Teaching Perseverance

Teaching Perseverance via Wonder Teacher Do you teach perseverance in your classroom? It’s not something you’ll find listed in the Common Core standards…. the student will persevere through difficult tasks. However, as we all know, children aren’t likely to get far in school (or life) without it.

I was thinking about that the other day as I prepared a presentation about arts integration. Perseverance is one of the important traits developed by arts experiences. Playing in a marching band, acting in a play, dancing with a company, sitting at a piano day after day to master a piece of music. It all develops perseverance.

When you hear the life stories of famous scientists, inventors, artists, and visionaries, they always have one trait in common: amazing perseverance. Most of them failed repeatedly before they experienced success. However, an internal drive for success and a “never give up” attitude defined their life and their work. You’ve heard many of these before.

Oprah Winfrey was fired from her first television job because she was “unfit for TV.”

Jerry Seinfeld was booed off the stage the first time he tried to deliver a comedy routine.

The manager of the Grand Old Oprey fired Elvis Presley after his first performance, suggesting he “go back to driving a truck.”

Dr. Seuss was rejected many times before publishers accepted his first book.

What made these folks get back up and try again? Perseverance! How can we develop this critical trait in our students?

Here are some ideas:

1- Use language carefully to make the connection between hard work and success. My husband and I are working on this with our own children. Instead of telling my daughter, “I loved your dance performance. You are such a good dancer!” we say, “I am so proud of your performance. All that time rehearsing in the studio really paid off.”

Instead of generalized praise, “You are so good/smart/special,” connect high performance and accomplishment to hard work and effort.

“You got an A on your test! I can see that you really prepared and worked hard.”

The connection also works in the reverse. “You didn’t do very well on your test. How much time did you spend studying? What can you do to get a better grade next time?”

It’s important that students understand the power they have over their own success and failure. (And that failure doesn’t have to be a permanent condition!)

2- Set goals with your students. Teaching children the power of setting and achieving goals is a process they can carry through life. But don’t stop at setting the goal- help them identify the steps they will need to take to reach the goal.

It’s like the difference between saying, “I want to lose 50 pounds.” (A general goal without a plan = likely to fail) vs. “I want to lose 50 pounds. To reach that goal I will cut sugar and junk food out of my diet, eat mostly fruits, vegetables, and lean meats,  exercise at least 4 times per week, and weigh myself daily.” (A goal with a specific plan = destined for success.)

In the classroom, you can do this at a variety of levels; class goals, daily behavioral goals, academic goals, etc. I have a lot more to say about this topic, so look for more in a future post!

3- Share this video. Some of our “biggest stars” failed spectacularly before they finally succeeded. (As mentioned above.) This brief video would be a great intro. to a lesson specifically devoted to teaching perseverance.

4- Read books that feature characters notable for their perseverance.

Here are some of my favorites:

mia hamm winners never quit Mia Hamm: Winners Never Quit- Young Mia hates to lose. In fact, she hates it so much that she quits in the middle of a game. The next day she isn’t allowed to participate due to her attitude. She quickly learns that though you might not kick a goal every time you play, there is more to being a winner than the final score.


luke goes to bat Luke Goes to Bat – Young Luke wants to play stickball with the neighborhood kids but he’s too small. When they do let him play, he is so bad that he fears they will never let him play again. However, some encouragement from his grandmother and a trip to watch his hero, Jackie Robinson, helps Luke learn not to give up.


thank you mr. falker Thank You, Mr. Falker- An eager Tricia starts school, excited to learn to read. However, it proves to be much more difficult than she imagined. Mr. Falker intervenes (as a good teacher will do) and helps Tricia overcome her learning challenges. Lovely and inspiring story!




brave irene Brave Irene- This William Steig story is one of my favorites with a plucky heroine! Irene Bobbin is the dressmaker’s daughter. There is a grand party and the duchess has commissioned her mother to create a beautiful gown for the event. Her mother finishes the dress just in time, but falls ill and is unable to deliver it. Young Irene braves a fierce winter storm and other obstacles to deliver the dress for her mother. It’s a great little story about a girl who loves her mother and refuses to give up in spite of very difficult circumstances.


sally jean the bicycle queen Sally Jean, the Bicycle Queen – Sally Jean is a girl who knows how to get things done. (A girl after my own heart!) When she outgrows her treasured bicycle, it takes hard work and ingenuity to get back on two wheels.





stone fox Stone Fox – This is one of the best books you will ever read to your students. I mentioned it as the book that “hooked” one of my reluctant readers and forever changed his relationship with books. Little Willy lives with his grandfather and one day the grandfather won’t get out of bed. We find out that their farm is under foreclosure and it looks like all will be lost. However, Little Willy realizes that if he wins the dog-sled race, he could win enough money to save the farm. It’s a brief but compelling chapter book. Dare you not to cry at the end!



hatchet For older kids, I also love Gary Paulsen’s books such as Hatchet (the story of a 13 year-old’s wilderness survival experience following a plane crash) and Brian’s Winter (surviving winter elements.) Kids love these books.

*Remember that children won’t make the connection between these stories and perseverance unless you point it out! 

How do you teach perseverance to your students? Any good books to recommend?

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  1. What a fabulous post! This is a lesson we need to teach all kids. I love the youtube video as well.

    I have a second grade student that struggles in my art. He was near tears when I told he would have to re-do part of his clay pot. However, he is an excellent athlete. I asked him if he would be upset if he missed a basket. No, he said, he would just try again. I asked him to be that kid, not just on the playground but in the art room. His attitude completely changed!
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  1. […] is to get the fort done while you have a good time together. You’re also teaching them that perseverance and hard work pay […]

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