Review - Keep calm and carry on - How to keep control in the classroom

19th July 2013 at 01:00

The title of Why Are You Shouting at Us? The dos and don'ts of behaviour management has real resonance for me.

It may have been the case in the 1950s and 1960s that a form of discipline could be maintained by the dominance of an alpha-male character who used his physical presence and hectoring tones to cow groups of students into subservient silence. This is the stereotypical sergeant-major approach to maintaining order made flesh and, I hate to say, it still has proponents today in less-informed circles. But it took me some time to realise in my own development as a teacher that being able to scare the living daylights out of students was limiting as a strategy, not to mention being philosophically bereft and basically bullying.

It ignores the fact that terrified children can't listen and learn. Also, do we really want an alpha-male approach held up as the exclusive model for our children to see? As a headteacher, I soon realised that students with behavioural difficulties were far more adept at handling themselves in a "shouting environment" than their teachers.

What impresses me about this book is that it takes us beyond the historical, authoritarian, imposed discipline to an analysis of teacher and learner and teaching and learning as it should be today. It is practical and full of common-sense advice.

There is no doubt that the reputation of the authors stands up to scrutiny, too. John Murphy, as director of education for Oasis Community Learning, has associations with a UK chain of schools that is driving up standards and promoting a set of core values for institutions in often difficult circumstances. Phil Beadle is an outstanding practitioner who shares the understanding that a value system lies at the heart of the educational enterprise.

However, the book does demand some characteristics that not all teachers naturally possess. You can't argue with "the five Cs of compassionate communication" laid out by the authors, but calmness and confidence in some of the difficult situations that occur in challenging schools can be hard to maintain, even for teachers who have those attributes innately. The ability to de-escalate, often through self-deprecating humour, is palpably a good thing, too. But it is predicated on those two Cs of calmness and confidence being ever-present.

Training can help but some teachers find it difficult to develop these necessary traits, even with honest self-evaluation and supportive instruction. Sometimes it is the ability of teachers to possess or learn these skills that defines whether challenging schools are the milieu they should be working in.

It is a small quibble, though. The book is full of the passion of the authors - a passion that has clearly framed their successes in the profession. Despite some lapses into unnecessary use of metaphor and the flowery nature of some of the language, I would recommend this to all teachers.

Tony Hamson is a recently retired headteacher of the Ellington and Hereson School in Kent, England. Why Are You Shouting at Us? is published by Bloomsbury Education.

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