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Developing 21st Century Skills: Perseverance

Even if students are challenged academically, socially, or financially, perseverance can get them past obstacles to allow them to reach their goals.

Perseverance is a 21st century skill because we live in a time of extreme stress. Many students encounter obstacles that were not as prevalent for their parents or grandparents. Facing issues of drug addiction, bullying, and school shootings leaves many students discouraged and hopeless. Succeeding in school and reaching a career goal can seem impossible. Giving in to despair and accepting failure is a common response to problems and challenges. But learning perseverance gets students through failure, allows them to stick with a goal, and teaches them to not give up.

Understanding Perseverance

Almost every student has been so frustrated with a problem presented to them in class that they throw up their hands and declare “I give up.” Getting kids to believe that they can do it and understand what perseverance is can begin with teaching about how that determination to hang in there has allowed others to succeed. Younger students may be impressed to learn that Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling faced rejection over and over (12 times, to be exact) when she tried to get her first book published. Remind them that Michael Jordan was cut from his school’s basketball team when he was in 10th grade. Books about characters who kept trying even though they were discouraged and faced seemingly insurmountable challenges tell stories of inner strength, focus, and never giving up that can inspire students who are struggling.

How to Teach Perseverance

perseverance1. Teaching the subject matter contained in your school’s curriculum by writing lesson plans and making sure standards are met are important parts of an educator’s job, but fostering perseverance ensures that your students will succeed in and out of your classroom. Good relationships with the kids in your class will let them know that you care about them and want them to do well. Of course they are going to fail sometimes, but knowing that they are in a supportive school environment where they can think about the problem, try again, and get help if needed, teaches them perseverance. Celebrate their successes and encourage them to overcome and learn from failure.

perseverance2. Reaching a short-term goal can be encouraging to a student, but some children give up when there is a long-term goal that requires giving up something fun to reach it. Research has shown that learning self control, simply saying “no” to watching television or playing a video game to devote that time to achieve a goal, actually makes students better able to handle stress. Inspiring students to keep trying, chart their progress, and use their initiative will teach them perseverance.

perseverance3. Teaching students what skills they can use, or actions to take to overcome a challenge is just as important as the content of the material being taught. According to a report released by the Department of Education’s Office of Technology called “Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance — Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century,” students need to know what skills to use to accept responsibility, take initiative, and to continue when uncertain of the path to follow. Tools to do that, according to the report, are “defining tasks, planning, monitoring, changing course of action, and dealing with specific obstacles.” Equip your students with those tools and they will be on the path to success in the real world.

It is rare for a child not to have a dream. Seeing that dream come true, one step at a time, is the result of perseverance. Teaching them that there will be tough times, uncertainty, and failures along the way — and how to overcome them — will prepare students to never lose sight of that goal and achieve success in the 21st Century.

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Sue Hamilton

Sue is a Pennsylvania native and graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.S. degree in English. She worked as a radio newscaster and newspaper reporter before becoming a paralegal in a small civil law firm. Reading is her passion and Sue is an avid volunteer with her community library.

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