How Do We Teach Tenacity?

I was shopping in a local supermarket that is a big sponsor of youth soccer. They had a poster displayed that talked about tenacity, among other attributes. The obvious take away is that by playing youth soccer a child will become tenacious as well as the other attributes. This got me thinking about tenacity and how one develops it and how to teach it.

Now don’t assume that I discount what can be learned from youth sports. My middle son was a soccer player right through his college years. He has also played on a recreational men’s team. He did strengthen many wonderful skills through his participation in sports. One of which is his tenacity. But not everyone is interested in sports. How can we as educators give our students opportunities to develop their tenacity?

Tenacity can be defined in one of three ways:

  • being able to grip something firmly
  • being very determined
  • being very persistent 

Each of these definitions really come down to one thing, not giving up.

A tenacious person will find a way to achieve a goal (pun intended). Students with tenacity can be observed to be totally engrossed, not even hearing the bell ring or their teacher declare the lesson over. Recently I watched a 2nd grader try to solve a coding puzzle on an app. Rather I watched her retry to solve the puzzle because she had not gotten the three stars that would have declared that she had found one of the clearest ways to solve the puzzle. She was not satisfied with having just solved the puzzle for two stars. In other observations of this 2nd grader I have found her to be equally tenacious. What has made her that way?

Partially this young learner has a natural desire to learn and learn well. Encouraging her to be tenacious in her education is easy. But what of those more reticent learners? Or those perfectionists that rather do well than appear to fail, those students who choose the path they already know so that they can maintain their fragile self-esteem. How do we as educators encourage the risk taking behaviors that go along with tenaciously moving past the obstacles that problem solving can put in our way? How do we let them know that failing is not only a good thing but necessary to achieve at a high level?

Now, I don’t want you to read further thinking I have all the answers to this question. I don’t. In fact, thinking about tenacity and writing this post have only given me more more to think about.

The very notion of tenacity almost seems like it is only being discussed by educators and those concerned with students’ social/emotional health. Many of the parents that I have encountered in my former role as Principal, seem more concerned with their student being happy and not how well they tackle difficult assignments or social situations. Many of these parents want to fix things for their students rather than providing the tools and learning opportunities for straightening their tenacity in solving difficulties they encounter.

So again, how can we teach tenacity? Maybe the better question is, ‘How can we provide opportunities to encourage tenacity?’ Maybe this last question is actually the answer…provide multiple opportunities in multiple ways for students to develop and strengthen their ability to be tenacious. Applaud the trying, not the end result.

Originally posted on Thursday, 31 August 2017

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