Partner School Stories

Recognizing the Power of Perseverance

By Todd Kaiser

A. A. Kingston Middle School, Potsdam, NY

Imagine…being born with no arms or legs. Imagine…being told “leg or life.” Imagine…being born without a hand and becoming a stellar high school lacrosse player who will go on to play at one of the country’s top college programs. Imagine…pushing your handicapped son while completing 32 Boston Marathons. Imagine, Believe, Overcome.

These were the examples my fifth grade students were discussing as we entered our second week learning about the character strength of perseverance via The Positivity Project. Throughout our lessons, I found myself reflecting on my childhood. Sometimes, teachers use their personal experiences to help illustrate a concept or a situation. And, to help my students understand this character strength, I shared a few stories of my own. However, after hearing my kids share their personal stories of perseverance, I decided to step back and let my class lead the discussion.

One of the many quotes used throughout the week to help illustrate each character strength.

To prompt the lesson on perseverance, I gave my kids what I thought was a basic task: Be ready to talk about someone in your life who demonstrates perseverance. I was expecting some standard stories about their parents showing perseverance while coaching or staying home with lots of kids to take care of. I wasn’t prepared for how heartfelt and powerful their stories would be.

My surprise started when one of my stronger students, who is rather shy, spoke up and shared how she is proud of her parents. She’s proud of them for using perseverance and never giving up on her older brother, who has severe autism and seizures. She went on to share that her brother needs a lot of her parents’ support on a daily basis. There were times, my student told us, that she did not get the attention she wanted, but she understood her needs were not as great as his. The facial expressions and level of attentiveness from the two dozen fifth graders in my class clearly showed that they “got it” and now understood the power of perseverance through the eyes of their peer.

From there, our conversation continued or, I should say, “their” conversation continued. Another young girl went on to share her story about living in a foster home. She explained that her foster mom continually showed perseverance in dealing with with very difficult kids over the years. She told her classmates that there have been other foster kids that have stolen from her foster mom — and even punched her foster mom — yet she courageously persevered and continued showing her foster kids love.

At that point, if a pin had dropped, it would have stunned the entire class. These kids were laser focused and seeing the world through the eyes of yet another student who truly understands perseverance.

This not the first time that this student exemplified this character strength. In a previous writing activity about symbolism, she drew a picture to describe herself. It was a wheel, to represent that things come and go. She even wrote the phrase, “This, too, shall pass”! Perseverance is clearly one of her top strengths and something she consistently teaches her classmates — and me. Because of The Positivity Project’s focus on all 24 different strengths, her classmates and I are more aware that we’re blessed with the opportunity to be in class with her — and to learn from her example — each day.


We discussed the movie titles, and then the kids had to choose two characters from their movie and share how they used perseverance during the movie. On the right side of my board is the PositivityShield.

Perseverance is a concept that many people think is not easily understood by ten-year-olds. Some might think kids that age don’t even need to know what it means yet. However, I strongly disagree. I think that it is both possible, and critically important, to teach kids about perseverance — and the other 23 character strengths in themselves and others. Teaching kids to understand who they are, become more confident in who they are, and to appreciate the good in others — are the lessons that will stay with them for life.

I can confidently say that in 14 years of teaching fifth grade, I have not seen a more powerful way to teach kids about recognizing their own strengths and the strengths of others than The Positivity Project.Through this strategy, which I just began implementing in September 2016, I have seen my kids do some amazing things. And, better yet, some of these amazing things have come from kids who entered fifth grade with limited confidence and barely participated in class in the early weeks of school.


Ben Gaebel, the head women’s lacrosse coach at Clarkson University, served as a guest speaker to talk to my fifth grade students about the importance of humility in sports and in life.

And, although The Positivity Project is designed for easy and quick implementation of just 10-minutes per day, its presence is felt in my classroom throughout the entire day. The 24 character strengths vocabulary is now part of my students everyday conversations; they are drawing the PositivityShield during free time; and they are coming to school with the mindset that “Other People Matter.”

Witnessing how some of my kids interact with each other throughout implementation of The Positivity Project has been great. Recently, one of my top students in class made an accusation about another boy stealing a shirt. He then realized this accusation was unkind and wasn’t actually true. To make amends, he read a letter in front of the entire class and told the boy, “I hope you forgive me for falsely accusing you. I know I was wrong. I hope I can get to know you better.”

As soon as he finished reading his letter, we immediately looked at the word wall and discussed some of the strengths — such as bravery and integrity — that he leveraged to be able to stand up in front of the entire class and share his apology. Following our classroom conversation, the accused boy demonstrated the character strength of forgiveness — and accepted the other boy’s apology. In fact, since that day, these two students have partnered up quite a bit during recess to play chess together!


My students are internalizing the #OtherPeopleMatter Mindset and building strong relationships with each other.

The message my students are learning is very clear: Other People Matter. Recognizing who we are — both our strengths and our weaknesses — will help us to build more meaningful relationships with one another.

We use the word “contagious” a lot in my classroom. We use it to refer to everything from a good smile to an attitude. And I can tell you that everything about The Positivity Project is contagious. To catch more of this movement and learn how to implement The Positivity Project at your school, I encourage you to visit

Todd Kaiser
Proud husband, dad, teacher and coach just trying to make a difference each day.