Teaching Kids Mental Stamina

Why is it that some students just seem to be able to work hard on their assignments or anything for that matter and other students get distracted so easily?

There seems to be no shortage of ideas from teachers when it comes to school:

1. Too much time is spent playing video games.
2. Students are bored.
3. Students have not had enough sleep.
4. Curriculum isn't relevant.

...and so on.

Lately, I've noticed more and more students that seem unfocussed and disinterested in putting in effort to complete work that is meeting the expectations of the lesson or program. And the talking!  WOW!  Many teachers have posted their frustrations.

This year, my group of second graders is that chatty bunch that you are all talking about too.  Do you sometimes feel like this?:

My students have been quite awesome at absorbing the teachings this year and I credit a lot of that to the focus I put on being mindful and taking regular brain breaks. Click here for more.

Yesterday was a bit of a struggle.  Students were working on their activities but were not activating the mental stamina I just know they are capable of.  I felt a little like I was playing a game of whac-a-mole.  Quiet down one group and the next group starts.  Am I alone here?

I think part of the problem is that school is changing and society is changing and we as teachers need to change too!  21st Century learning is all about facilitating the learning of students based on their own personal passions and interests. We are needing to work cooperatively and in groups as a team more than ever.

I made the decision to go to tables this year and I am SO glad I did. I love it!  I have been working hard on individual self awareness and it has extended into bucket filling.  But what I felt was missing was the glue.  The glue that holds us together so that we are all working towards a common goal.  That goal is to not only to learn, but to LOVE to learn.  How is that accomplished if the room is noisy?

I tend to be a teacher that has high expectations so while my students are doing really well, I know that there is untapped potential for doing better.  I want to increase their stamina.  I decided last night that I was the one chasing the possibility and that the students were just there for the ride. So, I decided that I was going to narrow the focus of the "big ideas" that I was teaching in each curriculum area and do less while carefully monitoring the activity of the students. Observation is powerful and you can't do that if you are in teaching autopilot.

I began the day with a discussion with the students on the meaning of team.  I turned away from the "building of community" (which I have already spent a lot of time on) and began to focus more on TEAM.  I explained that although I admire the students that could work quietly and get their work done quickly and carefully, they were not helping the group stay focused and work hard TOGETHER for a collective purpose.

There seems to be 3 types of students in my room this year:
1. Students that are quiet and work hard and get all their work done despite the distractions.
2. Students that COULD work hard and get their work done if there weren't so many distractions.
2. Students that cause most of the distraction for whatever reason (physiological, weak skills, disinterest etc.. etc...)

It would appear then, that 2/3 of any group have the potential to work harder and exhibit more mental stamina.  My goal today, was to reach those 2/3 and I think I did.

So I appealed to my students in the 1st and 2nd groups when I spoke to them this morning and discussed how they could work together, how they could give chatty students a "shhhh" quiet sign.  We worked on working together to keep the group table clean.  Of course there were some subtle team points to help but I certainly did not want that to be the focal point.

We were able to point out successes of students who worked hard because we heard them share their work.  Some of the students that finished were able to help our new ELL (English Language Learner) student as the Word Work Center or at the Ipads.  Reward for working hard and completing your work was feeling empowered by being able to help others.

Today was a success. My students worked very well together and I was able to pin point some key issues and areas that needed work.  You can only do this if you are kind to yourself, ease back on the day and take the time to really assess.

Now, let's take a moment to pause, be still,  and breathe.



  1. Wow - I am sure you are exhausted. It really is trial and error sometimes at the start of the year, but even though it is a lot of work - it sounds like you are getting somewhere now!
    Teaching Maths with Meaning

    1. It sure is trial and error Alison. What worked last year, doesn't necessarily work this year. That's why I always sit back and evaluate what's REALLY going on. :)


  2. Hi, Shelley, I have been going through EXACTLY what you've described here - also with grade two's. other teachers in the school have the same challenges. This year I'm trying out the Daily 5 and in the course of the last 3 weeks there's been a remarkable change in stamina when they're doing the Daily 5 areas that I've taught, modeled, and they've practiced. It is amazing to me how they've responded and the thing that really sticks out is that during Math they just go back to their old habits. I love your Whack the Mole analogy! That's me too! I hate it. So I'm going to try a Daily 5 model for my Math rotations starting next week and hopefully I'll be able to spend more quality time with small groups.

  3. Debbie,
    I thought of all you Daily 5ers and absolutely! If you can TEACH mental stamina in one area, it can be taught in another. Let me now how it goes! Once I had the Team figured out and I shared with them the "spirit of team", things turned around. I also know in my heart of hearts that my personal sharing and stories is a huge reason why students end up buying in. I can tell my own children but I'm just mom. If I tell my students (even examples OF my own children), they are so much more receptive. Especially if I let them know how it made me feel. It's been a wonderful last couple of days! I've got the management piece down now. Now it's full steam forward. Today's stamina was awesome!
    Thanks for visiting.



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