Book: Developing Tenacity by @LucasLearn & @DrEllenSpencer

Developing Tenacity: Teaching learners how to persevere in the face of difficulty. Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer













  • Clarifying what is meant by tenacity and the various skills that come under this terminology.
  • A resource bank of activities that can be dipped in and out of.
  • Current case studies that highlight successful schools.
  • Constant questioning of the reader to engage.
  • Methods of evaluating the impact of the activities used.

Review compiled by: Emma Strickland

Supported by: Crown House Publishing

What are those key phrases you hear from frustrated teachers in the staffroom during breaks? Or on those rare occasions, you get to meet up with teachers from other schools on training courses? For me it is the following: ‘They give up so easily,’ ‘Where is their stickability?’ ‘Why do they fear making a mistake?’

However it is phrased, you get the gist, that pupils today have no resilience, they aren’t prepared to keep going in the face of challenge or set back. They can’t think their way around a problem. In discussions with staff within my own school (a large primary in an area of high deprivation in the north of England) I am frequently asked how we can help these children. As part of our school’s SLT I have already supported staff to make daring changes to our curriculum but we still seem to be falling short of what we state in our vision; that we want our children to become resilient learners, confident individuals, critical thinkers and lifelong learners. (Traits that I am sure many schools up and down the land wish for their pupils to develop.) Why are our pupils struggling with ‘resilience’? What opportunities can we, as a school, provide our children so that they develop these skills? After reading the blurb and the introductory pages, I was, as you can imagine, excited to delve further into this book to see if it could answer some of my questions.

Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer’s book is part of a series (3 so far) that fall under the umbrella title of ‘Pedagogy for a Changing World’ and, for me, that is the key. The world is continually changing. It has changed since I was at school, it has changed since I began teaching 10 years ago. In fact, it changes so rapidly that our education system is perhaps not keeping pace with the needs of our pupils today. Therefore, we, as teachers need to be proactive in planning for and delivering lessons and activities that ensure our pupils are ready for the big wide world we let them out into!

The layout of the book really engaged me as a reader. The first chapter, Tenacity, breaks down the meaning of the word. As a literacy lead, the ensuing discussion around the meanings and etymology of the concepts that make up ‘tenacity’ made for fascinating reading and challenged my own understanding of the word. It also raised a cautionary note in reminding us that tenacity should not solely be equated with the form of ‘success’ in the form of raised test scores, rather that it is a skill set that benefits pupils throughout their lives. A point that, sadly, is missed by too many leaders, Ofsted inspectors and government ministers!

The authors then set out the four ‘signature pedagogies’ that they believe are instrumental in supporting teachers to ‘cultivate tenacity’. This chapter draws on published work by such well-known names in Education as Carol Dweck, Dylan Wiliam and Daisy Christodoulou as well as the psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and the sociologist Matthew Crawford. (Immediately providing me with several more titles on my ‘important reading’ list!)  Once the ‘signature pedagogies’ had been set out, the book then moves on to provide a mine of resources which immediately got me thinking about my own practice. All of which are neatly summarised in the Appendix for you to refer back to when needed.

Sometimes, when reading education books, you get the sense that the authors haven’t been in or near a school for a long while, and if they have then it is a school in a leafy suburb where all parents are supportive and the children want to achieve. (Do these schools actually exist?) In Lucas and Spencer’s book, you never get this sense. I felt as if the pedagogies they were suggesting and ideas for activities and challenges would work as well in my school as they would in the mythical ‘leafy suburb’ school. This was reinforced by the fact that the vast majority of the research that they drew upon was from within the last 10 years or so. One of my favourite subsections of the book appeared in the chapter ‘Going Deeper’ and is entitled ‘Parenting for Tenacity’ and it explores the importance of parental support in developing this skill set. I just wish I could photocopy these pages and force every parent to read them and take on board what it is saying.

At no point either did I feel that I was passive during the reading of this book. The authors constantly turned things around on me, the reader. Had I thought about this aspect of my practice? How do my school approach this? What could I do differently? What changes could be embedded within my classroom? Across the whole school? How did I feel that leadership within my school could support this?

As a teacher, I also appreciated the fact that along with their suggestions, there were plenty of case studies that supported what had been covered earlier in the book. For me, working where I do, I was really excited to see a local primary school feature as now I feel like there is no reason not to try out the ideas put forward in the book.

The penultimate chapter initially made my heart sink, its subheading being ‘Some suggestions as to how student progress can be assessed.’ “Aah,” I thought, “back to evidence gathering to prove pupil progress.” However, this chapter wasn’t what I expected, it was more a discussion on how teachers/schools can evaluate the impact of changes they have made, through observations of key behaviours and discussions both between pupils and teachers and pupils and their peers rather than proving on paper through percentages and reports what has been achieved. In particular, it resonated with me because it seems to complement the characteristics of effective learning that we use in the EYFS curriculum and which have such importance attached to them. Something that I have always felt is missing from the KS1 and KS2 curriculum.

The final chapter is entitled ‘Tenacity Challenges’. When I first flicked through and looked at some of the subheadings ( The syllabus doesn’t leave much room for you to think about tenacity, We’d love to do this kind of thing but it’s our first job to think about exam results) I felt like this chapter wasn’t aimed at me. Lucas and Spencer are already preaching to the converted. However, on further reading, I realised that it provided me with comebacks to any naysayers and doubters who don’t believe that we can get children to develop these skills. Already I have saved some of these for our next staff meeting when I will be talking about the importance of building these skills into the curriculum alongside those academic skills that are statutory.

I have really enjoyed reading this book and am excited to share its contents with the rest of my staff at our planning meetings for the next academic year. No matter what stage of your teaching career you are at, you will find it thought-provoking and challenging.

Click here to visit the next page, including the book description from the publishers, along with an accompanying video.

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About Emma Strickland 2 Articles
Current EYFS lead with responsibilities for Literacy and soon to be Pupil Premium lead

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