5 Tips for Teaching Tenacity and Resilience
5 Tips for Teaching Tenacity and Resilience
PUBLISHED: Friday, October 26, 2018 by Emily Mofield and Megan Parker Peters

Tenacity, resilience, grit, mindset. These popular ideas are easy to talk about but much more difficult to put into practice. The emotions that come with taking risks, stepping out of your comfort zone, and making mistakes are often accompanied by uncomfortable feelings of fear and anxiety. Unless these unpleasant emotions are dealt with, we may never get past a mere superficial application of these concepts with students. We believe that developing emotional awareness is foundational in teaching students to develop tenacity and tackle challenges.

With that in mind, here are five tips for teaching tenacity and resilience in practical ways:

  1. Guide students to understand the role of emotion in perseverance. Use a tool for emotional vocabulary (e.g., Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotion) to have students think of scenarios when a person’s emotion would change (e.g., joy, frustration, serenity) in response to sustained effort with a goal. How could emotions change over time in the process of reaching a goal? Would all emotions be positive? What emotions are associated with taking risks? Explain that acknowledging the unpleasant emotion is a necessary step, otherwise it’s easy to simply avoid the emotion by avoiding the challenge. 
  2. Acknowledge that struggle feels uncomfortable. Instead of shoving emotions under the rug, it is important to lean into the feeling of struggle and reflect on the emotion. For example, acknowledging “I have anxiety about this long-term project” can allow a student to reflect—“This emotion is telling me there is a challenge in my future. It’s a signal letting me know I need to make a plan.” Students can also study experiences of real-life individuals or characters in stories who moved forward in attaining their goals, even through uncomfortable challenges.
  3. Prepare students to plan for obstacles. When thinking about a path towards a personal goal, ask what are the distractions or obstacles that might get in the way of progress? What plan can you make if the obstacle occurs? Planning for obstacles is often ignored in goal-setting strategies, but it is key to developing perseverance. 
  4. Guide students to think of alternative plans if one does not work. When students are facing a problem, ask them to draft several potential plans for addressing it. Students can map out their alternatives and associated potential consequences that could come with each option. They can choose one option for tackling the problem but know that they have other options if the first does not work out.
  5. Teach students how to handle criticism constructively. This involves separating fact from feeling, so they are not discouraged to give up. Help students consider what is actionable in the criticism and how this can lead to further improvement. As a visual, we have used a sifter with students to demonstrate separating facts from feelings and what to do with the facts that remain. When students can focus on the next steps, they gain a sense of control over the situation, which can alleviate some of the unpleasant emotions.

When students build self-awareness of their emotions as they relate to tackling challenges, they can be empowered to use these emotions to work for them, not against them. You can provide the support along the way to nurture such emotional intelligence. Teaching Tenacity, Resilience, and a Drive for Excellence: Lessons for Social-Emotional Learning for Grades 4–8 highlights these ideas within lesson plans featuring engaging activities and curriculum connections. Lessons relate to perfectionism, mindset, grit, stress, procrastination, social-emotional intelligence, and more. 

Learn more about Emily Mofield, Ed.D., and Megan Parker Peters, Ph.D.