Success through self-control

28th November 2003 at 00:00
The Motivated School

By Alan McLean

Sage Publications pound;17.99

Bullying in Secondary Schools: what it looks like and how to manage it

By Keith Sullivan, Mark Cleary and Ginny Sullivan

Paul Chapman Publishing pound;16.99

Teachers, Parents and Classroom Behaviour: a psychosocial approach

By Andy Miller

Open University Press pound;17.99

The best education books frequently challenge our assumptions. For example, Alan McLean's The Motivated School demonstrates, with a kind of forensic exactness, the way we over-emphasise the importance of students'

self-esteem. We have tended to assume building our students' self-esteem will improve learning. In fact, McLean argues, "it may be the case that teachers can more readily damage student self-esteem than build it". Our energies, he believes, are better directed into creating motivating cultures. We can't make students motivated; we can only create the right conditions.

This is just one example of the way in which his book helps us to rethink current approaches. To be successful, McLean says, schools need to move from a control culture to one that emphasises self-motivation, recognising that young people today need to learn self-discipline. He quotes novelist William McIlvanney, who says: "Youth has become adulthood without the experience, a destination reached without a journey made." Schools therefore need to teach students explicitly how to develop such skills.

McLean translates this into practical classroom strategies. He also pays attention to issues such as body language - how the expressions and gestures we use can unwittingly reinforce an adversarial climate. He makes a convincing case that this is not weak thinking; it isn't about dishing out endless, cheap praise to our students. In fact, "a well-chosen and carefully delivered criticism can communicate high expectations, while indiscriminate praise for easy success can be meaningless and convey disinterest."

There is much to admire in this book. Its only drawback is that it uses a language that just occasionally feels alien. The author is principal psychologist with Glasgow City Council. He talks of "drivers" and "gears", and uses diagrams to illustrate concepts of motivation. But it isn't a difficult read, and the format is generous and accessible. I suspect all school leaders will learn something from it.

Bullying in Secondary Schools covers apparently familiar territory. We know bullying can exist in any organisation, whatever the good intentions laid out in policies and procedures. Like The Motivated School, this book brings a fresh perspective and some startling insights to a topic we assume we know a lot about.

"When schools pay lip service to an anti-bullying stance," the authors argue, "they place their students in jeopardy." They estimate that "in Year 10, 25 per cent of the school population is going to be bullied regularly".

This is an exceptionally illuminating book that gives a clear-eyed, detached analysis, plus a range of practical solutions. It illustrates the nature and extent of school bullying, looks at schools' existing practice in the UK and abroad, and provides a systematic range of strategies.

There's guidance on classroom techniques, parent education, peer mentoring, using PSHE and drama techniques. It blends academic research with classroom practice, uses layout to create accessibility, and addresses an important topic with a passionate "can do" tone. It is highly recommended.

Andy Miller's Teachers, Parents and Classroom Behaviour is another in the long line of books about behaviour management. This one takes a "psychosocial approach". In practice, this means looking closely at the social and psychological relationships that exist between students, teachers and parents.

Much of the book uses this framework to analyse current practice. At a time when the key stage 3 strategy expects schools to audit their own behaviour and attendance procedures, this emphasis on evidence is helpful. For example, we learn that home-based reinforcement (parents using rewards, privileges and treats) appears consistently to improve a child's behaviour in the classroom, whereas the evidence for "parent training" in helping to tackle a student's behaviour suggests it is less successful.

The book, while not an easy read, works well at this level of illuminating current practice and provides a comprehensive overview of recent research.

Its perspective emphasises the thoughts and feelings of those involved in managing behaviour, an important way of avoiding a blame culture for teachers who are struggling with some students. It is not a self-help book or guide to improving behaviour in schools, but it provides a starting-point for a detached analysis of the key issues.

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

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