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III APPLIED CASE STUDIES AND RESEARCH CASE STUDIES


Mental toughness in secondary schools

Helen St Clair-Thompson

In this chapter mental toughness is considered in terms of its importance within secondary schools. The results of a series of projects designed to examine relationships between mental

toughness and adolescent's attainment and experiences at school are described. An overview is also given of ongoing work exploring the importance of mental toughness in education. Each project that is discussed employs the “four C's” framework of mental toughness, which is described in the earlier chapters of this book.

Introduction

Mental toughness is a popular and attractive construct within educational settings, in part due to its conceptualisation as a mindset that can be changed through psychological skills training. (You can read more about mental toughness training elsewhere in this book.) The potential malleability of mental toughness suggests that to the extent that mental toughness is important for educational outcomes, mental toughness training has the potential to improve adolescent's attainment and experiences at school. Consistent with this suggestion a number of recent projects have provided initial evidence that mental toughness training can have beneficial effects. For example, Clough and Strycharczyk (2012a) described an intervention known as “stay and succeed” which encourages learners to think about control, confidence, challenge, and commitment. This intervention encouraged participants to be better prepared for what life “throws at them”, cope with difficulties and challenges, be more resilient, better organised, adopt positive thinking, and bounce back from setbacks. The results of the project were encouraging, for example they evidenced an increase in student retention rates.

The series of studies described in this chapter were therefore designed to further our understanding of mental toughness within secondary schools. In order to design successful interventions for developing mental toughness we need a clear understanding of how and why mental toughness is important within educational settings. The studies examined the relationships between challenge, commitment, control, and confidence and a range of outcomes and experiences, including scholastic attainment, attendance, classroom behaviour, and peer relationships. For a more detailed understanding the control and confidence scales of mental toughness were separated into their subscales of control of emotion, control of life, confidence in abilities, and interpersonal confidence.

The global grit project

The global grit project was an international project conducted (by Katie Lowe) at AQR, inspired by the Global Education Leaders Program. The project involved assessing the extent to which mental toughness is linked with academic success and transition in cohorts from various countries. Here the data is presented from one cohort, in the United Arab Emirates. Data was gathered on mental toughness, academic attainment, school attendance, and body-mass index. Data was available for 114 participants aged eleven to thirteen years of age.

Analysis of the data predominantly involved computing correlations between mental toughness and the other variables. As shown in Table 1 there were significant relationships between aspects of mental toughness and academic attainment. Although there were no significant relationships between mental toughness and attainment in English there were significant relationships between mental toughness and attainment in all the other subjects assessed. The analyses
Table 1. Correlations between mental toughness and attainment.

English

Maths

Science

French

Geography

History

Challenge

0.06

0.05

0.25*

0.23*

0.08

0.11

Commitment

0.12

0.36**

0.41**

0.26*

0.24*

0.35**

Control of

0.10

0.17

0.29**

0.08

0.04

0.08

emotion Control of life

0.19

0.25*

0.34**

0.28**

0.24*

0.40**

Confidence in

0.14

0.36**

0.34**

0.31**

0.24*

0.31**

abilities Interpersonal

0.18

0.19

0.18

0.24*

0.07

0.21*

confidence Total mental

0.18

0.33**

0.40**

0.34**

0.21*

0.32**

toughness

Note: ** p < 0.01, * p < 0.05.

revealed particularly close relationships for commitment, control of life, confidence in abilities, and total mental toughness.

The analyses revealed no significant relationships between mental toughness and student's attendance at school. However, they did reveal interesting associations between mental toughness and student's body mass index. These correlations are shown in Table 2. Body mass index was significantly negatively related to confidence in abilities, interpersonal confidence, and total mental toughness.

The results of this study lead to several suggestions for educational practice and also for researchers interested in mental toughness. The close relationships that were observed between mental toughness and academic attainment suggest that mental toughness training has the potential to improve adolescent's attainment at school. Schools may therefore want to consider introducing mental toughness training in to their curriculum. In particular, training focused on student's commitment, control of life, and confidence in abilities is likely to be beneficial. The relationships between mental toughness and body mass index suggest interesting avenues for future research. The results suggest that student's confidence, as well as total mental toughness is negatively related to body mass index. With correlational data is not possible to comment on the direction of causation; it could be that higher confidence and mental toughness cause lifestyle choices that result in a lower body mass index, or that a high body mass index results in reductions
Table 2. Correlations between mental toughness and body mass index. BMI

Challenge -0.09

Commitment -0.16

Control of emotion 0.01

Control of life -0.13

Confidence in abilities -0.19*

Interpersonal confidence -0.29**

Overall mental toughness -0.20*

Note: ** p < 0.01, * p < 0.05.

in confidence and mental toughness. However, future research would benefit from a more detailed examination of relationships between mental toughness, body mass index, and associated measures.

 
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