Developing Tenacity

Teaching learners how to persevere in the face of difficulty

By: Ellen Spencer , Bill Lucas

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Products specifications
Attribute name Attribute value
Size: 222 x 182mm
Pages : 232
ISBN : 9781785833038
Format: Paperback
Published: April 2018

Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer's Developing Tenacity: Teaching learners how to persevere in the face of difficulty is a powerful call to action and a practical handbook for all teachers who want to stimulate and strengthen their pupils' learning tenacity.

The UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility recently proposed the adoption by schools of specific interventions in the areas of resilience and character; meanwhile, across the Atlantic, an end-of-high-school score for grit is also being considered in the USA. In line with this growing consensus, an increasing body of evidence suggests that cultivating these competencies is key to success both in school and in later life. In Developing Tenacity, the second instalment in the Pedagogy for a Changing World series, Lucas and Spencer show educators how.

Delving beyond grit and growth mindset, and encompassing more than the formal curriculum, Developing Tenacity draws on the co-authors' research at the University of Winchester's Centre for Real-World Learning to offer a powerful synthesis of what it takes for learners to persevere when confronted with challenges. The resulting analysis depicts the true value of tenacity inside and outside the educational setting and provides teachers with action-oriented strategies as to how the four key habits of tenacity – confidence, control, commitment and connectivity – can be developed in learners.

The wealth of teaching and learning methods presented is accompanied by practical suggestions on how to embed tenacity more systematically into the curriculum, providing plenty of stimuli for lesson planning and for the drip-feeding of everyday activities which boost learners' agency and self-efficacy. The authors also investigate the effectiveness of various pedagogical approaches – including developmental self-evaluation, deliberate practice and service learning – and share inventive assessment methods which teachers can employ to track learners' progress along the way. Lucas and Spencer then go further by showcasing case studies that illustrate the successful adoption of a capabilities approach by various educational institutions, and offer expert advice on how teachers can overcome any potential obstacles as they journey towards cultivating a tenacious learning culture in their classrooms.

Suitable for all teachers and school leaders – in both primary and secondary settings – who want to instil a strong sense of tenacity in their pupils' approach to learning.

Contents include:

Series Introduction: Capabilities and Pedagogy

Chapter 1: Tenacity

Chapter 2: Cultivating Tenacity

Chapter 3: Getting Going

Chapter 4: Going Deeper

Chapter 5: Promising Practices

Chapter 6: Signs of Success

Chapter 7: Tenacity Challenges

Click here to watch Prof Bill Lucas and Prof Guy Claxton's video 'Putting the heart and the hand back into schools'.

Developing Tenacity has been named a finalist in the 2018 INDIES Book of the Year Awards in the education category.

Picture for author Ellen Spencer

Ellen Spencer

Dr Ellen Spencer is Senior Researcher at the Centre for Real-World Learning and, with Bill Lucas, author of Teaching Creative Thinking. Ellen is also a Researcher for Arts Council England's Creativity Collaboratives, a three-year project to test a range of innovative practices in teaching for creativity in schools.

UKEdChat Podcast - Episode 13 - Teaching Creative Thinking.

Picture for author Bill Lucas

Bill Lucas

Professor Bill Lucas is Director of the Centre for Real-World Learning at the University of Winchester and, with Ellen Spencer, the originator of a model of creativity in use in schools across the world. A global thought-leader, Bill was co-chair of the PISA 2022 test of creative thinking and curates the Creativity Exchange website.

Building Learning Power with The Learning Organisation.

Read Bill's article in FE Week.

UKEdChat Podcast - Episode 13 - Teaching Creative Thinking.

Click here to read Bill Lucas' interview in Nursery World.

Click here to read Bill Lucas' article - Teaching creative thinking: Advice and examples'.

Click here to read another article by Bill Lucas - Why knowledge isn't enough'.

Read Bill's article in TES An open letter to Nick Gibb: 5 myths about creativity


  1. Developing Tenacity is an inspirational book focusing on strategies to promote students' skills and competencies, which the authors term as -˜capabilities'. The authors discuss at length what they consider to be key transferrable skills - including resilience, curiosity, zest, creativity, grit and determination - with the key emphasis on tenacity linked closely to the work of Carol Dweck.

    Teaches and tutors in schools and colleges will derive effective strategies from the section on -˜cultivating tenacity', with its focus on creating the classroom climate, building learner engagement and presenting a teacher-led example of how to think tenaciously. The authors, drawing on their work at the Centre for Real-World Learning, show that effort matters more than innate ability - both within and outside the classroom.

    Developing Tenacity is a book of the highest quality, showing how teachers can cultivate tenacity in their students to inspire them to reach new levels of performance.
  2. -‹“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.


    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.”

    Click here to read the review online.
  3. Accessible and immediately applicable - Lucas and Spencer have done a remarkable job outlining actionable principles for developing tenacity in young people. Their conception of tenacity is distilled from a wide-ranging synthesis of scholarship and offers a fresh perspective on how to cultivate the confidence, self-control, commitment and connections necessary for learners to persevere in the face of difficulty.
  4. Tenacity is a much underrated trait but I believe, from my work on character education and in politics, that it makes the difference between success and failure for most of us. We let the next generation down if we don't teach them both to hold on to a sense of self and to keep going in the face of adversity. I'm delighted to see this inspiring book on such an important quality.
  5. Expertise, professionalism, eloquence, grit, spark and craftsmanship taken together are the hallmarks of tenacity in action at School 21. In Developing Tenacity Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer give us the underpinning research as well as practical strategies for any school to develop tenacious students who also produce beautiful work.
  6. Human societies across all cultures have long recognised the criticality of tenacity for success. But beyond mere words, how should we teach students how to get there? This clever and practical book recommends granular and comprehensive practices, backed by firm research.
  7. To create beautiful work and contribute to a better world, students need tenacity. In this book Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer describe how schools can inspire and cultivate tenacity, pulling together research and best practices from a wide range of educators to guide schools in creating a culture that brings out the best in students.
  8. Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer's Developing Tenacity is a joy to read - above all because it argues for both the rigour of disciplinary knowledge and a robust approach to the development of character. Also a pleasure to see is its combination of scholar'­ship with practical application, just the kind of thing that schools will find useful.
  9. Connectedness,resilience and courage are core attributes of what it is to be a suc'­cessful learner. The concept of tenacity developed by Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer gives us the underpinning research, brings thinking about capabilities together coherently and offers an array of practical ideas for schools.
  10. It is vital that schools develop tenacious learners and I strongly welcome this authoritative book on the subject of tenacity. Wellington College is delighted to have its work featured as a case study.
  11. Developing Tenacity is an inspiring read. As well as being an academic study into tenacity, it's also a pragmatic guide for schools on how to apply its principles. This book is the ideal companion for all educators, regardless of the sector they belong to.
  12. Students' psychological experience of learning and school is an important factor in their academic success. Developing Tenacity offers an array of practical ideas for edu'­cators on how to create environments that nurture the natural curiosity and drive to learn with which people are born.
  13. There is mounting evidence for the importance of developing capabilities like tenacity in young people if they are to get on in life. Bill Lucas and Ellen Spencer draw on a wide array of evidence to show how this can be done in schools today and develop a toolkit for a more stimulating learning experience.
  14. An enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit and unflagging tenacity are hall'­marks of Round Square schools. Developing Tenacity perfectly speaks to our values and, through its compelling evidence and practical guidance, shows how all schools can develop tenacious students.

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