3 lessons on perseverance from a honey badger

Key points:

  • A classroom that values perseverance is a safe space for students to take chances
  • Setting goals is another key part of creating an environment of perseverance
  • See related article: 3 ways teachers can drive student growth

Have you ever heard the story of Stoffel the honey badger? Stoffel was rescued by a wildlife rehabilitation center after being injured by a pride of lions and quickly became infamous for his many escape attempts.

No matter what his caretakers did to deter him, Stoffel always found a way to escape his enclosure. First, he taught his fellow honey badger how they could work together to open the door to their habitat. Then, he began using tools and objects to scale the walls when his caretakers weren’t looking. At one point, he even built a small ramp over the wall using accumulated mud and debris. Suffice it to say, Stoffel knew a thing or two about perseverance.

As an educator, I’ve found myself reflecting on the nature of perseverance as the new school year begins. The landscape of education is always changing, and today’s students are facing hurdles that would leave even experienced academics feeling overwhelmed. We should all be taking a lesson from Stoffel the honey badger and cultivating a mindset of perseverance. Like any discipline, though, perseverance must be understood before it can be applied successfully. But what does that look like in the classroom? And how can educators teach students the value of perseverance in a way that’s memorable, meaningful, and fun? Here are just three strategies to consider:

1. Create an environment of perseverance: To paraphrase The Magic School Bus, the classroom should be a place where students can take chances, make mistakes, and get messy! Teachers can help by creating opportunities for students to put these values into practice.

One helpful strategy to consider is the Mistake of the Week. Celebrate mistakes as a learning opportunity by having students nominate one mistake that really helped the class understand something more clearly. Be sure to practice positive self-talk as well. Sometimes teaching students the right words of encouragement can be the key to boosting their resolve.

2. Give them a running start: It’s easy to forget that students are still growing into themselves. They’re in the process of discovering their interests, their talents, their limitations, and how to overcome them. To foster perseverance, educators need to give their students the space they need to grow. One way to do this is through Tinker Time. Allow students some time to tinker with materials or ideas just for the fun of it. They can also expand on ideas in a variety of ways and directions. Tinker time is a great way to begin investigations and tap into students’ prior knowledge, and it has the benefit of encouraging risk-taking and student curiosity.

3. Set goals: We want to start students off with challenges they can manage.This means learning to differentiate depending on the student. Think of it like this–if someone is new to jogging, their first goal should be running a 10K, not a marathon. When students can see progress, they gain a sense of accomplishment pushing them forward. Students can create their own goals and record, or teachers can create goals for a particular task or project. As a bonus, this is a great way to provide formative feedback to your students on how well they are doing along the way.

Perseverance demands flexibility and patience, both from us and our students. However, Stoffel reminds us that when we practice perseverance, we’re rewarded with growth, new opportunities, and a wonderful sense of accomplishment. So this fall, let’s all try to be honey badgers. Let’s remember to persevere and face every new challenge with creativity, enthusiasm, and grit.    

Related: 4 ways to enhance critical thinking skills

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