How to keep order without really trying

TEACHING WITH INFLUENCE. By Peter Hook and Andy Vass. David Fulton. pound;13. BEHAVIOUR MANAGEMENT IN THE CLASSROOM: a transactional analysis approach. By Sandra Newell and David Jeffery. David Fulton. pound;15.

SCHOOL BEHAVIOUR AND FAMILIES: frameworks for working together. By Sue Roffey. David Fulton. pound;14.

BETTER BEHAVIOUR IN CLASSROOMS. By Kay Mathieson and Meg Price. Routledge Falmer. pound;22.50.

I've probably read more books on school discipline than I've done fixed-term exclusions. In an age of targets and performance indicators, one of the questions I should ask myself is whether my own discipline is better as a result. Otherwise, why read them?

These books all have ambitions to make us better practitioners. In Teaching with Influence, Peter Hook and Andy Vass invite us on "a journey towards becoming the sort of teacher you would aspire to be". The book is full of motivational quotations and statements that challenge conventional thinking.

The chapter on the language of the classroom is the most powerful: a reminder of the way teachers can use "the language of choice" to redirect student behaviour, using praise to reinforce a sense of belonging, and defusing conflict though calm, systematic techniques.

Some teachers will find the book's jaunty, motivational style unnerving, even gimmicky, but I loved it. I can think of few books as good on a topic that can easily be made overcomplicated.

Sandra Newell and David Jeffery's Behaviour Management in the Classroom also contains many helpful suggestions, but its approach is strikingly different. I have to confess to some ignorance about this "theory of personality and systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and change". Transactional analysis has its own language, and thus the authors talk of "OK behaviour" and giving and receiving "strokes".

Much of this is what most teachers would recognise as building self-esteem and giving praise, so the principles are fairly familiar. But categorising communication as "transactions" which are "complementary, crossed or ulterior" creates an unhelpful linguistic barrier. The attempt to yoke the transactional analysis model on to the day-to-day demands of classroom interaction sometimes seems distracting, even though the underlying ideas are good.

School Behaviour and Families is an illuminating exploration of the relationships between schools and families - in particular, families in which the child has behavioural difficulties.

We know parents play a vital - if often unwitting - role in the success of their children at school. Sue Roffey reminds us just how off-putting our workplaces can be. Some parents react to schools the way many people react to hospital - it looks, feels and smells alienating. This will always hamper efforts to help the child.

The book is characterised by a large number (too many) of quotations from parents expressing how they feel about schools. A senior management team still wrestling with the Government's slippery social inclusion agenda will probably find this book helpful.

Kay Mathieson and Meg Price's experience is partly rooted in pupil referral units. You can't afford to be distracted by too many theories there: behaviour management has to be right. Better Behaviour in Classrooms is an impressive distillation of mostly practical approaches. It starts with a worthy but slightly unnecessary account of the structure of the brain, then hits its stride with some excellent ideas on why we must engage with the student culture and how to promote high achievement through praise and involvement. It warns us off any sanctions system which risks oversimplifying complex situations. There are also useful overhead transparencies. The only real weakness is the use of cartoons, which trivialise aspects of the message.

So can books such as these change our practice? I started my career as many young male teachers do, assuming that the arena of the classroom called for a confrontational discipline style. I needed to be seen to win every dispute. Now I recognise that the biggest factor in shaping student behaviour is my own behaviour and language - a proactive rather than a defensive strategy. All of these books are rooted in this positive, liberating approach.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI school, Bury St Edmunds

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