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Book Review: Graham Chatterley's ‘Changing Perceptions: Deciphering the Language of Behaviour’

Updated: Mar 1

Studio 3 reviews ‘Changing Perceptions: Deciphering the Language of Behaviour’ written by Graham Chatterley, an insight into some of the reasons behind the behaviours of children in mainstream and special education schools.

Image shows the front cover of a book called 'Changing Perceptions: Deciphering the Language of Behaviour' by Graham Chatterley, which shows a knot slowly untangling in a person's mind, becoming a lit lightbulb.
'Changing Perceptions: Deciphering the Language of Behaviour' by Graham Chatterley

Graham Chatterley is a teacher, school leader, trainer and consultant whose work in schools has led him to write this book about changing perceptions around behaviour management in schools. Behaviour is a tricky subject in any setting, but particularly in schools where distressed children are often misunderstood as being disruptive or misbehaved. Too often in education settings, children and young people are made to feel shame and fear over behaviour they have little control over. Graham here delves into the hidden world of some of the reasons behind challenging behaviours in schools, and why having a little more compassion, empathy and curiosity can pave the way towards positive behaviour change.


This book is a positive guide, not only to changing behaviours, but to changing how we as educators, support staff, and families feel and think about behaviours. Key to this is seeing the child as being stressed and sometimes traumatised, unable to cope with the demands placed upon them within mainstream and specialist school settings. Meeting the child where they are, and avoiding punitive and consequence-based practices at all costs is what Graham advocates for and practices in his own career.


‘Changing Perceptions’ starts by outlining what the key features of a positive learning environment are, including positive relationships in the classroom with safe and trusted adults, SEMH education for staff and peers, and having a strong shared ethos throughout the school setting. Deciding what is important – obedience, or well-being? – and shaping learning around meeting those fundamental needs in order to achieve learning is the first step. This means being curious about the reasons behind challenging behaviour, and prioritising positive and compassionate relationships between educators and learners, where everyone feels supported to risk the failure that is inherent in any learning situation.

‘If I’d had a better understanding of child development, additional needs, self-esteem, emotional regulation and trauma, and if I had realised the importance of safety, trust, co-regulation, belonging and happiness, I would have started out as a better teacher.’ (p.2)

Graham tells us that changing childrens’ experiences requires a ‘relentless consistency of response’ across the whole staff team, which is why changing perspectives is so important. This is a view also shared by our own Gareth D. Morewood, who champions ‘constant consistency’ in mainstream and specialist school settings in order to ensure inclusive practices for every pupil in a setting. Where punishments, sanctions, and consequence-based approaches are in practice and in a sense ingrained into a setting, it can be difficult to change people’s minds. We all have deeply held beliefs about behaviour, some of which we have carried with us from our own childhood experiences, and these can be stubborn to uproot. Graham’s persuasive prose and to-the-point messaging demonstrates that there is another path, and that in the long term, punishing ‘bad’ behaviour does more harm than good.

‘Having an understanding and empathetic approach will never cause emotional harm to a pupil.’ (p.13)

Having unconditional positive regard for a pupil whom you might see as being disruptive and challenging may sound impossible, but with some reflection, curiosity, and compassion, you may discover that there is another explanation. Graham talks the reader through the arousal curve, and moments where we have a chance to predict, prevent, and successful de-escalate distressed behaviours.


Where a crisis is already in motion, the most important thing is to remain calm and in control – or at least appear to be. As Graham says, fight fire with water. By being in control of your own emotions first, you model calmness and can help a young person to calm down themselves through co-regulation. This is not easy, but as Professor Andrew McDonnell says, it is something that can be taught, and has been successful on a number of Low Arousal Training courses for practitioners in a range of settings, including the LASER Approach for educators.

‘Going against your instincts, maintaining self-control in the most challenging environment and making a judgement that might upset colleagues all make focusing on putting out the fire difficult.’ (p.27)

Co-regulation is so important in these moments. Punishment, Graham warns, will not change a behaviour: only a safe, trusting relationship will – a relationship we compromise when we introduce punitive consequences before a child has had a chance to regulate and reflect on the situation.

‘Punishment without repair doesn’t prepare children for life after school, and it compounds the shame children already feel. With enough repetition, ‘I have been bad’ becomes ‘I am bad.’’ (p.94)

It is important not to assume that a child of any age has the ability to successfully both recognise their feelings of distress, and then to self-regulate in response to them. Kelly Mahler’s work on interoception sheds a light on the difficulties some individuals face in recognising physiological signs of hunger, pain, and fear within their own bodies (Mahler, 2018).


Graham goes on to discuss some of the potential motivators behind behaviours of concern, including physiological, emotional, environmental and psychological factors that may cause distress and dysregulation in young people. Recognising the build-up towards these often unconscious fight or flight responses is essential, and is only possible when we recognise stress and trauma in a young person, rather than simply seeing a child who is ‘breaking the rules’ (p.51). Children fundamentally cannot learn when they are distressed, and so recognising when a child is within their window of tolerance – calm, engaged and ready to learn – and when they are not is key. When we know what to look for, we can help to increase this window, and avoid situations and feelings that push a learner out of this window. Graham here uses the ‘fizzy juice analogy’: when you see the warning signs, don’t open the lid. Graham provides a thought-provoking list of examples of things that can affect regulation and attention in schools, such as unstructured time, group work, and certain times of the day, such as after lunch.

‘We can’t possibly be expected to do this with every child in the school, but by changing the way we see our most challenging pupils – and seeing them as our most distressed pupils – we can hopefully attune to them better.’ (p.78)

This book provides a guide to firstly reflecting on what might impact an individual at school, and how to write a simple plan to help that individual to cope when signs of distress creep in, as well as how to proactively avoid and manage stressful triggers. With helpful do’s and don’ts at the end of each chapter, the advice in the book is easy to apply in practice, and will help practitioners in a range of educational settings to reflect on their thinking around behaviour in an empathic and curious way.

               Graham’s personal reflections and perspectives gained from his teaching career and through supporting how own children with SEND needs lend a particular insight into his own journey, and how this has helped him to empathise with and learn from children with additional support needs. Graham also shares some case examples, which help to illustrate a sequential approach to creating safety, trust, regulation and belonging, thus changing behaviours and fostering courage and resilience. We would recommend this book to educational professionals who are supporting children and young people in mainstream or specialist educational settings, particularly those who may be supporting young people with SEMH needs who experience distress. Graham’s empathic and compassionate approach resonates with our own practice and beliefs here at Studio 3, and reflects what we would call a ‘Low Arousal Approach’ to creating calm, consistent environments for learners, where every member of a school community is informed about SEMH, and thinks differently about behaviour.

 ‘See the behaviour as an outcome rather than a choice’ p.115


Image shows a quote from a review of 'Changing Perceptions' by Graham Chatterley, written by Lori Desautels: 'I am honoured to have this book in my hands as author Graham Chatterley shares his brilliance in working with children and youth who often dare us to love them and teach them'
Review by Lori Desautels

'Changing Perceptions: Deciphering the Language of Behaviour' is available from Amazon or Crown House Publishing.

Written by

Rachel McDermott

Studio 3 Information and Social Media Co-Ordinator


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