The marshmallow test. The marshmallow test.

7 performance values that lead to success

Leading schools are making an effort to teach them

Every day we wake up to new revelations of fraud, graft, Ponzi schemes and white-collar crimes in the news media. In response, schools are emphasizing ethical citizenship with renewed purpose as a measure to contain the daily encroachment of sands from the desert of integrity.


Citizenship education is related to character education. There are many conceptual systems for character education. Some include packaged programs with lesson plans and supplementary resources.

Seligman and Peterson (2004) consulted multiple sources related to social virtues: Artistotle, the Torah, Upanishads, The Scouts Handbook, even Pokemon profiles. They decided on a final list of 24 universal moral values, including, bravery, citizenship, respect, justice, wisdom, integrity, love, sense of humor, appreciation of beauty and kindness.

Recently Peterson identified seven values that have a proven relationship with success in adult life. In collaboration with KIPP Schools, Angela Duckworth created an instrument to measure them in learners. If important values such as kindness, integrity and respect are moral values present in good people, these seven are known as “performance values,” and are found in successful people. They include self-control, enthusiasm, gratitude, social intelligence, curiosity, optimism and grit, or “passionate dedication to a mission”. (Tough, P., How Children Succeed, 2012)

Self-Control: In a famous experiment, a researcher put a marshmallow in front of each child in isolation and, after explaining the rules, walked out of the room. By first ringing a bell, kids were permitted to eat the marshmallow. Or they could wait until the researcher came back into the room and receive two marshmallows.

The study followed participants into adulthood, and found that children who were able to resist the temptation to eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes scored an average of 210 points higher on the SAT than children who ate the marshmallow within 30 seconds. Adults with low self-control scores as children were three times as likely to commit crimes and/or have multiple addictions as those with high levels of self-control.

Optimism: Martin Seligman is one of the founders of the school of Positive Psychology. A fundamental belief is that an optimistic outlook can be learned – that children and adults who can adopt more positive attitudes live a more happy, healthy and successful life.


Pessimists believe that failure is due to permanent personal characteristics, whereas optimists look to explain the causes of failure in conditions specific to the situation. Therefore, they are more likely to get back up and try again.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy is a technique of Positive Psychology, and it is even taught to middle school kids at the KIPP Schools as a self-control and metacognitive (thinking about thinking) technique. (Tough, 2012)

Zest: The motivation to enjoy and take full advantage of opportunities to participate actively in class and in other life situations.

Gratitude: Very similar to optimism, grateful people know how to be thankful for what they have received from life and the universe, rather than lament what they lack. This attitude helps people maintain a positive outlook and appreciation for others.

Social Intelligence: The child who can identify his or her own emotions, deal with and channel them, as well as interpret accurately the emotions of others is more effective and productive. He or she will know the true meaning of empathy, walking a mile in the other person’s shoes and being able to feel what they feel.

Social intelligence promotes the effectiveness of multidisciplinary working groups and multicultural and diverse teams. These are highly valued in the global economy. In the classroom, social intelligence is essential in developing respectful civic life and helping reduce and resolve conflicts.

Curiosity: The motivation to explore new things with enthusiasm. Curiosity is fundamental to creativity.

Grit: Defined as a passionate commitment to a mission and dedication to its fulfillment, “grit” was identified by Angel Duckworth, author of an inventory she calls the “Grit Scale.” With only 12 items, the Grit Scale contains statements such as “new ideas and projects sometimes distract me from previous ones,” “setbacks don’t discourage me,” “I am a hard worker,” and “I finish whatever I begin.” Duckworth’s Grit Scale has proved to be the best predictor of success in stressful and difficult programs like the West Point cadet initiation.

The formal or informal mission of all schools includes preparing students for success in adult life. The discovery of performance values has enabled them to focus efforts on developing attitudes and skills proven effective in arming young adults for success.

Cutting-edge schools make a collective, persistent and systematic effort to teach performance values.

The writer is an educator with many years of experience in the administration of schools in North and South America. He lives in Pachuca, Hidalgo.

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