Review - Strength of mind
I believe that a student's academic success is inextricably linked to their emotional well-being, and that equipping students with strategies to manage their emotional health will result in better learners.
So the handbook Success in Schools is, in my view, essential reading. Its author, Tamba Roy, has been a headteacher at two schools, and is an education consultant and practitioner of neuro-linguistic programming. In this book, he has used his knowledge and experience to create activities that promote emotional intelligence.
The activities are practical visualisation tools that can be used by parents and teachers to encourage students to become more resilient, with the aim of helping them to achieve greater success at school. The 15 creatively named tools, suitable for students of all ages, include "brilliant breathing" (breathing techniques for relaxation), "the smasher" (visualising a negative self-belief on a wall and smashing it down) and "shield" (imagining a shield that repels problems).
These tools encourage children to develop strategies for recognising and managing barriers to success, such as low self-esteem, fear of failure, poor attention span and low motivation. The activities may sound as if they are straight out of a therapy session, but who can argue against the need to encourage students to become emotionally healthy, independent learners?
The book also contains insights from neuroscience. An understanding of how the brain works could be valuable for students, and Roy promotes the idea that intelligence is a trait that can be developed with hard work (as supported by Carol Dweck and her theory of growth versus fixed mindset). At the end of the handbook is a section on how to recognise when students are experiencing difficulties and how they can be supported.
The book is refreshingly flexible, with Roy offering a script for each activity and suggestions for how it can be adapted to suit the needs of students. The objectives of each activity are explicit and extension activities (including open-ended questions) can be used to deepen the children's experience or revisit a topic.
As I read, I could see many ways in which the handbook could be used by a secondary teacher: in assemblies, tutor time, small group work and one-to-one work. The activities can be used as part of a planned programme or employed as and when issues arise. For larger groups, however, I imagine that excellent behaviour management would be necessary to truly meet the objectives.
Overall, I was struck by just how useful the tools could be in dealing with the challenges that commonly arise in schools, such as bullying, anger management, friendship issues and racism. I hope that fellow teachers see not only the cross-curricular value of this book but also how it could be useful in motivating children to be lifelong learners.
Lowri Scourfield is an English teacher at St Peter's RC High School and Sixth-Form Centre in Gloucester, England. Success in Schools: a practical handbook of tools for teachers and parents to use with children by Tamba Roy is published by Troubador, #163;19.99.