I was very excited to be asked to review Sue Roffey’s latest book. Previously a teacher, Roffey is now an educational psychologist, consultant, writer, and academic specializing in social, emotional, and behavioral issues.
Although my teaching experience finished many years ago, I’ve maintained an interest in the education field generally and in school well-being specifically, for example developing well-being curricula for Haberdashers’ Aske’s schools in London. My MAPP research at UEL focused on the well-being of teachers and other professionals. Now, as well as training teachers, academics, and educational psychologists in positive psychology, I work as a consultant for the social enterprise, Worklife Support, which runs well-being programs in approximately 4000 schools in England.
Book Review: Roffey, S. (2010). Changing Behaviour in Schools: Promoting Positive Relationships and Wellbeing. Sage Publications.
Changing behaviour in schools – Promoting positive relationships and wellbeing says it all. The book’s aim is to go beyond what teaching manuals usually do, which is to teach ways to manage poor pupil behavior so that it doesn’t disrupt other students’ learning. Anyone familiar with positive psychology’s ‘deficit model versus health model’ argument will know that coping with the negatives is not necessarily the same thing as promoting the positives. This book also provides the strategies to foster positive pupil behavior. Roffey summarizes both approaches separately at the end of every chapter, highlighting the ongoing need to move beyond the deficit model and embrace the health model in the classroom.
That’s not all. You may be aware of the joke among non-teachers that goes “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.” As an experienced educational psychologist, Roffey knows that to be effective, teachers need to be good role models, and this applies to well-being too. We know from research carried out at the University of London’s Birkbeck College that teacher well-being has a positive impact not only on pupil well-being but also on pupil performance. It makes perfect sense then to include ways to improve teacher well-being. So the behavior to be changed in schools isn’t just pupils’ behavior; it is also teachers’ behavior.
In the UK there were estimated to be over 6500 permanent and 331,000 temporary exclusions from school in the year 2009/10 (expulsions and suspensions in the US). Permanent exclusions in particular should concern us because they point to future social problems which will have an impact on all of us, not just the excluded pupils themselves and their families. As well as the broad aims of improving pupil and teacher well-being, Changing behaviour in schools also looks at teaching practices that will strengthen the connection to school and learning for at-risk pupils.
What happens in one part of school affects what happens elsewhere. By viewing school as an interconnected system, this book highlights how important it is to ensure that positive relationships are developed, not only in the classroom and including parents. It isn’t enough to teach pupils about well-being. It’s essential to model good relational practice as well.
Structure and Content
The chapters of the book are organized into four sections:
1. Being an effective teacher, including what it means to be a ‘good’ teacher, become emotionally literate, and know the students you teach.
2. Encouraging positive behavior, which focuses on positive feelings, relationships in a pro-social classroom, and practices that encourage participation, engagement, and agency.
3. Responding to challenging behavior which includes the diversity of difficulty, being a challenging student, restorative practices, and teacher resilience.
4. The role of the whole school and the ecology of school well-being.
Interventions and Activities
Interaction with the book is mainly through reflection on personal experiences as teachers and discussion with teaching colleagues. Challenging questions for discussion abound, as well as a number of suggested activities. My personal view is that this book is ideally designed for group work, rather than for individual study, and as such could form the basis of teacher training days.
There are many suggestions for intervention throughout each chapter, although these are not always well signposted or sufficiently well explained. In this book, the interventions to carry out with students are usually Circle Time Solutions activities. Since the book is written for teachers, there is an assumption that these activities do not need much introduction or explanation.
While Roffey summarizes separately at the end of each chapter the strategies and approaches to promote positive behavior and those to deal with difficulties, the suggested activities are not always sufficiently well explained (in my view) to enable teachers, especially trainees and newly-qualifieds, to know how to do them.
Strengths and Limitations
One of the great strengths of this book is its breadth, not just in terms of aims but also its evidence base. It draws on quantitative research from more than a dozen areas including restorative approaches, school culture and leadership, mental health, and values education, not just positive psychology. Thus the suggested approaches have a multi-dimensional foundation. Not surprisingly, there isn’t space in just over 200 pages to describe positive psychology theories or research in great depth. Fredrickson, Csikszentmihalyi, and Ryan and Deci get no more than a passing reference.
Roffey makes use of most of the main positive psychology concepts, such as flow, strengths, resilience, optimism, positive emotions, and emotional intelligence, although with the exception of emotional intelligence, they aren’t described in detail. Depending on your expectations and your association with positive psychology, this might be a disappointment or a welcome relief! I particularly liked the chapter on Being and Becoming Emotionally Literate, with its 11 dimensions of social and emotional literacy, and numerous questions for personal development.
I do find the book better at telling you what to do than at telling you how to do it. Take resilience for example. Roffey suggests providing “resiliency seminars for parents to show what will foster authentic well-being for their children,” but she doesn’t elaborate on what a resiliency seminar is. She lists the protective factors (both personal and environmental) such as a positive outlook, a sense of humor, and a pro-social orientation, but is learning about these enough to develop resilience? Positive psychology would say not.
Another criticism is that individual topics are not clearly outlined in one place, but referred to throughout the book (e.g. motivation gets 19 mentions, resilience gets 17 and confidence 15) which means that it’s actually quite difficult to focus in on any one particular construct.
The Appendices contain two fabulous tools, an assessment schedule and a school well-being checklist, but no clear indication of how to use them or when. Also I would rather not see positive affirmations included as an intervention to improve teacher well-being.Conclusion
I love the core message, which is that school can be a positive transformational experience, and that building positive relationships and school connectedness lead to both improved learning and better behavior for all students.
Despite its limitations, I think this is a fabulous resource book for anyone working in primary or secondary education. Dip into almost any page and you will find some gem of information, a question that will challenge your thinking, an activity, or an insightful case study. If you picked up this book expecting it to help you manage challenging student behavior you may be in for a surprise. It does this exceeding well in my opinion, but it does much more than that.
This book sets out the expectation that everyone in an education role, every teacher, trainee, teaching assistant, support person, and early childhood practitioner, can be a role model of well-being. Changing behaviour is schools is based on the premise that a theoretical knowledge of the subject isn’t sufficient. Teachers have to be able to do well-being in order to teach well-being.
Briner, R. & Dewberry, C. (2007). Staff well-being is key to school success. Department of Organizational Psychology, Birkbeck College, University of London, in partnership with Worklife Support.
Roffey, S. (2011). Changing behaviour in schools: Promoting positive relationships and well-being. London: Sage Publications.
Roffey, S. (2005). Circle Time Solutions as a framework for sharing and supporting, Paper presented at “Building a Global Alliance for Restorative Practices and Family Empowerment, Part 3”, co-hosted by the International Institute for Restorative Practices (IIRP) and Real Justice Australia, March 3-5, in Penrith, New South Wales, Australia. Abstract.
Roffey, S. (2014). Circle Solutions for Student Wellbeing. Sage Publications.