J.R. Neiswender | April 5 | Cougar Chronicle

As someone who has spent a lifetime studying, reading, writing, and teaching history, I have long understood and valued the importance of words.  The way words are woven together to convey specific meaning, or to tell a story, or to evoke a certain emotion can be powerful.  In the field of education, certain words become part of the popular vernacular and inspire trends, techniques, and even fads in teaching methodology.  But some words have staying power.  Some words never go out of style.  One word that I find consistently has important meaning in all facets of education is “perseverance”.  

No matter what facet of a student’s experience we are talking about, perseverance and success are almost always intertwined.  In the classroom, understanding content does not always come easily to all students, and the development of skills is always a lifelong process.  Having the ability to persevere through the difficulties and challenges of tougher assignments, more difficult math problems, more demanding essays, and more advanced work requires a student to understand the long-term benefit of these short-term struggles.  It’s ok if what they are working on is difficult because it is designed to make what comes next much easier and more manageable.  Education isn’t intended to be an “instant gratification” endeavor.  If a student is cruising through material and developing skills quickly and easily - that’s terrific!  But then it becomes our job as educators to throw some additional challenges their way so they continue to learn, grow, and develop.  When students encounter difficulties, it is our job as educators to work with them, support them, and demonstrate to them the benefits of pushing through the challenge.  As challenges and difficulties are presented within every student’s learning process, perseverance becomes a necessary tool in every student’s tool belt.  In the Upper School, we strive to develop more independent learning on the part of our students, and that means the element of perseverance is each student’s individual responsibility as well.  That’s why we talk about it, explicitly.  I have had a variety of opportunities to talk with groups of our TNS Upper School students about perseverance already this year, and we will continue to make that a constant theme.  The feedback we provide through grades, comments, and conferences is all important for students to hear and to reflect upon, but it is the perseverance to continue battling these challenges that ultimately leads to the success all students want for themselves in the long run.  

And what is great about developing a mentality of perseverance is that it not only helps you in the classroom, but it helps you in every other facet of your life as well.  I cannot think of a successful athlete who hasn’t had to face challenges and persevere through tough times to achieve their goals.  Whether it is a tough opponent, a difficult season, or simply an injury, athletes face challenges every day, and without perseverance they would never make it past that first challenge to achieve their greatest goals and ambitions.  I cannot think of an artist who has not at some point worried about finding direction, struggled with producing their work, or questioned whether people understood the true meaning of what they were trying to convey with their performance.  Perseverance allows the artist to take on those challenges and continue to demonstrate the passion, excitement, and creativity that drove them to their artistic expressions in the first place.  They are better artists for taking on those challenges, and the world is better for them having continued to share their spirit with the world.  And I cannot think of a person who has not benefited from perseverance in their personal lives and within friend groups as well.  Not all relationships are swimmingly easy at all times, but finding ways to continue to value others even when it’s difficult and persevere through the tough times are life skills that pay off in the end. 

No one said developing and implementing a mindset of perseverance is easy - I try to emphasize that at every opportunity as well.  But easy isn’t the goal - successful is the goal.  Our students are talented, hard-working, compassionate young people and the world will benefit from their abilities and positive attitudes as they take on life’s challenges.  The more we can help them develop their perseverance in all aspects of their academic and extracurricular lives, the more ways they will be able to positively impact the world in the years to come.

J.R. Neiswender

Head of Upper School

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