Book Review: Running The Room by Tom Bennett

June 26, 2021

Running the Room: The Teacher’s Guide to Behaviour by Tom Bennett. £16. Published by John Catt. 

One of my new year’s resolutions was to read more books. I intend to review those that are relevant to education. Two warnings though. 1) Any links to Amazon will be “associate” links potentially earning me a few pennies. 2) A lot of these books have been sent to me by people I know, so I’m completely biased.

There’s no shortage of books on managing behaviour. The field is packed with publications containing tips for managing a class that will be no use whatsoever. Many pretend that little differences like saying “thank you” rather than “please” when giving an instruction, or presenting a threat as a choice, will transform behaviour. The worst books on behaviour claim that “meeting needs”, “building relationships”, “remaining calm” or “planning engaging lessons” are at the heart of behaviour management as if these were things teachers generally planned to avoid doing, or could easily do in a hostile classroom.

Meanwhile, the reality in classrooms is that children largely behave in the way that their experience of school has led them to believe is normal for students in that class with that teacher. And while teachers who remain in the same school long enough will work out the cues they can give to their classes that will be most likely to lead to good behaviour, there are no universal cues because every class has drastically different experiences. This is why there are some classes in some schools where shouting once at the start of the year will mean nobody ever misbehaves again, and there are other classes in other schools where raising your voice to the wrong kid will start a full scale riot. It is also why becoming THAT teacher –  the one the kids will never act up for – takes time and, no matter how long you’ve been teaching, never happens when you start at a new school even when you are doing the exact same things that worked perfectly at your last school.

Running the Room largely avoids the trap of suggesting that there are cues or techniques that are universally effective, and focuses on the big picture. It describes how human beings actually behave. Uniquely (I think) for books about behaviour, four of its sixteen chapters are in a section entitled “Human Nature” where it discusses realistically how children are motivated. It turns out that children are not all natural saints, who will behave perfectly if you make sure you print all their worksheet on the right shade of magenta paper, and tell them you care about them. They are complex; they are individuals, and even when you think you have a perfect understanding of what motivates 14 year olds, it’s a whole different matter to keep 30 of them in some semblance of order.

The book then builds on this theoretical basis to discuss how to run a room. Yes, that’s right, the book is accurately titled. It is about how to manage a classroom. Rules, routines, and culture for all, not therapy and lowering expectations for individuals. It does not pretend that there are quick fixes, and it does not pretend one single strategy works, or that absorbing the information in the book will enable you to work wonders. It does, however, build the sort of solid foundation for doing the job of teaching that so much teacher training fails to provide. It tells you a huge chunk of the stuff that teachers wish they’d been told at the start of their careers. In a sane world, nobody would stand in front of a class without first having seriously engaged with all the ideas in this book.

Also, it’s funny in places.

One comment

  1. Not sure this is ok to ask, but afaics it is not covered in any books like this one. But, what is the best response to being terrored by the kids? In person and social media.

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