Paul Tough

We can help children develop character strengths, like grit and self-control, and overcome adversity.

Bestselling Author of How Children Succeed and Helping Children Succeed

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Paul Tough | Bestselling Author of How Children Succeed and Helping Children Succeed
Lavin Exclusive Speaker

Paul Tough challenges our culture’s belief that intelligence, endlessly measured by test scores, is the sole indicator of value in our education system. It’s not. In How Children Succeed, he ushers in a tidal change in thinking and argues that non-cognitive skills—or, character—are better indicators of success: curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit.

“Every parent should read this book—and every policymaker, too.”

— Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit

In his latest book, Helping Children Succeed: What Works and Why (2016), education speaker Paul Tough offers a practical guidebook for improving the lives of children growing up in adversity, containing all-new strategies based on the emerging science of success. A contributing writer to The New York Times Magazine, Tough is also the author of Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America, which focuses on the steps necessary to improve the lives and education of underserved children. Through the case study of the Harlem Children’s Zone, Tough describes the inspiring struggle to establish a way to combat poverty that could be replicated nationwide. Tough has also contributed to This American Life and The New Yorker, where he has honed his focus upon education, poverty, parenting, and politics. The film rights for his New York Times Magazine cover story “A Speck in the Sea,” about the rescue of fisherman John Aldridge, have been acquired by Harvey Weinstein for production by The Weinstein Company.

Testimonials

“Paul Tough facilitated our educators retreat for dozens of school superintendents, university deans, directors of education organizations and staff members from the Ohio Department of Education. He not only used a very cohesive and thoughtful PowerPoint presentation format but also posed excellent inquiry questions for table discussion. Mr. Tough referred to examples from his book, challenged the audience to think about non-cognitive traits, and cited background research at appropriate times. One participant stated, ‘The conversation was outstanding. It renewed my faith that the right combination of adult support, nurturing, teaching and coaching can overcome the greatest of obstacles.’ The educators, who attended this retreat, gave it some of the highest ratings.”

Martha Holden Jennings Foundation
Testimonials

“Thank you for participating in the PBS and CPB sponsored breakfast ‘Our Kids, Our Communities, Our Future’ at the PBS Annual Meeting in San Francisco. Your presentation about How Children Succeed was funny, informative and helped to demonstrate the importance of being a champion and mentor to underserved children, and the power of public media to foster engagement. I continue to hear from station leadership and project managers who were inspired by your address and are excited to think differently about ways to engage their community. Thank you again for illuminating our thoughts with your research and anecdotes.”

Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Speech Topics

Education
Helping Children Succeed What Works and Why
It’s long been true that kids from affluent families tend to do better in school (and on standardized tests) than kids from low-income households. Despite decades of government initiatives and the tireless work of social workers, psychologists, and educators, this gap persists. It has become the central issue in American education, as over half of public school students are now classified by the federal government as ‘low-income.’ 

In this keynote, drawing from his new book Helping Children Succeed, Paul Tough provides a new framework for understanding the challenges of low-income children and offers some innovative solutions. It starts with the biological mechanisms that accompany adversity. Children adapt to their surroundings: Stable, loving early environments incline kids to trust and be curious. But when children grow up amidst violence or chaos—what some doctors call “toxic stress”—their stress-response systems are set to look for trouble everywhere. In school, it’s often hard for them to focus, stay calm, and trust their peers and teachers, which makes it difficult to keep up academically. They are more likely to be disciplined or punished, but less likely to receive the genuine help and understanding they need. 

If we want to help children develop the character strengths like grit or self-control that Tough first explored in How Children Succeed, we first need a more thorough understanding of adversity, home life, and brain development. In a keynote that distills groundbreaking research from psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists, Tough outlines the small steps parents, educators, and civic leaders can take to meaningfully change student motivation and behavior—especially among kids from low-income backgrounds. 
Education
How Children Succeed The Hidden Power of Character
Our society currently places a great deal of emphasis on intelligence as the sole indicator of value in children’s education. But in this talk, Paul Tough lays it bare: we believe that success comes from those who score highest on tests, from preschool to SATs. Yet evidence indicates that our story here might be dead wrong. The work of a new generation of researchers and educators points to the fact that the qualities that have a better shot at indicating lifelong success are “non cognitive” or what we might refer to as “personality traits” such as: curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, self-control, and grit. 

Using the tools of science, Tough peels back the mysteries of character and traces the links between early childhood neurological development and environment. By showing how “nature” and “nurture” are intertwined, Tough explores how childhood stresses modify life success and the surprising ways that parents do—and do not—prepare their children for adulthood. Tough helps us understand how early adversity affects childhood emotional, social, and cognitive development in ways that will carry on throughout  their entire lives, and what we can do about it.
Education
Who Gets to Graduate? How Colleges and Universities Can Address the Student Wealth Gap
For most of the 20th century, colleges and universities in the United States were powerful instruments of social mobility and increasing equality. Each generation’s population of college-educated adults was bigger and more diverse than the one before it—a phenomenon that helped create the great American middle class and produced the most powerful economy in the world. Today, the system of higher education in the United States tends to work very effectively for higher-income families, but it is no longer accomplishing its traditional mission of helping ambitious poor and working-class young people reach the middle and upper classes. In this talk, Paul Tough introduces the innovative new ideas—proposed by psychologists, sociologists, and economists—on how to address this problem, including a nationwide effort to better identify and recruit high-achieving low-income students to highly selective colleges. He dives into the creative solutions administrators and researchers are testing out—inexpensive interventions that plant positive ideas in the minds of struggling college students, helping them develop the grit and perseverance and sense of belonging they need to persist and succeed. If these researchers’ preliminary results hold up, says Tough, we may be on the verge of solving one of the biggest social challenges of our generation.