Looking at challenges through the model of the 4 Cs

Concerns about the mental health and resilience of our learners have been on the increase over the last twenty years and have been confounded by Covid-19. Whilst its full legacy is yet to be fully revealed, in every school across the world, teachers are reflecting upon the impact it has had on individual learners, classes and their wider school community. They are observing a shift in the behaviour of their learners, both in the classroom and the playground. Often, when approaching learning or a problem, children are displaying low levels of resilience. We are seeing more behaviours that can be described as ‘mentally sensitive’ rather than those that are ‘mentally tough’ and effective for learning and approaching difficulties.


Image taken from page 11 of Mental Toughness

We need our learners to develop their ‘mental toughness'. By this we are not trying to develop superheroes who approach problems and learning as if they are invincible. Instead, our learners need to develop a healthy self-efficacy, where their self-esteem is built on learned accomplishments and can withstand failure.  

Peter Clough’s model of the 4 Cs provides an effective framework for schools and teachers to support their learners. It consists of four attributes that help learners to develop mental toughness –  challenge, control, commitment and confidence.


Image taken from page 2 of Mental Toughness

The 4Cs provides children with an effective toolkit which supports them to develop a healthy self-esteem and enables them to be more effective learners. Here are some examples of how it can be used.

1. Normalise challenges

Within the classroom, it is important to normalise the challenges that children face, and we can do this in a range of ways. The development of ‘visible thinking’ is one approach. This is the process of sharing verbally your own experience (both positive and negative) and how you would approach challenges and difficulties. As you verbalise your own experiences and feelings, for example, feeling scared and anxious about a new experience, it normalises them for learners. An integral part of this process is the relationships within the classroom between the teachers and learners. The stronger they are, the more effective this approach will be. This strategy helps to further develop relationships and creates a culture where everyone feels secure to share honestly and openly.

2. Explore challenges through the lens of the 4 Cs

Learners should be encouraged to look differently at a situation or challenge by exploring them through the lens of the 4Cs. With younger learners you can put your 4C glasses on and older learners can analyse a scenario against the 4 Cs.


Image taken from page 108 of Mental Toughness

Initially, looking at the situation in the image above, learners will identify the failure of the child. But when asked to look at things through the 4Cs they will see a boy who is trying very hard, who is learning to ride his bike and not letting his worries stop him. There is also a girl being kind and taking care of the boy. By encouraging learners to reflect in this way, we are helping to challenge their views and look differently at problems.

3. Reflect on success

Identifying success and things that learners have achieved is vital. Learning is not finite. It is a process that takes time, effort, mistakes, teaching and practise. Encouraging learners and teachers to reflect on their achievments, and how they got there,  is vital to develop both their confidence and desire to challenge themselves.

4. Encourage learners to persevere

Stickability or commitment, is perhaps the greatest challenge. At times for both teachers and parents it is easy to ‘fix’ something for children rather than encouraging them to persevere with support from the right tools. We need to provide learners with the opportunity to find learning challenging and provide role models, both in real life and in children’s books, to show them the way.

With the right learning culture in place, and partnership with parents, we can support our learners to develop a healthy self-efficacy. By providing learners with the opportunity to reflect on and develop their own mental toughness toolkit we are supporting our learners to be successful learners and creating collective efficacy in our classes and schools.

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wellbeing, Wellbeing and Character Education

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