Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I decided to try out Gretchen Rubin’s strategy of pairing in an attempt to develop the habit of going for a walk every day. For the last few weeks, I’ve only allowed myself to listen to the audiobook version of Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts when I go for a walk. I can’t say that I’ve managed a walk every single day but I’m definitely walking more now than I was before I started this. This was the perfect book to start with because I kept wanting to hear more. Even in the snow, I wanted to hear the next chapter and I often found myself doing an extra lap of the part just to finish a particular section. Having just finished the audiobook, I thought I’d share my key takeaways as I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve recommended this book to. At the beginning of the year, I started using Goodreads to keep track of my reading. I’d recommend this book to anyone with an interest in education or improving the lives of children and young people. The rest of this blog post is made up of my Goodreads updates (written as I read it with further details in brackets) to give you a feel for why you need to read it for yourself!

Introduction – I LOVED the overview of chapters so much that I want to skip ahead. 

Chapter 1: The Engagement Myth – The first chapter is already really thought-provoking and I have added Why Don’t Students Like School by Daniel T Willingham to my “Want to read” list! I appreciate the crossover of research in this and other books / articles I’ve read – today, it was Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction. I’m reflecting on how these principles can be applied to online learning, something we have been working on as a staff. (During a recent In-Service training, we worked in our level groups to identify aspects of effective learning and teaching. Then we matched them to the 12 features of high-quality lessons identified by Bruce Robertson in The Teaching Delusion as well as Rosenshine’s Principles.)

Chapter 2: Disadvantaged Students – Every teacher needs to read this book! So much to think about for all students, not just boys. I need to look into Becky Francis’ research on ability grouping. I’ve always felt passionate about mixed ability groups but curious to know how this would be possible in secondaries. The parental engagement section gave me ideas to write to my HT about and I didn’t want my walk to end! (As a result of reading this chapter, I pitched a family learning event idea to my HT which we ran for 40 parents with others watching afterwards. The focus was on supporting their children through online learning but we hope to continue with other events as time goes on.)

Chapter 3: Peer Pressure – I enjoyed listening to this during an early morning walk in the snow. I need to look up Kate Myers’ research.

“Implicit messages are just as influential as overt ones.”

“Schools may not be able to change the world, but they can challenge, encourage, and widen horizons.”

Chapter 4: Mental Health – Another thought-provoking listen with chilling statistics. Pleased to know that a number of the recommended strategies are already in place in my setting. Appreciated the mention of teacher modelling openly talking about their emotions and shoulder-shoulder talks, which made me think of a Pivotal podcast that I listened to in my first year of teaching and has stayed with me since..

Chapter 5: Expectations – Unsurprisingly, I’ve now decided I need to buy a physical copy of this book. I also need to read up on Mary Myatt’s work highlighting changing the language from “ability” to “attainment”. I found the whole mixed ability over setting section really interesting. As highlighted earlier, I would love to find out about secondaries that are making this work as I use this mixed ability approach in my primary class. (If you know of any secondaries that use a mixed ability approach – please let me know!)

Chapter 6: Sex and Sexism – A hard listen with some chilling statistics. Interesting section talking about the use of language and how we can address inappropriate language being used.

Chapter 7: In the Classroom – Practical tips for the classroom. The seating plan section made me laugh… creating a seating plan really should feature on teacher education courses!

Chapter 8: Violence – Some really thought-provoking questions asked as part of a suggested approach for dealing with violence in schools: Explanation – Reflection – Expression (E-R-E). This could be particularly helpful re playground incidents. I also appreciated the highlighted need for conversation and support for those who walk away from a confrontation as I hadn’t considered the impacts of this before.

Chapter 9: Relationships – Hard to hide my shock at some of the examples of teachers undermining their colleagues. So damaging. Some great behaviour strategies shared at the end of this chapter, including “The Dot” – definitely need to try that one when we’re back in the classroom!

Chapter 10: Other Voices – This was a slightly different chapter made up of short sections written by a variety of authors – teachers, leaders and parents – each with very their own stories to tell. I had to listen to this again (not on a walk) to take a note of all the quotes in it!

Whilst listening to Hadley Stewart’s contribution, I was surprised to learn how recently Section 28 (a law which effectively prevented teachers talking about homosexuality, even in cases of bullying) was still a feature in schools (2000 in Scotland, 2003 in the rest of the UK).

“Schools are not the only drivers with regards to societal norms around gender but they certainly have the opportunity to dispel archaic workplace gender stereotypes.”

So much of what Malcolm Richards wrote about his school experience as “a young black boy who defied the stereotype of young, black academic underachievement” chimes with another book I’m reading, Natives: Race & Class in the Ruins of Empire by Akala, where the author writes about (among other things) his school experience of not fitting into societal expectation of what a black boy should be. Both books have really challenged my thinking and the examples given of treatment by teachers has made me really reflect on what expectations I have of the learners in my class, do I have unconscious bias and what can I do about that?

“We are more than slavery, segregations and sit ins. We are scientists, artists, and writers.”

“We must challenge assumptions, motivations and values… We need a critical dialogue, which can only occur in education spaces based upon universal values or preconditions of hope, modesty, respect, courage and love.”

Having attended DiverseEd’s online events and bought (but not yet finished) the first WomenEd book, it was fascinating to hear more about Hannah Wilson’s work and some of the initiatives she has put in place to develop her learners into global citizens and all round good humans! I gain so much from following Hannah on Twitter so I loved listening to this section.

Currently Reading:

Up Next:

  • Retrieval Practice: Research & Resources for Every Classroom by Kate Jones
  • The Teaching Delusion: Why teaching in our schools isn’t good enough (and how we can make it better) by Bruce Robertson

Have you read this book or any of the others listed above? What were your key takeaways? I’d love to know. You can connect with me on Goodreads here, follow me on Twitter, or leave a comment below to share your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Boys Don’t Try? Rethinking Masculinity in Schools by Matt Pinkett and Mark Roberts”

  1. Im sure this book has some good points, but I’m wary it is another one of the books that bashes boys and blames them for all ills. Of course any discrepency in women and girls is sexism, but for men and boys, well its their fault. Most of what “Toxic masculinity” is, is literally sexism against boys and men and would be called as such if it was related to women, yet its been reframed as a problem with men and masculinity. The most disgusting one is the male suicide rate is to do with “men need to open up more”…. yes thats all dandy, but male suicide is almost nothing to do with men not talking, rather it is life experiences that disproportionately affect men and also a massive lack of resources, funding, and overall compassion. It is disgusting that it is reframed as actually, no the men are the problem, if only the talked more. Imagine saying this about suicide rates for any other group.

    Here are some shocking stats about boys:


    1. Hi Hannah, thanks for your comment and for sharing the video. I think Laurie A. Couture’s new book sounds really interesting.

      Prior to reading the book, I had similar concerns to you but decided to give it a go. The title of the book is, I’d presume, deliberately controversial but the book itself definitely doesn’t put the blame on boys and men themselves. Most of the chapters are a comment on the societal situations boys are growing up in with actions that teachers and school leaders can take to work to change that. I forget which chapter it is, but I think it is early on, where the authors state that they don’t like the term “toxic masculinity” prefering to use “non-tender masculinity” instead which they then use throughout the book. There are really shocking statistics and research papers cited in the various chapters of the book too. If you do decided to read it, I’d love to know your thoughts.


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