Tuesday, 29 June 2021

The Underrated Need for Persistence!

I’m sure that we all know some very bright and successful people. At times in schools the student who is scarily bright or clever in some area, can be intimidating to others. As a parent or teacher, you’ve probably heard comments from children like the following: “Sally (or Sam) is so much better than me?” 

If you’re not the brightest person in a class or a gathering of people, it can be intimidating and frustrating to see others doing things seemingly with ease and little effort.

I've had many conversations with children in varied contexts, where they were decrying their lack of success in some area. It might have been a test or assignment in a subject that isn’t their favourite. Or, it might just be the 200 metres freestyle event at the school swimming carnival. When confidence is lacking, we can hide behind excuses for our lack of success with statements like “I’m just not good enough”, or “she’s just better than me”. In Australia, we have an expression that sums up the response that is often needed for many of these situations – you need to “Have a go”! By this we mean make an effort, don’t give up so easily, persist and give it your best shot.


Success at school, just like success in sport, employment, marriage, or even dog training, requires more than ability, it also requires persistence and effort. 


In my book ‘Pedagogy and Education for Life’, my fourth pedagogical principle is ‘Do our practices place sufficient emphasis on work and effort’? Of course, I wasn't assuming that these qualities are sufficient alone. There are many dimensions to 'work' itself. And I think ‘persistence’ is one key aspect that we don’t emphasize enough.


Above: Cliff Young After Winning the Ultra Marathon Aged 61

We have a monument in Australia to a potato farmer and part-time athlete from Beech Forest, Victoria. In the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon in 1983 (over a distance of 875 km), Albert Ernest Clifford "Cliff" Young, at the age of 61, surprised the field. Cliff won the event after training in gumboots chasing his cows around his farm. He wasn’t a fast runner, but he won by denying himself sleep and running while the others were resting. After being well behind early in the race, he slowly gained on them and eventually won by a big margin. His effort was an inspiration to many and offered a great life lesson. You can see a memorial gumboot at Beech Forrest today, that commemorates this remarkable athlete (and farmer).



Above: Gumboot Memorial


I’m reminded of Cliff when I hear children and adults decrying their inability to do specific things. When our students do so, there is often little more we offer can them than encouragement to “have a go”, to “dig deep”, to “stop making excuses”, to “keep at it” and so on.


But what might it look like in our faith-based classrooms to encourage students to persist? I think that most of all, it requires teachers to believe in their students and to challenge them to continue to make their best efforts in any task they find hard. As well, we need to challenge them to not simply make excuses and give up. It is far too easy for children to say, “but I’m just not good at ….”. Persistence is a human quality that can help us to overcome limitations in other areas.


Of course, while persistence is critical for learning at school, it is even more critical for living a life of faith. Life will be filled with varied challenges for all, whether simple ones like struggling in a school subject, or coping with students who are treating others badly. There are many places in Scripture that offer wisdom and encouragement at such times. For example, Hebrews 10:19-39 reminds us that persistence and perseverance are critical to the life of faith:


“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25). 


These verses first and foremost are about persistence in faith rather than school work, but the need for persistence extends to all of life. And of course, this requires faith in God. The faith-based school must ensure that faith in God is more than a class once a week, it is central to shaping the school community and the lives of our teachers and students.


While our students might need to trust in their ability and their teachers to help them succeed at school, more importantly they must keep all things in perspective, for there is awaiting those who trust in Jesus a prize beyond all others. As the Letter of James, the Apostle to the early Christian church teaches us:


12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12


As a teacher within a faith-based school it is critical that we don’t forget that persistence is a critical aspect of life, whether in relation to the day to day study and the work of our students, or developing a deeper and more dependent faith in God. Encouraging and nurturing faith-based persistence in our students and the school community is a core requirement in the faith-based school.

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