Review - Books - A problem shared ..

3rd December 2010 at 00:00

The Behaviour Guru

By Tom Bennett



Martin Spice

As Tom Bennett is the TES online behaviour guru and the author of a TES Essential Guide and you are now reading The TES, you might be forgiven for thinking that this review is just an extended piece of advertising.

So let me assure you that as an independent reviewer, I maintain the highest standards of neutrality. These will not, however, prevent me from starting off by saying that, despite one or two reservations, this is a very good book indeed, both timely and necessary.

It is a sign of the times that we now talk about behaviour management rather than discipline, but whatever we call it, getting kids to behave in a classroom is a prerequisite of being able to teach them anything. Behaviour management may be absolutely fundamental to teaching, but as Bennett repeatedly points out there is perilously little training in it, and for many teachers there is also precious little support from senior managers. Somehow you are supposed to sort it out for yourself. Thank heavens, then, for some sane, practical and sensible advice that will help speed up the process.

A majority of The Behaviour Guru is made up of the answers given to correspondents on the TES website, with the questions rewritten and the answers in some cases extended. They are loosely grouped together under headings such as Dealing with Low-level Disruption and Extreme Teaching.

According to the guru, the basics of behaviour management are straightforward. First believe that your classroom is your space - you own the room. Make clear to the class that you care a great deal about their education and you will do everything within your power to make sure that they make the most of their opportunities. After that, the stick is more effective than the carrot; bad behaviour will not be tolerated, and when it happens it will be punished. Give them detentions, increasing their length at the first sign of dissent. If that doesn't work, phone home, involve the senior leadership team (SLT), be consistent and never let up. In the end, you will win.

It is a simple but persuasive model and, rather wisely, ignores that most treacherous of classroom allies: charisma. It also works, providing you have the backing of the SLT. Sadly, it is evident from too many of Bennett's correspondents that this is not always the case, and challenges to teacher authority are often ignored. Bennett gets angry about this and his good humour disappears. He calls it "managing from below", but basically it means nagging the SLT until it does something because part of its role is to support staff and ensure a safe working environment. Managers have a duty of care - they need to exercise it. But how many NQTs would feel comfortable about being a thorn in the side of the SLT when references will be required in the near future? Of course, it should not be that way - but it often is.

I have no quibbles with the vast majority of Bennett's responses to his correspondents, except that there is sometimes a rush to exclude pupils, and it would be difficult to imagine that happening in reality. On occasion, his responses are hardline implementations of his basic model - which is fine in principle but, in practice, context does and will make a difference to responses to an incident. This is not liberal wishy-washiness, it is just seeing the whole picture. But the saddest by-product of all this for me is recognising yet again just how few sanctions teachers have available to deal with bad behaviour. No wonder it is the cause of so much angst.

Running a forum is one thing; turning it into a book is another. For my money, The Behaviour Guru is a book best dipped into in an hour of need rather than a cover-to-cover read. But in those hours of need it is immensely comforting to know that you are not alone, that other teachers have exactly the same problems that you do and that there is a way of solving what always appears at the time to be an insurmountable difficulty. Bennett writes with humour, style, understanding, a massive amount of common sense and not a little wisdom. And how often do you use those words in an educational context?


Tom Bennett is the behaviour guru on the TES online advice forum and a teacher at Raines Foundation School, an inner-city state secondary in east London. He is also the author of Class Act: a TES essential guide to behaviour management.

The verdict: 910.

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