Mental toughness refers to a set of positive psychological characteristics that have almost exclusively been studied within sport; however their potential to understand non-cognitive attributes which may be important within education are now being considered. I wrote a short article on this for Character Scotland earlier in the year (see here: http://www.character-scotland.org.uk/featured-articles/item/383-what-does-it-mean-to-be-mentally-tough#.U8PMNZ1waUk, which describes the concept of mental toughness and its underpinning attributes (confidence, challenge, control and commitment), which I will briefly describe again here:
Commitment refers to setting goals or targets and working hard to achieve them. Challenge refers to seeing new activities or situations as opportunities for self-development, rather than as threats. Control is divided into life control and emotional control; life control refers to feeling that we have the power to shape our own life and future, while emotion control refers to being able to manage emotions (e.g., anxiety, anger) to an appropriate level of intensity. Confidence is divided into confidence in abilities and interpersonal confidence; confidence in abilities refers to being confident to attempt new or difficult tasks, whereas interpersonal confidence refers to levels of confidence within social situations.
Children and adolescents will vary in the extent to which they report high levels of mental toughness and their reported levels are likely to vary across each of the attributes (e.g., a student may report high levels of commitment, but low levels of interpersonal confidence). Recent research has found a relationship between these mental toughness characteristics and adolescents’ school attendance, attainment, classroom behaviour and peer relationships (see here: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/01443410.2014.895294)
I have recently written a review paper on this topic (along with collaborators) which considers the extent to which the mental toughness may be a useful framework to study non-cognitive attributes within education (see earlier blog for discussion of non-cognitive attributes: http://www.drsarahmcgeown.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/non-cognitive-attributes-and_1.html). Within this review paper, we discuss the extent to which mental toughness attributes overlap with a number of non-cognitive attributes already demonstrated as important within education (e.g., resilience, motivation, self-control, confidence). Among students, we discuss the role of these positive psychological traits across a range of educational contexts (e.g., managing exam stress/anxiety, developing positive peer relationships, influences on academic attainment etc). However, we also consider the value in studying and developing mental toughness among teachers. As a high number of teachers leave the teaching profession early in their career, often citing stress as the cause, developing mental toughness type attributes may increase retention, but perhaps more importantly, enhance teacher well-being, effectiveness and professional satisfaction.
McGeown, S. P. (2013).What does it mean to be mentally tough? Character Scotland: http://www.character-scotland.org.uk/featured-articles/item/383-what-does-it-mean-to-be-mentally-tough#.U8PMNZ1waUk
St Clair-Thompson, H., Bugler, M., Robinson, J., Clough, P., McGeown, S. P., & Perry, J. (2014). Mental toughness in education: exploring relationships with attainment, attendance, behaviour and peer relationships. Educational Psychology: An International Journal of Experimental Educational Psychology. DOI: 10.1080/01443410.2014.895294