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Redesigning Classrooms

Mental Toughness: Being the Best You Can Be

With the increased challenge for pupils presented by the new Primary Curriculum, GCSEs and A-levels growth mindset, resilience, grit and mental toughness are all in vogue.  If you want mental toughness in the classroom then you need mental toughness in the staff room first.

This year saw the start of our work on mental toughness.  It has been over 12 months in the planning and we expect it will take three to four years to fully implement and embed.  It is our attempt to systematically support all people across the Trust – staff, pupils and potentially a number of parents – in being the best they can be.

The start of year INSET day was about informing staff; we felt the best way to achieve this was to allow them all to complete the MTQ48 (more about this in Sunday’s post and an opportunity for you to complete it and get your own Mental Toughness profile) and discuss it with a colleague, in a safe non-judgmental environment.  Mental tougness is more than motivational posts or quotes on the wall.  It’s about more than a few teachers saying “…not yet” in response to a pupil attempting to give up.  It’s about systematically developing a deep knowledgeable culture that can in turn skillfully support and develop each person; it’s some years off for us yet.

This presentation was given by Doug Strycharczyk.


Mental Toughness describes that aspect of personality which determines how we think and why we behave and feel the way we do.

It is not about being macho, domineering or aggressive.  It is about being ….

  • The best that you can be
  • Comfortable in your own skin
  • Accepting that life can be difficult but that it is full of opportunities as well as threats


It fits very well with  ideas which have emerged in education over the past 15 years

  • Mindset Carol Dweck
  • Learned Optimism Martin Seligman
  • Grit Angela Duckworth
  • Character & Resilience
  • Learning Power – Guy Claxton

Arguably the 4 Cs framework embraces all of these in one very accessible piece.


This aspect of mindset assesses; when asked to do something is the default response:

  • I can do it …. without necessarily needing to check if it is possible
  • I’ll stay in control of my emotions

It is essentially about self belief


When asked to do something to a target do you instinctively think:

  • I’ll go for that and I’ll do what it takes or
  • I’ll never manage that – I’ll look stupid when I fail.

Together with Control, this describes Resilience. The mental toughness model adds two important elements.  Commitment broadly equates to Grit.


When asked to do something significant or challenging is your immediate response to say:

  • That’s great – I look forward to stretching myself and taking a risk or
  • Whatever happens, I will learn form that experience – good or bad… and next time I will do it better.

This adds a positive element to the previous two scales of Control and Commitment.


When doing something  and you face a problem, is your default response:

  • I have the capability to plough on?
  • I’ll influence others as much as they influence me?

Together with Challenge this converts the notion of Resilience into Mental Toughness.

Resilience helps you to survive, Mental Toughness helps you the thrive.

If you want to look into Mental Toughness in greater detail; two books Doug wrote with Professor Peter Clough are below.






5 thoughts on “Mental Toughness: Being the Best You Can Be

  1. I agree with Doug on the characteristics but the real task is in how to develop the culture, systems, support and personal/professional development, and most importantly working conditions within which the attitudes of professionals can be positively enhanced. Self awareness is a critical component and is all too often overlooked arguably down to the deficit model focus of much performance management. The gist is that people’s needs have to be met in order for them to feel safe in this proposed strategy and that has to be followed up with a strength mapping focus. Why? How many staff are able to describe themselves positively in more than a few words? Yes, not many. In fact you could ask them to try and then sit back and watch the strain once they get to 3/4 words! Collecting tumbleweed around the room moment!

    A word of caution too then with regard to the MTQ48 – built around psychometrics which is context driven therefore not necessarily reflective of a wider (deeper) strengths narrative. It is a measure of a moment in time but we change from moment to moment so it should not be seen as definitive. Not a criticism of the excellent work of Professor Peter Clough and Dr Keith Earle just a word of caution as to how it is used.

    We are simply not addressing the main issues which are currently impacting on schools and staff therein. Notably, workload (and related stress/ill health), flawed external and internal accountability (led gleefully by the data god), and a dearth of opportunity to celebrate individual and collaborative strengths. Put simply, when teachers and their partners in support of learners appreciate their strengths they will become better equipped to grow as professionals and appreciate the contribution of colleagues. I wish it was rocket science so I could write the book but it’s not.

    Accurate and positive self awareness leads to increased self esteem which, in turn, leads to increased confidence and openness. Once this cycle gains momentum (through coaching and mentoring maybe?) motivation and aspirations are heightened as is the most important element of job satisfaction – a sense of purpose.

    It’s great to see however, great leaders focus on staff well being after years of what could be described as imposed external priorities driving CPD. Always providing food for thought Mr Tierney, sir!

    Posted by bocks1 | September 29, 2016, 9:02 am
    • More than a comment, this is a blog post in its own right. Thanks for adding and agree. I’ll be picking up a couple of the issues you mentioned in the next post but you have raised others that will be food for thought for many of us.

      Posted by LeadingLearner | September 29, 2016, 9:21 am


  1. Pingback: How Mentally Tough or Sensitive Are You? #MTQ48 | @LeadingLearner - October 2, 2016

  2. Pingback: Mental Toughness: The Results Are In #ThursdayThunk | @LeadingLearner - October 20, 2016

  3. Pingback: I’m Confident; Just Not that Committed #ThursdayThunk | @LeadingLearner - January 26, 2017

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