A Review of The Character Conundrum: How to Develop Confidence, Independence and Resilience in the Classroom by Matt Lloyd-Rose
The Character Conundrum by Matt Lloyd-Rose (Oxford: Routledge, 2018) is presented as a practical guide for schools and school teachers which outlines how they can develop character in their students and support the development of skills which will help them to thrive academically: confidence, independence and resilience. After a detailed introduction outlining the main aims, the text presents a series of case studies in which teachers’ successful strategies are outlined and discussed; this is followed by sections outlining how to create a classroom culture that supports this.
Coming from a teaching background, I was intrigued to discover whether this new book has purpose in the classroom and is worth the precious time of teachers, or whether it belongs on an ever-increasing pile of support materials that are idealistic, unrealistic, or behind the times. Added to this, I was also eager to discover how ‘character’ is presented and promoted given the bold title introducing this term.
I have to say that most teachers will find The Character Conundrum a useful read. The meaningful examples it provides demonstrate how strategies enabling academic success can be successfully implemented in the classroom; teachers will certainly take inspiration from some of the case studies and inventive (yet simple) approaches described. These successfully illuminate ways to create a classroom environment in which children believe in themselves, aren’t afraid to take risks and understand what they need to do in order to help themselves learn. Helpful too is the simplicity of the text; Matt Lloyd-Rose is direct in his presentation of the case studies and doesn’t bog the reader down with over-complicated language or over-elaborate explanations – a perfect consistency for tired-eyed teachers.
In its simplest form, this book could be described as a collection of best practice to be shared with educators. All good teachers strive to foster an environment in which their students work highly independently and seek to challenge themselves. Having used and shared a number of the approaches outlined in this book, I understand the importance of developing confidence, independence and resilience in the classroom and can testify to the benefit of adapting one’s pedagogical approach using such strategies. I’m eager to recommend the text to teachers and trainees for this reason, and I truly believe that it will be influential. However, as research fellow working on character in an educational context, I can’t help but object to one thing: the title.
While the content of The Character Conundrum is undoubtedly going to be useful to practitioners, one can’t help but think that the title is slightly misleading. By using the word ‘character’, the title suggests that the development of character is a more central aim; however, the content focuses solely on three performance virtues and explicitly states that the main objective is to outline how teachers can support the development of skills which allow children to thrive academically. Matt Lloyd-Rose acknowledges that in focusing purely on performance-related skills, the outcomes can seem narrow and mechanistic, but justifies this narrow view by suggesting that these virtues will help to overcome barriers that prevent children – especially those from the poorest backgrounds – from learning. While I don’t doubt this, I still can’t quite see how the word ‘character’ is fit to play the lead role in the title of this book.
By regarding confidence, independence and resilience as ‘character’, there is clearly a misunderstanding of what constitutes this term in its full sense. In A Framework for Character Education in Schools, the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues define character as ‘a set of personal traits or dispositions that produce specific moral emotions, inform motivation and guide conduct’, and assign the moral dimension of ‘character’ a prominent role in character education. Despite its good intentions and practical worth to practitioners, the book misconceives what ‘character’ truly is, reducing it mostly to what Angela Duckworth and Paul Tough would refer to as ‘grit’. This common misconception is addressed and acknowledged in a reflective web essay published in the Jubilee Centre’s Insight Series: Is Grit the Magic Elixir of Good Character?
Ultimately, I would argue that while these performance virtues are some of the building blocks of character, and are undoubtedly relevant to children’s development in the classroom, the book is written purely from a performance-driven perspective and it is therefore difficult to see how the current title is fitting. Performance virtues, often referred to as ‘soft skills’ or ‘enabling virtues’, are significant, but to be truly distinguished within one’s character, they must be put into a moral context. While Matt Lloyd-Rose recognises that the home, school and community are important in developing other values, the moral dimension of character is not acknowledged in the text.
While school teachers and leaders will take inspiration from many of the simple, yet effective examples of how confidence, independence and resilience can be fostered in the classroom, there is still the question of how teachers can promote other virtues which are equally important in children’s education and development. Research and resources produced by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues provide suggestions, examples and activities that teachers can use in their classrooms, while the current project Teacher Education: Character, Ethics and the Professional Development of Pre- and In-Service Teachers, which explores how teachers are prepared and supported to meet the moral and ethical demands of their roles, aims to draw together findings in order to produce training on character education for pre- and in-service teachers that encompasses a true reflection of their role as character educators in the fullest sense.
Paul Watts is a former teacher who is now working as a Research Fellow on the Jubilee Centre’s Teacher Education: Character, ethics and the professional development of pre- and in-service teachers project.