The Stamina Conundrum

By Jane Montero, Creekside Intermediate School, Dexter, Michigan

OATK12 Team Leader

Posted on October 31, 2021

At the end of our first full week back in school, one thing was perfectly clear: students had lost their stamina. It was as if students had forgotten how to “be” students in the classroom. I watched many of them get up out of their seats, wander around the room without any real direction, stop and chat about whatever with anyone nearby… all the while, seemingly oblivious to completing their projects. As I observed this new way of being, I realized it might be a direct consequence of being virtual for the majority of last year. Zooming from home, students could turn off their video, take breaks whenever they wanted, wander around their house and grab a snack at any time. Classroom structure did not exist. So now, here we are back in school with clearly defined structures in place, yet students still act like they are at home.

The art room has the ability to become a place ripe with creativity, experimentation, and critical thinking. Students have the ability to express their ideas in a safe room with supportive peers. Teachers have the ability to excite, engage, motivate, and teach students various art-making methods and techniques. However, if students cannot stay focused on a task, all bets are off. This rush to finish, “I’m done, what do I do now?” mentality is a conundrum we are all facing more frequently than pre-Covid times.

Left: 5th grade student blends watercolor paint.

In Shawn Achor’s bestselling book, The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life, he stated, “The most successful people adopt a mindset that not only makes their workdays more bearable, but also helps them work longer, harder, and faster than their negative mindset peers” (2010, p.71). How do we help students increase their stamina in order to work longer? How do we support careful work instead of hurried messes? How do we promote a growth mindset? Perhaps student engagement can be related to how we structure our teaching.

Check out the following idea from Norene Wiesen’s 2014 article ​​Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina from The Science of Learning Blog:

Teaching persistence in the classroom is an important part of setting up learners to succeed. Students who have mastered persistence are able to work through challenges, deal constructively with failures and adversity, and achieve the goals they have set for themselves.

Top Left: Students at Creekside Intermediate School mindfully painting. Bottom Left: 5th grade student painting inside of organic shapes. Right: Student making careful choices with watercolors.

When we provide opportunities for students to take mini- breaks, stretch their arms and legs, wiggle their fingers and toes, we might start to build persistence which leads to stamina. Think marathon running instead of a 50-yard dash. Model positive feedback, self-talk, and patience. When we show students how to “be” in a classroom every single day, chances are the stamina puzzle might be resolved.

Here are a few more stamina increasing tips:

  • Begin each class with a quick-draw challenge on sticky notes that students can add to the whiteboard or display board (ex. Ice cold, travel, picnic). Give students no more than 5-minutes to draw and add to the board.

  • Be present and walk around the room frequently praising students who are working extra hard.

  • Share stories of when you had to work really hard to complete something - a painting, a home project, something from when you were a student.

  • Follow Wiesen’s advice:

Strategies like modeling persistence, connecting effort to achievement, and pushing students to do a little more than they think they can aren’t a one-time deal….When repeated over time, the cumulative effect will likely be increased stamina, improved persistence, and intrinsic motivation for ever greater learning. (2014, para. 16)

There are many excellent online resources for building stamina in the classroom. For me, my goals are these:

  • to provide a consistent structure so that students know what to expect when they are in the art room

  • to be consistent in how I deliver instruction

  • to allow students time to move around when it is appropriate to do so

  • and to remember we are all re-learning how to “be” back in school


Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: how a positive brain fuels success in work and life. Currency Books.

Wiesen, N. (2014, January 14). Teaching Persistence: How to Build Student Stamina. The Science of Learning Blog.

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