Changing Perceptions

Deciphering the language of behaviour

By: Graham Chatterley


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PublishedOctober 2023
Size234 x 156mm

Written by Graham Chatterley, Changing Perceptions: Deciphering the language of behaviour provides everyone working with children a better understanding of the causes of challenging behaviour and what motivates it.

This timely book moves the dial on the perception of challenging behaviour in schools. De-escalation is important but it is only part of the process: if we really want to change behaviour, we have to understand it. 

The causes of poor behaviour are many and varied: fear, stress, anxiety and the feeling of being overwhelmed can all take their toll. Changing Perceptions examines the motives behind challenging behaviour and the consequences that come with it, detailing ways in which these situations can be managed calmly and consistently. Better understanding and empathy can make children feel safer, build their trust, develop belonging and consequently create more effective learners in the classroom.

Empathy is the master key to unlocking the most challenging pupils. When we consistently respond to children with empathy and compassion, we don’t just put a sticking plaster over a problem, we change their experiences: how they feel and how they behave long term. Importantly, this approach also greatly improves staff wellbeing by increasing understanding of challenging behaviour and how it is perceived.

In this book, Graham sets out why it is so important to teach behaviour and provides practical ways to deal with the most challenging situations in the classroom and stop the conflict spiral. He also covers the importance of validating feelings, building self-esteem, improving emotional resilience, raising expectations, fostering positive values and much more.

Essential reading for teachers, school leaders and everyone working with challenging behaviour.

Picture for author Graham Chatterley

Graham Chatterley

Graham Chatterley was a school leader who has since led training for thousands of educators across the North of England. He believes that adults play a pivotal role in the behaviour of students and that a culture of teaching children behaviour, rather than managing it, is key.


  1. In Changing Perceptions: Deciphering the language of behaviour, Graham Chatterley shares how shifting adult mindsets can positively impact students. The author starts and ends the book with the premise that children do not need our assumptions about or excuses for their behaviour. They do need to feel loved and safe and treated as the individuals they are.

    The book underlies the behaviours seen in schools and provides a recipe at the end of each chapter with ingredients plus don’ts and dos. The recipes are a synthesis and set of tools for moving individuals and systems from doing to students to doing with them.

    The book concludes with a process for writing synthesized, useable and revisable plans to support students in learning the skills of self-regulation, resilience and repair. These plans, written with knowledge of the student, an open mind, flexibility and prevention are critical tools for supporting students and staff.

  2. This insightful book raises awareness about what ‘behaviour’ really is. It is music to my ears!

    Personal experience and the harnessing of knowledge from highly regarded experts and professionals allows Chatterley to really get to grips with perceptions and misconceptions, throwing light on what drives behaviour challenges in schools and how we need to take a more sophisticated approach to how we deal with them. This is an honest and, at times, emotional read, where Chatterley allows us an insight into his own lived experiences that confirm why he is a person to listen to and learn from.

  3. In Changing Perceptions, Graham’s choice to share professional vulnerability with the reader lays the foundation for a reader–author relationship within a sense of trust which is, as he says, vital for learning. Graham set out to write the book he wishes he could have read at 22, and I think anyone working in education could learn from this book.

    If you believe the point of school is education, this book considers how to support children to best access it. If you believe the point of school is the development of well-being and preparation for adult life, this book also has a lot to offer you as a reader. If, like many, your point of view is somewhere along that continuum, then the 75% ‘why’ and the 25% ‘how’ shows the importance and interplay between understanding and reflection.

    This book can be read from start to finish but the clear structure alternatively allows for focus on particular areas at particular times. It is easy to read, though at times the realisation it leads to can challenge. Be prepared to experience increased awareness of the how and no doubts about why we need to care deeply about supporting behaviour holistically and with compassion.

  4. In Changing Perceptions Graham Chatterley set out to write the book he wished he’d had as an NQT when he struggled with pupil behaviour. What he has produced – the fruit of many years spent thinking, researching, observing, learning from experts and, above all, working with children in classrooms in mainstream and specialist settings – is a book I wish I’d had at any stage of my career.

    Changing Perceptions is strong on the theory of behaviour, why and how it can go wrong and what caring professionals can do to help children acquire the self-control which allows them to learn from their mistakes. Behavioural mistakes, Chatterley repeatedly insists, quoting Dr Rob Long, are learning opportunities for pupils and for the adults working with them. The author estimates that this round-up of theory takes up the first three quarters of the book. Incisive and insightful, these pages are full of ‘lightbulb moments’, when an experienced teacher recognises the truth of what’s written and suddenly understands some of the behaviours and interactions they have witnessed or participated in during their career.

    Perhaps even more valuable are the practical examples – the recounting of incidents and conversations with pupils which Graham uses to illustrate and explain his approach, especially the very powerful, personal story of how much the experience of having an autistic child himself taught him. The struggles he describes are ones many parents of children with special needs will recognise and his willingness to be open about how tough it can be is one of the real strengths of this book.

    There’s an authenticity and an unflinching honesty here which makes his theoretical learning even more valuable. Graham freely admits that he has often got things wrong, and he isn’t interested in judging schools, teachers or parents; he wants to help them in their mission to help children. Because in the end, as he constantly reiterates, this whole educational enterprise – schools, teaching, learning – must have children and young pupil at its centre.

    This is an important book. All teachers can learn from it. For my part I will be buying copies for my daughter and my son, respectively head and deputy in different primary schools.

  5. Chatterley takes the reader on a journey, providing them with an opportunity to understand why behaviourist approaches to the communication of distress are not simply outdated but also pointless. Utilising the most contemporary research, supplying a coherent narrative and exploring the lived experiences of families, children and young people, this book is an essential read for everyone working in the education community.

  6. Changing Perceptions is a must-read book for all who sit beside children and youth carrying pain-based behaviours. Graham explains how toxic stress – the ‘why’ –  impacts behaviours and how holistic and restorative practices are critical for social and emotional well-being which leads to deepened learning. Most importantly, Graham shares his lived and often painful experiences as a father raising an autistic child. 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.

  7. Changing Perceptions is an enjoyable, thought-provoking read. Teachers and leaders at every level will get so much from reading his book. He manages to hit the target without missing the point, which is that behaviour is about meeting the underlying needs of all members of schools as communities.

    Graham explores behaviour with authenticity and warmth and keeps the well-being of children central. Read Graham’s book and behaviour will be better as a result.

  8. Graham’s book is a bold and ambitious clarion call for teachers to ‘change their perceptions’ of several things; to change their perceptions of what lies behind the behaviour of the students they teach; to change their perceptions of the most effective language to use when describing the behaviour of the young people in their class; to change the perceptions of what approaches work to get better behaviour; and, above all, to change their perceptions of the young people they work with, especially those young people with the most ‘challenging’ behaviour. And there is a clear starting point for these changed perceptions and that is with all of us being a little more ‘fiercely curious’.

    We originally bonded over a book. I first met Graham during lockdown – schools closed so I was able to join a Twitter online book club, partly because I had the time but also, because I was self-employed at the time, I wanted to keep in touch with a community of teachers. The book group was originally formed around a reading of Bruce Perry’s The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog, and this book and the several others we read (and are still reading together) was a gateway to hearing Graham’s ideas, his passion for doing behaviour a different way and his professional and personal experience of getting the best behaviour out of all young people. The book club still meets, and I now get to work closely on behaviour with Graham. This book will allow you to read and hopefully implement the many useful strategies the book contains.

    Maybe 20 years ago, we didn’t know much of the specialist and expert research we now have from neuroscience, psychology, therapy, pedagogy and other academic fields (it is to Graham’s credit that his book is full of the most up-to-date research from many different areas), but it has always been the case that the most successful teachers knew that the best classroom behaviour is achieved with staff and students working together, based on relationships built on the right balance of support and challenge and a shared set of values and goals.

    Graham’s book also contains a lot of really good questions but, more importantly, lots of really good answers. In fact, the book is written with solutions in mind. Words matter to Graham as well as the positive actions – take for example ‘mistakes’ – instead of a young person’s mistake instigating a cycle of shame or guilt with the associated negative labels that some young people are more than willing to live down to, Graham suggests that we try seeing a ‘mistake’ as a ‘learning opportunity’ and use the language of restoration and behaviour recovery to begin the process of real behaviour change.

    There is brave leadership and fierce curiosity in equal measure in Graham’s book. Schools should be a place of growth, where all young people are able to thrive because of the approaches to better behaviour that comes with effective challenge and support. This book brings his personal experience as well as the latest educational research to help you work with young people with empathy and respect. But this is not easy. Look at Graham’s end-of-chapter recipe cards for better behaviour and the ingredients that should feature in a teacher’s response to behaviour – flexibility; letting go; inclusivity; self-control; a positive mindset; but, above all, repeated at the end of nearly every chapter, is patience and an open mind. Not easy, but with a changed perception this can start in your classroom with a sequential approach.

  9. Changing Perceptions is a realistic and comprehensive discussion about how the education system can change its response to the need for emotional regulation in our schools and classrooms.

    The overwhelming impression is one of great care for our children, great understanding of their needs and how these may be reflected outwardly, and great empathy for how we might address these in the system we have.

    Graham’s honesty and openness about this not being an exact science, and the impossibility of getting it right all the time but approaching every situation with the intention of being kind, makes it accessible for educators at every stage in their career.

    Thank you, Graham, for sharing your personal story and for advocating for children throughout the country. Let’s hope this book can continue the progress we are making in changing perceptions about children and families and, therefore, being more effective practitioners.

  10. In Changing Perceptions Graham Chatterley guides us through a number of steps to better understand children’s complex behaviour. Rooted in relational practice, neuroscience, restorative and trauma-informed approaches, Graham weaves in case studies to help educational practitioners develop a nuanced approach to behaviour.

    Graham does not shy away from the high end of complex behaviour relating to neglect and trauma, which at times can be upsetting to read but is an area which those that work in SEMH schools and alternative provision may be more used to. This means that this is a book that would suit those who don’t want to just dip in for a cursory understanding but who want to really get to the crux of changing their own perceptions in understanding and responding to the behaviour they see in front of them.

    Graham’s book demystifies complexities around behaviour and relationships between adults and children, and breaks down and presents neuroscience more simply to help consider a different approach to zero tolerance or punitive sanctions in responding to behaviour.

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