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Lucinda Powell and Purvi Ghandi
Teaching and learning

‘As Psychology teachers, we have a unique skill set, but this is overlooked’

Lyndsey Hayes, Chartered Psychologist and Association for the Teaching of Psychology (ATP) Representative on the British Psychological Society’s Division for Academics, Researchers and Teachers in Psychology Committee, meets Lucinda Powell and Purvi Gandhi, the finalists of the DARTP Pre-tertiary Education Psychology Teacher of the Year award.

28 February 2024

Last year, the British Psychological Society’s Division for Academics, Researchers and Teachers in Psychology (DARTP), launched the Pre-tertiary Education Psychology Teacher of the Year (PEPTOTY) award. The award recognises and celebrates exceptional psychology teachers in UK schools and FE colleges. The prizes are £1000, a year of free membership to DARTP and free registration for the 2024 DARTP conference.

As Association for the Teaching of Psychology (ATP) Representative on the DARTP Committee, I interviewed Lucinda Powell, the winner of this year’s award, and Purvi Gandhi, the runner up, to find out more.

Lucinda, Purvi, thank you for doing this interview. Congratulations for winning the award, Lucinda, and congratulations for being a finalist, Purvi!

What made you decide to go for the award?

Lucinda: As Psychology teachers, we have a unique skill set but this is overlooked, which is slightly weird. For example, we come into our role ready and prepared to support young people on their journey through school not just in terms of the content of the psychology specification. So much psychology can be applied to all areas of school life: mental health and wellbeing, child development, organisational psychology, attachment, cognition and learning... the list is endless. We can readily access research that other colleagues without a psychological background might find challenging, and should be in a position to understand and explain how it applies to our own unique context… or equally, why it might not.

We can also offer the opportunity to contribute to staff development and have a huge amount to offer! Two key example areas come to mind immediately – firstly around cognition and learning, there is lots of research around things like metacognition which is currently ‘on trend’, and we can help to evaluate that research and translate it for colleagues… psychology has so much jargon! Secondly mental health and wellbeing. I hoped that the award would broaden that recognition and in addition, offer a platform to highlight the podcast I do. The prize money is of course an added incentive.

Purvi: To make a broader contribution beyond my school. We’re in a privileged position as teachers to reflect upon who we are serving and who is the final consumer of our work. I’m lucky to have had the education and experience to engage a lot in research into mental health that can make a difference. This is important, especially now, as there is a need for it.

What did you have to do to be nominated?

Lucinda: First, we filled in an application form.

Purvi: It had four sections: Professional development, pedagogy, sharing best practice and commitment to improving student experience.

Lucinda: We then had to write a case study and do an online 10-minute presentation of it. To do this, I went to previous ones, looking at how they were written and presented. It was challenging but rewarding as it allowed me to step back and think about what to do, the purpose of it, and then organise it into a logical sequence.

Purvi: I did the same as Lucinda. I’ve used research when designing a curriculum so have bags of evidence that it was impactful but had to differentiate between the two when writing my application and case study.

Which research did you use to design the new curriculum, Purvi?

Purvi: I focused on two research topics: What is mental health?; and The Science of Learning.

For my first topic, I used Seligman’s theory of well-being to inform my lessons. Students developed an understanding of the theory, applied it to their own lives and evaluated it. They participated in online surveys and evaluated self-report research methods. In this topic, I also used Angela Duckworth’s research to introduce the idea that grit – ‘passion and perseverance over long-term goals’ – are positively correlated with different measures of success. My students carried out their correlational study using online grit surveys and a variable of their choice. They then evaluated their correlational studies and presented their findings. 

For my second topic, I used the research on cognitive science to design classroom demonstrations of concepts such as dual coding, retrieval practice and cognitive load theory. Students then applied this knowledge to their revision. My students were tasked with testing out one strategy and measuring its impact on performance. Then, they made stop-motion videos of revision tips and presented their work in their year group assembly.

What was your case study?

Lucinda: Why study skills need to be more than mind maps and flashcards. At A-level approximately 50 per cent of learning is expected to happen outside of the classroom – at GCSE it is probably about 30 per cent – but we never talk about what this should look like. There is no consistent approach in schools to support learners with this aspect of their study. Schools will tell you that they teach study skills, and they do, but quite what this means varies enormously – anything from a one-hour session on revision techniques (flashcards and mind maps) to one day workshops with specialists coming in, to relatively well thought out PSHE lessons. My case study detailed the study skills course that I have been teaching over the past seven years or so that not only reflects on what revision techniques students can use but how to motivate themselves, how to develop effective study habits, how to manage stress and anxiety and much more.

One of my students reported that: “I have found that Mrs Powell's study skills sessions has made an overall positive impact on my methods of studying. For example, during the Christmas holidays I have been able to implement techniques taught to me by Mrs Powell such as quick mind maps in order to get through subjects I am shaky on, and then using Cornell notes to improve my knowledge of topics that I have little knowledge in. This has made my holiday revision much more effective than previous revision in holidays I have done, and I will continue to use these study methods throughout the rest of my formal education. I would strongly recommend other students attend these study sessions as they have given me a boost in my academic performance.”

Purvi: An innovative mental health curriculum for Year 9 students. For the case study, I started with a brief outline of what mental health is and why the course was designed the way that it was. Then I outlined the impact of the course on students in the short term. I used quantitative and qualitative data gathered from action research to show evidence of impact on the Year 9 students. I also used feedback from students to show impact over the longer term. I had several students from Year 10 to university students (who had previously done the course in Year 9) report the benefits of the course, suggesting that the curriculum had a positive benefit over the longer term.

Getting such feedback was very rewarding and satisfying. I concluded by sharing that the initiative has transformed my teaching practice – it has influenced my pedagogical strategies and strengthened my wellbeing.​ My work has led me to the belief that teaching skills of mental health is intertwined with developing skills of mental health. Wellbeing is mutually influential and beneficial. As we help our students to flourish, our wellbeing improves as well due to its ripple effect.

What was the experience of the process like?

Lucinda: Rewarding. I found the presentation petrifying! However, when I said ‘thank you for giving me the opportunity’ at the end, I meant it! I was genuinely grateful for the opportunity.

Purvi: It was challenging but gave me the chance to develop my skills, which was very rewarding. It also gave me the chance to meet new people and build relationships on the way.

How did you feel when you found out that you were finalists?

Lucinda: The waiting period was overwhelming! When I got the e-mail just before a lesson, the adrenaline was pumping, but it was really exciting too!

Purvi: It was cool! I felt that my work was being recognised and my students were also proud of me.

What would you say to other teachers who may be thinking about going for the award next year?

Lucinda: I strongly recommend the process even if you just do the first bit of the application. It’s a nice process for reflecting on what you have done.

Purvi: Time is an issue – I work for six days a week as a Head of Department. But going for the award is a good way to share your work. Mental health in education is important to me. If going for the award is important to you, you will find a way to do it.

  • For more information about Lucinda and Purvi’s work, see:

Lucinda’s website

Purvi’s book (published on 24 February 2024): A Little Guide for Teachers: Student Mental Health. Sage Publications Ltd.

For more information about the award, go to the Division of Academics, Researchers and Teachers in Psychology website.

The original version of this article will be published in the June 2024 issue of the Association for the Teaching of Psychology (ATP) Today magazine.