“Running The Room” – Tom Bennett

Tom Bennett wears a number of “hats” in today’s education scene. He is co-founder of, and helps to run, researchED, a grass-roots organisation that organises conferences, events, and publications to raise research literacy in education. He is ever present on Twitter, ladling out his wisdom and charm for the masses.

And he is also the Department for Education’s “Behaviour Advisor”. In this role he has carried out a number of projects, including a review of behaviour management in schools that culminated in his report Creating a culture: how school leaders can optimise behaviour.

Tom writes and speaks beautifully and with flair, and can make any topic come to life with humour and flow. This is very much the case in his latest book, Running the room. Where his DfE behaviour report was about the behavioural principles at a whole school level, there is more focus in this book on what goes on inside the individual classroom.

The title comes from a phrase he picked up in his pre-teaching days when he worked in nightclubs:

The job was to run the space; to see it as a room, not a series of tasks or problems one after another. What you did in one part of the room affected the other parts… It meant taking a step back, anticipating problems and heading them off before they happened… From the point of view of efficient club management, the best nights were the boring ones.

As for nightclubs, so for teachers:

They need to run the room… If the teacher does not run it, the students will, because power abhors a vacuum. And if you permit students to do as they please, then ask how you would have behaved in such circumstances as a child?

Tom presents 10 principles that he believes underpin excellent classroom management – “Behaviour is a curriculum”, “Children must be taught how to behave”, “Make it easy to behave and hard not to” and so on. He runs through each of these in turn, each chapter addressing one, and broken down into easy-to-absorb chunks with summaries at the end of each.

It’s all presented in a very amenable fashion. He is clear up right up front: “None of this makes me any better than a good teacher in any school.” He also shares brilliant anecdotes from his time on the front line, like this one:

The first day I taught a lesson, a boy was dealing skunk at the back of the room… I asked him what he thought he was doing, which was weird because we both knew. I asked him to stop, and to his credit he only told me to fuck off. Then he left, reminding me to fuck off in case I had forgotten. I chased him pointlessly around the playground, because what else was there to do?”

All this is accompanied by strategies, tips and solid advice, bringing together the best of what we know works. It should save teachers old or new from reinventing or rediscovering things, improving their lives and those of their pupils.

It’s something a parent would find interesting too, especially if they want to understand why a school or teacher might do certain things. With the summer break ahead, and hopefully some downtime to rest and recuperate, this would be a good addition to a holiday reading list!