaric outlines six steps we can all take to develop empathy – both in ourselves and the youth with whom we work.


As of today, we are all still turned turtle. And who knows how long we will be like this, nor what the world will be like on the other side. In an opinion piece in today’s Washington Post entitled “In a War Without Enemies, Can we Keep Hatred at Bay” the author points out the importance of empathy as key to reminding ourselves that there is no “other” and the dangers we face if we lose our ability for empathy and instead begin a litany of blame, finger pointing, and scapegoating.

One thing I know for sure is that we are all in this together. If we are to help each other thrive in a world turned turtle, we have to do all we can to teach, promote, and practice empathy. With youth, yes of course. But with each other, now more than ever.

As Angela Lansbury says: Have you forgotten what it is like… to be a child?

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

On Filling the Relationship Gap

I received a text from a childhood friend shortly after Christmas, and without opening it, I had a feeling what it was going to say. My friend’s mom had passed away the day before, and she was writing to let me know. Mrs. “P” had lived a long life, so the news wasn’t completely unexpected. In recent years she had struggled with dramatically declining health (but not a declining spirit if the photo I saw of her at a Seattle Mariner’s game the year before was any indication.)

Before I texted my friend back, I sat for a few minutes in my study, suddenly flooded with memories of a person who, long before developmental science identified it, had embodied the first of many developmental relationships I had in my youth.

Warm and friendly, with a fierce sense of no-nonsense, wrapped up in a compassionate and supportive approach, Mrs. P gave generously of her time and support to many youth. She led our Camp Fire group, hauling us around the countryside in the back of her Ford Country Squire station wagon to sell mints door to door on a rainy February morning, and to monthly outings at the skating rink in the neighboring town. She taught me to sew, a skill that I have put to good use at various times in my life. And she sewed for me, including making (in one day) a trendy one-piece outfit for me to wear at horseshows. In third grade I was surprised with a birthday gift from my friend consisting of a whole Barbie wardrobe, including a long navy blue velvet gown with real sequins carefully hand sown, in Barbie size, by Mrs P.

Mrs. P. loved kids. She loved sports. She loved kids who played sports. It seemed like she knew every student athlete in our high school and cheered for their success as well as their teams. She gave generously, and she cared. She cared about me.

As high school turned into college and career and life, I lost contact with my friend and her mom. But when my dad passed away, one of the first sympathy cards I received was from Mrs. P. She expressed her sorrow, but also shared how proud she was of how much I had accomplished in my life. Given that I have always been high energy and outspoken, even as a little kid (surprise), I am sure there were many days when she questioned where I was headed. Her note of condolence sparked 20 more years of annual Christmas cards and letters. I looked forward to hearing every year from her, now a friend, not a mom, and called by her beautiful first name of Nina. I took the time to hand write her a letter every year, filling her in on all the happenings in my life. Until last year… my letter was returned after not being delivered to the address where she was now staying. And then this year… I didn’t write at all.


In his powerfully personal Ted Talk entitled Getting Relationships Right, Kent Pekel, President and CEO of Search Institute talks about the relationship gap. Dr. Pekel points out that most youth development professionals, or really anyone working to help youth thrive, knows the critical importance of creating developmental relationships. At the same time, the investment in professional development and time to learn how to build developmental relationships has not followed. In a word, our practice does not often follow our principles.

Fostering developmental relationships is hard work. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes an investment. But it is possible, and important to get started. Dr. Pekel shares a simple method in the Four S Interview Protocol: What is your spark? What are your strengths? What are your struggles? and Where are your sources of support? This simple tool (which you can download for free at the Search Institute Website) can help all who work with youth begin the process of establishing a developmental relationship.


A few years ago I met up with my childhood friend as our paths crossed of all places in the San Jose airport. We chatted comfortably, even with such a short time to do so, and with at least 35 years having past since we had last talked in person. And I had to chance to visit with her mom and dad a few Christmases ago when they were in the Seattle area for an extended stay. It was a special time with Mrs. P that December day, and I was so glad I got to see her one last time.

Nina P. was the first of many adults in my young life who invested in me, and throughout the course of my youth embodied all of the qualities of developmental relationships. There were others as well, and as time passed these adults grew into mentors and friends. The investment that Mrs. P. made in my life, and in the life of many other young people is an enduring legacy to the power of developmental relationships over time.

How will you start focusing on fostering developmental relationships in the youth with whom you work?

Thriving On,

Mary Arnold

On the Power of a Growth Mindset


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.

On Words, Jargon, and Terminology

By Guest Blogger Mari Glatter, University of Maine 4-H

October 4-H Thriving Model Training in Maine

In October, the Maine 4-H team had the pleasure of working with Mary Arnold for an introduction to the 4-H Thriving Model.  Our staff had a blast diving into the background and structure of this positive youth development framework.  One of the key takeaways from that time was how we (as 4-H staff) were already doing so much of the Thriving Model, but that this conceptual model holds all of the practices in tension with the research. 

As much as our Maine team loved what Mary taught us we also knew that to truly incorporate the Thriving Model into our everyday 4-H work we needed time spent with the vocabulary, the lingo, embedded into the framework.  So, in December I had the thrill of leading our staff into another encounter with the words and concepts of Mary’s work – a retrieval practice of sorts. 

We also used this time to explore some technology platforms that might be helpful in different 4-H contexts.

We also used this time to explore some technology platforms that might be helpful in different 4-H contexts.  We started with a Kahoots competition where teams challenged each other on their memory of the parts of the Thriving model.  Then we talked through the Developmental Context, looking again at definitions of Youth Sparks, Youth Program Quality Principles, and Fostering Developmental Relationships.  Following that review staff, in their small groups, went over to Padlet to brainstorm one 4-H program area that connects with the Developmental Context. 

To work on the Thriving Trajectory, I created a document that staff had to hunt for the missing words by using a QR scanner and finding giant QR codes placed around the building.  Each QR code led to a unique pdf that had information about one of the seven markers of a thriving youth.  I had planned for us to create screencasts to describe the Developmental Outcomes but our time ran out. 

The staff concluded the professional development time by retaking the Kahoots quiz to assess growth during our re-investigation – great news, they jumped from 40% initial accuracy to 90% post PD!  The biggest impact for our staff team was comfort and familiarity with the specific terminology of the 4-H Thriving Model.  Understanding this terminology is crucial to implementation of the model in 4-H programming.

Mari Glatter is a 4-H Youth Development Professional in Maine.  Her primary duties entail coordinating and managing the 4-H education program in Aroostook County, with a special emphasis on 4-H STEM programming and technology integration.  Mari has 20 years of experience in education and volunteer recruitment and management.