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  • Writer's pictureAdam Kohlbeck

Getting Your Class to Behave by Sue Cowley: A Review

Sue Cowley’s latest educational offering is typically informative, practical and easy to follow. Getting your class to behave takes readers through a journey from principles, to self-analysis and understanding, to elements external to the teacher, both within and outside of their control and finally, what to do when things just get tough. Her honest and frank account, characterised by case studies and anecdotes to bring the ideas to life is a valuable companion to the classroom teacher. So successful is this book that Cowley has now updated it six times, and this alone is to be commended.

The book starts with an overview of the key principles of positive behaviour management. Beginning in this way starts a thread that runs all the way through the book – the idea that consistency comes from shared principles and not necessarily from the same actions being taken by all. The importance of awareness, structure, consistency and taking interest are all reflected in the suggested principles that Cowley writes about and while her list is comprehensive and thought provoking, the key takeaway is that any approach to behavior should be based on a set of widely agreed and universally understood principles. Only then, can teachers start to feel psychologically safe to make their own context driven decisions.

an essential companion for any teacher looking to successfully navigate the world of behaviour management

The first section of the book concludes with advice on how to maximise the opportunities presented by the first meeting with a new class. At this time of year, with transition on everyone’s minds, this is a welcome reminder of the importance of setting expectations, relationships and routines from the very first interaction. The reader is encouraged to carry out a pre-mortem of sorts, considering potential issues, SEND needs and physical needs before going into that first meeting to really make sure that relationships start positively.

There is a lot of negativity around teaching at the moment and it easy to see why. Budgets are continually squeezed, support feels in short supply and in many contexts, the legacy of a global pandemic still lingers. Part 2 of Sue Cowley’s book is specifically about the role of the teacher and what they do in shaping the behaviour climate of their class. Running through this section is the idea that teachers have the opportunity to be the positive spark in the room. Aside from the section on holding the class in unconditional positive regard, there is a thread of the need to remain positive throughout the second section of the book. The second section includes content on teaching styles, motivation and rewards and consequences among other things. It is a comprehensive valuable companion for any teacher interested in improving their behaviour management.

The third section of the book concerns the learners and the setting. This section is a fusion of factors that are within a teacher’s influence and within their control. Topics such as self-regulation support systems and implementation of policy remind us that there are factors beyond our direct control that we can influence with a carefully crafted approach rooted in our principles. We are also shown though the aspects of the job that are well within our control. Cowley’s level of detail as she talks through the sub-section on the learning space is excellent. No detail is left out and no stone left un-turned in the quest to 'control the controllables' and create a learning environment that deliberately cultivates good behaviour. Case studies and strategy ideas give this section a distinctly practical feel which is refreshing given the earlier commitment to an approach rooted in mutual understanding, high expectations and relationships. Sue Cowley is equally adept at bringing the theoretical to life with practical solutions.

The final section of the book covers how to react when things get hard. One of the most challenging things to deal with as a class teacher is confrontation and Sue Cowley tackles this head on. Her practical and honest take on this context is both helpful and hopeful and while it does not shy away from the realities of the job, it focuses again on the benefits of positivity.

The final section of the book is fittingly bold in its tackling of stress. Again, Sue Cowley takes on one of the biggest challenges of the sector and she does so with hope and positivity which underline honesty and reality. It is this typical openness, realism and positivity that not only characterises the book as a whole but also make it an essential companion for any teacher looking to successfully navigate the world of behaviour management.



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