Guides for young and old hands

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
MOTIVATION FOR TEENS. By DS Grant. Upwards Publishing pound;8.95

THAT ATTITUDE BOOK. By Graham Pepper. Inner Direction pound;5

HEAD OF DEPARTMENT'S POCKETBOOK. By Brin Best and Will Thomas. Teacher's Pocketbooks pound;6.99

A new year is always a good time to recharge motivation levels. More than any other genre, self-help books need to exude a positive attitude. After all, if the author seems to lack confidence, what hope does the reader have? Here are three books aimed at making us or our students more organised and motivated.

The back of DS Grant's Motivation for Teens gives the author a big build-up: "The writer has a finger on the pulse of teenage angst, teenage culture and psychology. Be prepared for interaction and amusement." For those of us of a certain age, this brings back the same excitement as the opening theme from 1960s puppet show Stingray - "Stand by for action".

The text is a little more low-key, and dogged by dodgy proof-reading. The tone is rather too reminiscent of a hectoring uncle: "Teenager, think about the percentage of time where you are non-productive at school. It really is far too highI But let's not be doom merchants here. I'm glad to say there are students who work diligently. Special commendation to those students, and to you if you are one of those. Try to positively influence all your friends to do the same. Why? Because it will be worth it." If I was a teenager, I suspect this would have me reaching for the alcopops.

To be fair, the book does dish out practical, if predictable, advice: listen to your parents and other caring adults, complete tasks you've started, keep your room tidy, make lists. There's a goal-planning chart, a diagram to help us recognise our good and bad influences, even a list of jobs we might want to pursue (though bell-boy and seamstress seem unlikely, even in an age of portfolio careers).

Perhaps most bizarre is the advice to turbo-charge the vocabulary. Instead of saying "cool" you could say "outrageous". So, based on the book, expect to hear 11C saying they are "unbelievably blessed" and that their school meals are "sumptuous". The book is unexpectedly entertaining. Give it to your nearest Kevin-like teenager and, as the blurb says, "be prepared for interaction and amusement". Be warned, though, that the interaction might consist of the book flying across the room towards you.

Graham Pepper's That Attitude Book is a work of undoubted self-belief. In fact, so determined was the author to get the book published that he did it himself. It's an interesting compendium of homilies, quotations, brain theory and popular psychology. Its sub-text is "you can be what you want to be" and it exudes positive messages. The early part of the book is about our brain. This introduces the reader to the limbic system and neo-cortex, to neurotransmitters and the synapse. It also encourages us to introduce ourselves to "the chatterbox, the little voice which is always telling us to be careful".

This odd mix of the scientific and colloquial has a kind of charm. It reminds me of the bestselling Little Book of Calm, packed with uplifting quotations and moralistic advice about cultivating the garden of your mind.

The low-budget clip-art shoots any street-cred to bits, but you can imagine giving this book to a teenager and not being despised for it.

The Head of Department's Pocketbook is one of a new series aimed at people with busy lives, namely teachers. Other titles include Accelerated Learning, Mentoring and ICT in the Classroom. This one is not exactly a motivational book, but rather a handy checklist of tips and ideas on relevant topics. For example it covers policy-making, building departmental handbooks, making meetings more effective and staff development. It's a tiny-format synthesis of advice and suggestions, mostly written in bullet-points.

The authors provide a good combination of reassurance and fresh ideas, stripped of any theorising, and with a strong emphasis on practical use. It is likely to prove an indispensable text for its target audience, upon whom much of the pressure of school improvement falls. Highly recommended.

Geoff Barton is headteacher at King Edward VI School, Suffolk

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