Dog Saliva, Pecking Pigeons, and Children

Gwen Webster is standing in the open doorway of her fourth-grade classroom. One moment she is looking out to the playground where most of her students are playing and the next moment she turns to look into the classroom where two students continue to sit. She has kept the two students in because they have not finished their assignment. She had certainly warned them of this possibility, but they wouldn’t get to work, so now she has determined to “increase their concern about finishing the work.”



Except, as she looks back into the classroom, neither Vaughn nor Laurel seems the least bit concerned about their work. And so Gwen stands in the open doorway, fretting just a bit about the cold of the winter morning air exchanging places with the warmth of the heated classroom through that open door, and fretting just a bit that she can’t be with her colleagues, whose classrooms shared this recess time, chatting in a small group out by the playground equipment.

As her frustration grows, Gwen Webster begins to think about other ways to make these kids get their work done. Tony got his work done, although as she looks at the disheveled worksheet that he thrust into her hand before zooming out the field to play football with his classmates she realizes that what he completed barely merits a passing score. Yet he turned something in. What is with these other two kids? she thinks to herself. And so she stands in the doorway, her left side feeling the warmth of the classroom, her right the chill of the winter air, and continues to think about what she needs to do to get Vaughn and Laurel to finish their assignment.

She looks at Laurel, who is quietly reading a book at her desk, seemingly oblivious to her teacher’s concern. And then she looks at Vaughn, who is quietly yet angrily sitting at his desk. Well, he can be as angry as he wants, she again thinks to herself. As far as I’m concerned, he can sit there until the cows come home, but that assignment will get done. She looks at her watch. Still 10 minutes to go for recess.



This excerpt from Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators (2005) is based on a common classroom occurrence – that being, students don’t complete work so the teacher comes up with a response intended to make them do it. Let’s continue with the excerpt and see what we can learn from Gwen Webster.


   Earlier in the morning she had threatened to keep students in from recess if they did not finish their assignment. A number of the students got to work and finished it on time. Was it wrong for Gwen to think that she made them do their work? They hadn’t been doing their work, but she intervened and made them do it. Right? As you are thinking about this, let’s examine the experiences and thinking of several of Gwen’s students, including Laurel and Vaughn, who are still sitting at their desks.

Avery is one of the students out on the playground. He is an excellent student and actually was enjoying the social studies worksheet. He does well in all of his subjects, even the ones he doesn’t particularly like. He likes to read and is good at organizing his thoughts and writing them out afterward. He knows he is considered smart by others and wants to continue to be viewed that way. The approval of his teachers and parents is important to him. When his teacher was threatening his classmates to get to work, Avery was so focused on completing his assignment that he was only vaguely aware of what she was saying. He was now out on the playground, but the fact that he was out there had nothing to do with his teacher threatening him and making him do his work.


Kendra is also out on the playground, even though she is not known for being an excellent student. Kendra is actually quite bright and is, in fact, gifted in the areas of music and art. She isn’t that exited about reading, and struggles a bit with writing her thoughts out, unless it is lyrics to a song. She was one of the students that got to work when her teacher threatened to keep people in who didn’t finish the assignment. She likes recess and figured the work wasn’t that big of a deal. She also didn’t want to get on her teacher’s bad side. Better to do it now, she figured, than to have to do it at home later. One of her favorite TV shows was on that evening, and there was no sense in jeopardizing that. She didn’t consciously process all of these thoughts, but regardless, she ended up choosing to finish her work on time.

Tony was another matter. He is kinesthetically gifted and seems to be a classroom leader, although his leadership is not always appreciated by his teacher. Actually, he is smart in other ways, too, but so far people have caught only occasional glimpses of the kind of quality work he can produce. He is a good reader and writer when he wants to be.


On this particular morning he and some of the other boys had been talking about the football game on TV last night, and that had led to some bragging and such; next thing you know, teams had been divided in preparation for the “big game” during the morning recess. Tony took this pretty seriously and was working on getting ready for the game, assigning positions for the guys on his team and making new plays instead of completing his assignment. When he first heard his teacher threatening to keep students in from recess, he looked at the clock and figured he would have time to get it all done. But as recess time grew closer, his thinking changed from I still have time to get this done to She won’t really make us stay in if we don’t have it done.

A conversation Tony overheard between his teacher and Vaughn convinced him that she was serious, though it was too late. Tony panicked as he saw that only kids handing Mrs. Webster a completed assignment could head to the playground. His powers of intelligence kicked in and he scanned the paper to assess what he could do to fix the situation. He quickly realized that while reading the assigned section in the textbook would improve the quality of the answers, one could actually answer the questions without doing the reading. This he quickly proceeded to do.

He presented the assignment, a bit crumpled and a bit hurried, to his teacher while glancing out to the playground to make sure that the teams looked right. “Oh, all right, go ahead,” Gwen Webster said, indicating for Tony to head for the door of freedom to the playground. She could see that his answers were hurried, but he did turn something in. His worksheet might have been hurried, but the three pages of football plays stuffed in his pocket were really quite good.


All of Tony’s plays were designed on the principle of faking out the other team. Send all of your players to the right, except for a halfback who delays and then goes out to the left. The play is meant to make the defensive team think that the play is heading a certain direction when actually it is going the exact opposite direction. Gwen Webster had just been faked out. As she stood in the doorway telling Tony he could go out to the playground she wasn’t satisfied with the quality of his work, but she did feel that she had succeeded in “making him” do it and turn it in. In fact, this was not true. Tony had reasons of his own, motivations that were important to him, that prompted his choice to get his work done.

That brings us to Laurel and Vaughn, still at their desks, and still not having started the assignment. Laurel sits with her knees curled up to her chest (not easy to do on a classroom chair) and reads a book she has brought from home. She is an excellent reader and a good student, even an excellent student at times. She has an inner strength about her that is noticeable, a self-awareness, if you will. Her answers are thoughtful and usually come from a perspective that is unique compared to that of the rest of her classmates. Her classmates are important to her, and she is also aware of and talented with social connections. She has a tendency to be “up” or “down,” though, which can be hard to figure out until you get to know her.

On this morning a couple of things are on Laurel’s mind. One is not so important, the other is very important. The less important thing is the fact that she left her house this morning without her jacket. She thought she had left it in the car the day before, but when she got to the car it wasn’t there, and they were already running late, so she arrived at school without it. The more important thing has to do with the fact that she and Stephanie are in a tiff, and now some of their mutual friends are involved. Laurel thinks, is sure, in fact, that they are going to snub her at recess. Stephanie is acting as if I should apologize to her and it telling our friends that, when in fact it should be Stephanie apologizing to me, Laurel thought to herself as she sat at her desk, curled up and reading. She didn’t want to have anything to do with any of them. So there! she added silently, yet emphatically.


Without insightful probing, there isn’t much chance that Gwen would know what is going on in Laurel’s thinking. And the issue for us at the moment isn’t what Gwen could have done or said as much as it is the need for us to realize that Laurel is motivated by thinking and perceptions that are important to her. The teacher’s threats did not overrule the fact that she did not have a jacket and didn’t really want to go outside, or that she was in a tiff with her friends and would just as soon not have to deal with them right then. Laurel is an example of a person who makes a choice, even in the face of threats or punishment, for reasons that have to do with internal motivation.

Vaughn is another such example. Vaughn sits at his desk, still and seething. His little heart is beating a bit faster, and if he had a pencil in his hand at the moment he would probably break it. Vaughn is actually quite bright, but most people miss his brightness and focus on his troubled life. Vaughn is at school because his grandmother is paying for the tuition (she can barely afford it on her fixed income, but the church is helping a bit, too). He lives with his mother (another story in itself) and his little sister. No one seems to know anything about the missing dad.


Although young, Vaughn already feels that he has to fight to get his “place in life.” He lives by the adage that “it isn’t important that you get good attention or bad attention, as long as you get attention.” To be sure, most of the attention that Vaughn gets is bad attention. Other students care about what their teachers think of them; Vaughn doesn’t seem to. Other students want to go to this school; Vaughn doesn’t. He seems to range from defensive to aggressive, and adults seem to talk a lot about what to do with Vaughn.

He doesn’t read much, as there are almost no books at home. He doesn’t write much either, although he is certainly capable of both. He looked at the social studies worksheet when the teacher handed it out, but nothing on the worksheet grabbed him. It was just one more thing that he was supposed to do in school. He delayed a bit in getting started, since he was somewhat involved with some of the football talk going back and forth. Ted had encouraged him to get his assignment done so that he could be on Ted’s team.

Vaughn was actually getting his textbook out of his desk to get started when Mrs. Webster first announced that anyone not finishing the assignment would not go out to recess. The more he thought about what she said, the more it bugged him. People are always trying to make me do stuff, he thought to himself. I don’t want to do this stupid worksheet anyway. She can’t make me do it. Better yet, maybe they’ll kick me out. At his young age Vaughn had only a vague appreciation for his own reputation, although that sense was growing. Something inside was driving him to be unique, to be himself, to create his niche.

“People behave for TOTALLY personal reasons.”

   Gwen was beginning to engage in a “fight” with Vaughn, though not on purpose. She would not have described it as a competition, but that is what it was. If pressed, Gwen would have said that “for Vaughn’s sake I am going to win this thing.” Again, the key at this point isn’t reviewing what Gwen was doing. The key is understanding that Vaughn sat there seething and determined for reasons totally inside of himself. Regardless of her arsenal of stimuli, Gwen was not going to make Vaughn do much of anything.


The story of Gwen Webster, Laurel, and Vaughn explains how people behave for totally personal reasons – not occasional personal reasons, not some personal reasons, not even for mostly personal reasons. Again, people behave for totally personal reasons. This is the key to internal control psychology. It is a key to understanding and applying Choice Theory.

Boss-managers firmly believe that people can be motivated from the outside:
they fail to understand that all of our motivation comes from within ourselves.
William Glasser

This excerpt from Soul Shapers is taken from a chapter entitled – Dog Saliva, Pigeons, and Children – which explores the effects of stimulus-response strategies in homes and classrooms. Soul Shapers can be easily accessed through Amazon. I was recently informed by my students that a cheap digital copy of the book is available through Google Books.


I Have Mixed Drinks About Feelings


I saw this shirt in a shop window at Pismo Beach, California. We chuckle at its message, but there is so much truth hidden behind the humor. For some of us, after the initial laugh, we shake our heads as we once again admit the message’s implications. It’s funny, but for some it’s not a laughing matter.

It is interesting how tied into our feelings we are; and how obsessed we are at having some sort of control over them. We crave this ability to affect our feelings a great deal! And we will go to unbelievable lengths for relief from them! One woman, wanting to change her overall diet, admitted that she had been spending around $100 a week on alcohol; another person describes his constant battle to get his hands on more Oxycontin; while yet another admits an obsession with pornography. Whether it is legal or illegal drugs, coffee or valium, food or sex, gambling or shopping, we identify and practice behaviors that change neurotransmitter levels in our brain, which then provides some sort of short term relief from our pain, frustration, worry, or boredom. Based on the data regarding things like drug sales – both legal and illegal, online viewing, and gambling profits, to name a few, the drive to affect our feelings is compelling and constant.


Wanting to feel better is not bad in itself. In fact, it is a good goal. The problem lies in the shortcuts we choose to achieve feeling good. I heard one person describe how trying to feel right or better through a shortcut is like buying mental health on credit from an unscrupulous and tough loan shark. Sooner, rather than later, you will need to pay up, or you go into even worse debt, which many do.

“One of the great gifts of choice theory
is that it frees people from the tyranny of their feelings.”

One of the great gifts of choice theory is that it frees people from the tyranny of their feelings. Rather than being victims of our feelings, tossed to and fro by their whims, we come to understand their true role in our behavior. Rather than seeing our feelings as all-important, the central point around which other parts of our behavior revolve, we begin to see they are only as important as we make them. And rather than pursuing shortcuts to affect our feelings, shortcuts that may even be destructive to our health and our relationships, we choose behaviors that bring our feelings into line with good mental health.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior.

The tires on a car are used to represent the four parts of total behavior. (Better to say – All behavior is purposeful.)

To me, this gift of choice theory is one of the most important things we can teach to our children. Really understanding the concepts of Total Behavior and the implications of our feelings being one of the back tires of the Total Behavior car is a permanently life-changing epiphany. We can directly (intentionally) control our thinking and our actions; as we do, our feelings and our physiology will come into agreement with them. Of course, the opposite will be true, too. If we choose to focus on our feelings, which we have no direct control over, then our thinking and our actions will come into agreement with that focus. Some have pointed out that focusing on feelings first is like driving our lives in reverse, not an effective arrangement. Or like a sixth grade student pointed out after learning about Total Behavior – “It’s like a back seat driver, like someone is controlling the car from the back seat.”

The goal is to be in a state of good mental health, but that is difficult when we dance to the tune of our feelings. God certainly desires us to experience good mental health and the purpose, love, power, freedom, and joy that goes with it. The apostle Paul said as much when he wrote –

For God has not given us a spirit of fear,
but of love, power, and a sound mind.

2 Timothy 1:7

Classroom Ideas

+ Put up a large poster of the Total Behavior car and explain what the parts of the car mean.

+ Get a large toy vehicle to display in the classroom, with each of the Total Behavior pieces labeled on the car.

+ When reading about characters in a story – especially during History or Bible class – ask students to consider how the character’s behavior relates to the Total Behavior car. Was he or she, for instance, focusing on the front tires or the back tires when behaving as they did? How did their behavior change during the story?

+ How does a person’s life change when the back tire of feelings is inflated to a bigger size than the rest of the tires? Can you think of a time when a character from the Bible had a “way too big” feeling tire?

+ When problem-solving, practice shifting focus from the feeling tire to the thinking tire. Help students recognize the change in their feelings as their thinking changes.

Elementary level teachers will want to check out a great idea from one of their colleagues regarding the Total Behavior car. You can access that idea by clicking on the following picture –





Reality Influences Perception; Perception Creates Reality


Sophie Sims-Stapleton turned onto her street and could see them as plain as day. It wasn’t day, of course. It was actually twilight, the evening fast approaching as street lights started to come on, the darkness slowly draping the neighborhood. Her commute had taken a bit longer this evening, which had prompted her to abandon her plans to stop at Safeway on the way home, but even in the twilight she could clearly see them. All three of them, standing in front of her house like sentinels – the brown one, the green one, and the blue one. Except they weren’t sentinels; they were trash cans, standing somewhat askew after the trash truck had emptied them with its robotic arm and unceremoniously dropped them back onto the pavement. And now they were chiding her with a message as clear as their bold colors, that message being, You don’t matter!

As she neared the house she could see her husband’s car already parked in the driveway, which seemed to grind salt in her festering wound. Hadn’t she and Greg, her husband, talked about this at length last week, after the cans had sat in front of the house for three days following trash day, both of them expecting the other to bring the cans to the side yard where they were stored during the week. The two of them had quietly and sullenly dug in, both acting like they hadn’t noticed the cans in front of the house, even though it was difficult to park with them sitting where the trash truck had ditched them.


“Why can’t you just bring them in?” she pleaded. “You usually get home first.”

“I usually do,” he retorted, “but why can’t you bring them in once in a while? I help around the house, seems like you could help with some of the outdoor stuff now and again.”

Truth be told, she felt that her job was more stressful, and basically more important than his, and that he should pick up more of the chores at home. It bothered her that he could act, through his ignoring of the trash cans, like he was somehow equal to her. He had reminded her of the things weighing on him at work, as well as at church, with all the time he was donating to the needs of the building committee, and she had momentarily relented, even as she harbored a sense of resentment toward his laziness and stubbornness. In the end, they had gone out and brought in the trash cans together, which kind of felt good, like they had solved a problem through communicating and respect.


Yet now, just a few days later, the trash cans once again were askew in front of the house, with big grins on the front of them (at least as far as she was concerned), driving home the point that her needs didn’t matter. As she navigated around the blue recycle can to park in her usual place, her thoughts were not positive.

I kind of hate him, she thought to herself. Why can’t he just bring in the freaking trash cans? Seeing his car parked in its usual place she got even angrier. He’s been home for how long? A half hour? An hour? That’s plenty of time to bring in a few trash cans. Jeez! Why do I have to nag him? His laziness makes me crazy!

The thought occurred to her to bring in the trash cans herself, but she responded gruffly to such an idea. That would be totally non-supportive of her goal. There are responsibilities for which he needs to step up to the plate, and this is one of them. She laughed at herself for even entertaining the thought of bringing the cans in herself. True, during last week’s discussion on this very point she had agreed that sometimes she could bring in the cans, too, but she pushed this memory aside now. Instead, the thought occurred to her to place one of the cans directly behind his car so that he would have to move it in the morning.


The front porch was dark, which added to her anger fuel. If he gets home first, can’t he at least turn on the porch lights as a courtesy to others that come home later? How did I marry this jerk? What was I thinking?

She put the finishing touches on her anger and frustration, all of it completely merited and defensible, as she covered the final steps to the front door. Which persona to be she wondered as she unlocked the door – should I go with lashing-out anger or should I go with the silent treatment? Full of appropriate disgust she entered a dark house. What’s going on? she thought.

“Greg,” she called out. “Greg,” she tried again. But only silence in return. What in the world?

And then a memory slipped across her mind. Her brow furrowed as the audio memory tape in her brain wound into position. She almost declined to press the play button, but her brain seemed to have an automatic play option. Faintly, but growing stronger, the tape said, Honey, I will be home late tonight. Roger is picking me up in the morning, as we have a joint meeting in Forrest City tomorrow for work, and then we are both part of the special board meeting this evening at the church. It may be close to 10:00 when I get home. She recalled the look on his face as he explained his schedule, the way he regretted being away from her for the evening, and a pang of awareness began to overtake her.

She turned the kitchen light on and immediately saw the note he had written, after she had left for work.

Just a reminder that I will be home late tonight.
More meetings at the church.
I’ll get the trash cans in when I get home, though.
Love, Greg.

She stared at that simple note for a long time, her eyes growing wet as the recognition regarding her own anger became clearer and clearer. A tear dropped on to the note, quickly blurring the ink of trash and cans. She had created a story and nurtured it into a reality that she had fully embraced. Her reality had led her to think terrible things about her husband, but she was beginning to see that she had made it all up. All of it. For some reason, she realized, her version of reality applied the worst interpretation to Greg’s behavior, while applying the best interpretation to her own behavior. Another tear dropped onto the note, this time obliterating the word Love.

That can’t happen she thought to herself. Our love can’t be so easily blurred. And with that she returned to the entryway, turned on the porch light, and headed into the night air to get the trash cans and put them away.


It is true that reality influences our perceptions. Our circumstances can affect any part of our total behavior – our thinking, our acting, our feelings, or our physiology. Information and events external to us may or may not matter. A ringing telephone, as Glasser used to say, lets us know that someone wants to talk with us, but it can’t force us to answer it. An angry, threatening person may convince us to comply with his demand, or it may not. We decide. In fact, we make a ton of these decisions every day. Circumstances constantly hit us with data; we process the data and decide how to respond.

It is just as true that our perceptions create our reality. In fact, this may be one of the most important of the elements of choice theory. It is probably more accurate to say that our embraced perceptions create our reality. When we settle on a value or belief, everything we experience passes through our values filter. The result of this filtering is our version of reality. Our actions are always based on our view of reality, so the importance of this process cannot be overstated.

It can be hard for some to come to grips with the idea that people create their own version of reality. Reality is reality, some say; it isn’t a matter of opinion. For each of us, though, reality is formed in the frontal cortex of our brains, which continuously takes in millions of bits of information and turns it into pictures and sounds and smells. A danger lurks in the belief that our personal pictures and sounds and smells represent total, all-knowing, crystal-clear reality. Such a view cannot tolerate new information and limits itself to shrunken interpretations. Sophie had embraced faulty pictures of Greg, but she was able to admit this when new information corrected her version of reality. This is not always easy to do – Has anyone’s mind been changed, for instance, because of all the political information and articles being shared on Facebook as Election 2016 nears? Exactly, we choose to ignore some articles, even as we consciously click on links to other articles we consider more trustworthy or accurate. Having values is fine, even preferable, but staying open to new information is a healthier state of mind.

Just remember not to jump to conclusions when you round the corner and see those pesky trash cans still sitting out by the road.


Generation Adderall

The first time I saw William Glasser in person was at a school improvement conference in Vancouver, Washington, in, as I recall, the fall of 1994. The Evergreen School District, just up the road from where I was school principal in Salem, Oregon, had sponsored the event and invited area-wide teachers to attend. I felt the $100 fee for the two-day event was a bargain and paid for all of my teachers to join me in checking Glasser out in person.

It turned out to be an important event for us as a staff, since the conference contributed to our understanding of control theory (it didn’t become choice theory until two years later) and ultimately toward our taking tangible steps toward becoming a quality school. Besides attending Glasser’s keynote lectures I was also able to attend Diane Gossen’s two-day workshop on Restitution, which became a life-changing set of beliefs for me as a school administrator. I wouldn’t learn until mid-1999 that Glasser would eventually have a problem with Restitution, nor could I have imagined that I would soon become involved with doing research on the formation of Glasser’s beliefs and with becoming his biographer. But I digresss . . .

Glasser on a stool, his water beside him, giving a talk in Ventura (c. 2006)

Glasser on a stool, his water beside him, giving a talk in Ventura (c. 2006)

As I read a recent article in the New York Times Magazine, I was reminded of one of those keynote lectures that Glasser gave over 20 years ago in Vancouver. Sticking to his classic presentation format – a chair or stool, a microphone, and a table with a pitcher of water and a glass on it – Glasser had the audience fully attending to what he was saying. Always able to connect with educators in a special way, he was speaking their language and touching on themes they wanted to know more about. At one point he began talking about the need for school campuses to be drug-free, a belief that his audience seemed to share. As he continued talking on this topic, though, it became clear that he wasn’t just talking about illegal drugs like marijuana, but was in fact also talking about prescription drugs like Ritalin and Adderall. I can still see in my memory banks the row of eight or nine Special Education specialists that took him to task for the position he was taking on brain drugs. They felt such drugs were essential to the successful life of the children with whom they worked. I can also recall the way in which he gently, but firmly, didn’t back down.


The article in the New York Times Magazine is titled Generation Adderall and is an important read that has been written from a personal perspective. Although brutally honest, the article isn’t preachy. That not being preachy part is an important element that needs to be present for me to be able to recommend it to you. Click on the picture below to access the article.

Click on picture to access the Generation Adderall article.

Click on picture to access the Generation Adderall article. You can also click on the link below.

Generation Adderall

Stories have a special appeal, and the article’s author, Casey Schwartz, is simply telling her story. It is true that with her addiction to Adderall she became a data point in what has become a sea of them in this country. Whether having to do with the percentage of children on brain drugs (I’ve read that something over 20% of 4th and 5th grade boys are now on a brain drug in the US) or the percentage of adults now addicted to pain medications, the numbers are staggering. Casey’s story, though, plus many other articles I am now seeing on a regular basis, calls into question society’s headlong rush toward pills as a solution.

Looking back on my time in the Evergreen School District amphitheater as Glasser patiently called into question a school’s support for brain drugs, I see now that he wanted to prevent the Casey’s of the world from having a difficult Adderall story to share in the first place. Addiction traps us, and even enslaves us. Choice theory is about freedom – freedom from dependence on things like drugs, whether licit or illicit, in our search to be happy and at peace.

addiction is about the spirit’s imprisonment in the flesh


Glasser said a lot that is easy to understand and readily accept. We sometimes forget, though, that he said a number of powerful statements that clearly swim against public opinion. He believed and wrote, for instance, that mental illness, as defined by his field, does not exist. He believed that although desperate to do so, neither psychiatry nor the drug companies had proven a biological connection to symptomatic psychological behavior. And he believed that brain drugs, while capable of affecting the creativity of the brain, did not address such symptoms in a helpful way.

Taking on psychiatry and the drug companies was not his key goal, although he wouldn’t back down when challenged in these areas. I viewed him as much more focused on the good fight of mental health, rather than on the bad fight of mental illness. He wrote more strongly about brain drugs and the drug companies in his 2003 book, Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health. I dedicated a chapter of his biography to the themes he covered in Warning and I would encourage you to re-read the chapter for a good re-fresher.


It isn’t often that I write about brain drugs (I’m not an expert), but when I do I want to capture the spirit in which Glasser spoke about them. That being there was no part of him that wanted to criticize someone for taking a brain drug; instead, he wanted to encourage a person with the possibility that they were not biologically diseased, and that they didn’t require help from a drug. He wanted them to consider that their symptoms just might be the result of months or years of deep unhappiness, and that choice theory could teach them how to be happier and more satisfied with their lives.

I ended the Warning chapter in the biography with the following –

During our interviews a couple of years after the Warning book was published, when he was already on to the next project, the idea that mental health was a public health issue rather than a medical problem, I asked him about his “moving on” from the emphasis in the book. The Warning title seemed to sound the battle cry for a full-on, prolonged assault on the psychopharmacology system, yet apparently he had discovered significance in another approach. Thinking out loud to me, almost in a tone that suggested let’s move on, he explained, “I’m damning psychiatry as much as I’m gonna damn it. I’m saying they diagnose diseases that don’t exist, they give drugs that can harm you, and they tell you that you can’t help yourself. That’s about as good as I can do.”

Ultimately, Casey Schwartz discovered she could help herself. This is the preventive foundation I want teachers and schools to be a part of sharing with students. For me, the idea that people can learn to psychologically help themselves is one of Glasser’s most important contributions.




What You Feel Can Change What You See

One of the great insights that we gain from choice theory is the realization that we are constantly in the process of creating our reality. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this concept, since all of our views, our fears, our responses, and our plans are based on our perception of reality.

In a sharp, concise TED talk, Issac Lidsky explains “how what we see is a unique, personal, virtual reality that is masterfully constructed by our brain.” He acknowledges that what we see can change how we feel, but he goes further by also explaining that “what you feel can change what you see.” Citing fascinating studies he points out how subjects’ estimates as to how fast a man was walking was influenced by whether or not they were shown a picture of a cheetah or a turtle; or that subjects believed that a hill was steeper if they had just exercised; or that a landmark appeared farther away when subjects were wearing a heavy backpack. His 11 minute talk follows –

Coming from his own amazingly unique perspective, Lidsky makes a strong case for the way in which “we create our own reality.” Because of this he urged his audience to “hold themselves accountable for every moment and every thought.” This view is one of choice theory’s most important contributions. William Glasser didn’t invent the way in which we create our own reality, but he was one of the early “recognizers” of it. Isaac Lidsky is one of the many who are also recognizing this feature of our human design.

The only thing worse than being blind
is having sight with no vision.
Helen Keller

Consider showing this TED talk to your middle school or high school students. Afterward viewing it, you might consider processing some of the following questions with them –

+ Helen Keller once said that “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight with no vision.” Does Isaac Lidsky have vision and if so, provide examples.
+ What did Lidsky mean when he said that we create our own unique, virtual reality?
+ To what extent do you agree with Lidsky that we feel can change what we see?
+ What does it mean to hold ourselves accountable for every thought?
+ At one point during his early life, Lidsky referred to his view of his life being “a fiction of his fears.” Is his story just one more feel-good yarn, or is he on to something? To what extent do you relate to the possibility that your view of things is a fiction born of your fears?

Hold yourself accountable for every thought.
Isaac Lidsky


Another excellent video that demonstrates reality being a product of our own creative interpretation is the Season 1: Episode 1 edition of Brain Games, entitled Watch This. Very well done. Your students will be impressed. Lots of material to talk about afterward, as well as a lot of activities to try in your own classroom. You can easily access the episode on Netflix.



On a personal note –

Ok, so I have recently been diagnosed with a non-Hodgkins form of lymphoma, a cancer known as Waldenstroms, named after a Swedish physician who discovered the disease in 1944. Waldenstroms (WM) is rare, affecting approximately 1,500 people a year in the US (which represents 1/10 of 1% of the 1.6 million people who are diagnosed with cancer in the US each year). It is incurable, but treatable. It affects the body’s ability to create mature, healthy blood cells. In my case, due to a bone marrow biopsy, they know that 70% of my cells are affected by the lymphoma. One of the results of this condition is a lower amount of energy, which I have been experiencing for some time.

I have kept on the run this summer, though – teaching summer school classes, and giving choice theory in-services in Oregon, North Dakota, and Indiana, as well as presenting at a choice theory conference in Japan – and I plan on that to continue. My energy is lower, but not gone. Over the coming weeks I will be considering treatment approaches and schedules. Because we are looking at an immunotherapy approach, rather than a chemotherapy approach, I hope not to miss work or other appointments.

The reality of the situation is still sinking in, but I have incredible support from family and close friends. My faith is strong, which is the most important thing, however I know that my choice theory beliefs will also contribute to my working through this, wherever it may lead.
Like Jesus says –

Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.   John 16:33

Don’t Rescue Kids! Really?

Parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. As parents, we struggle to find the path of appropriate support. Kids need our protection, especially early in their lives, and our guidance as they get older. It’s easy, though, to become convinced that as adults, we know what is best for our children, including what ranks as acceptable goals and performances in school, and ultimately even the career path our child should choose. We can become so convinced about the path our children should follow that we create a life map for them and force them to follow it.


Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University and author of How to Raise an Adult, recently gave a TED talk entitled How to Raise Successful Kids – Without Over-Parenting. It has already been viewed over a half million times.

Lythcott-Haims, with insight and humor, describes parents who are desperate for their kid to get into one of a handful of colleges and universities that routinely deny almost every applicant that seeks entrance into their hallowed grounds. Desperate parents, anxious to Bask in the Reflected Glory (BIRG) of their kid, create desperate students who are withering under high rates of anxiety and depression. Such kids are absolved from chores and even sleep as they try to attain the impossible. The purpose of childhood, she emphasizes, should not be about grades, scores, awards, and accolades, which are based on a super narrow definition of success, a process, whether successful or not, that comes with a long term cost to children’ sense of self. With eloquence and her own conviction, which is all the more impressive given her role at Stanford, she concludes by urging parents to be less concerned about elite colleges and more concerned about their children having the habits of mind to be successful wherever they go, to be less concerned about grades and more concerned about success built on love and chores. Yes, chores.


“I gotta get this lawn mowed.”

I first wrote about the BIRG acronym in Vexed in California (January 9, 2013), and then described it more fully in Why Fulfill Your Own Dreams, When Your Kids Can Do It For You? (February 28, 2013). Click on these titles for a quick review. BIRG parents seek to have their Basic Need for Power and Success met through the achievements of their children. BIRG parents are much less concerned, if at all, with their children discovering and establishing their own identity, and the schools classes and career path that ultimately come out of that identity, and more concerned about their child performing in a way that makes them as parents look good – not just good grades, but great grades in honors classes; not just sports involvement, but starting roles on multiple varsity sports; not just being involved in a club, but being president of the club. You get the picture. Hiding behind the guise of simply wanting what is best for my child, parents exploit their children’s efforts and even health for their own gain. Should parents, instead then, let their children flounder as they go about “discovering” themselves. As Lythcott-Haims forcefully replies, “Hell, no!” Loving support that honors the interests of our children does not have to morph into BIRGing. It’s just that we don’t do our children any favors when we prevent them from finding their own sense of self.

I wonder if Julie Lythcott-Haims is aware of the work of Denise Clark Pope, a fellow Stanford professor and author of the book, Doing School: How We Are Creating a Generation of Stressed Out, Materialistic, and Miseducated Students. I really recommend Doing School for high school teachers and parents of high school students. It is very readable, partly because it is based on five case studies – real students Pope shadowed at a top high school in the Bay Area. Wanting to discover what engaged students in the process of learning, she discovered instead that students are committed less to real learning and more to creating an impressive resume. Students, she found out, are simply “doing school,” which, unfortunately, is another way of saying they are trying to win the game by playing according to the rules we, as adults, have created. A really interesting and important read.


Finally, Glasser talked about the importance of not rescuing kids. Over-parenting prevents kids from leading their own lives, including solving problems of their own creation. We establish our identity as we are given chances to experience success, all the while keeping track of what we did well, and failure, which then can include fixing what we messed up and then making a better plan for a future attempt. A story from scripture comes to mind, the one where John the Baptist is trying to explain his role to his disciples, who are concerned about a new preacher, someone named Jesus, who was taking attention away from John. To this John explained, “He must increase and I must decrease.” This phrase might be good to keep in mind when it comes to parents (and teachers) having specific pictures in their head of what their child’s success and future look like. “My pictures need to lessen as I help my child nurture the pictures that are important to him,” a parent can decide. Our love and support are never removed during this shift toward their freedom and responsibility. Unconditional love is always the key!


It was so good to meet and work with the staff at Indiana Academy last week in Cicero, Indiana. Steve Baughman, the principal, is leading a young, committed team toward a school culture that is based on the concepts of choice theory.


Partners discussing how schools may use the Deadly Habits without intending to.


Head deans at the academy during one of the partner activities.


Partners squaring off during the “You’ve Got to Be Kidding” activity.



There Was This Teacher


The current cover of Educational Leadership, the journal for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, headlines just two words – Relationships First. I love it that thousands of teachers across the U.S. and beyond are being reminded of this essential learning element. There is no getting around it, no shortcuts to it, and no technology that replaces it. When it comes to learning, relationships matter.

Care is in the eyes of the receiver; care doesn’t exist unless those being cared for truly experience it.   Elizabeth Bondy


Glasser emphasized the importance of 3 Rs when it comes to kids learning in schools – Relationships, Relevance, and Relf-Evaluation. (Ok, it was really two Rs and an S, but it isn’t as catchy as 3 Rs.) From the outset of his career and his work at the Ventura School for Girls, basically a prison school, he recognized the absolute importance of positive connection. This connection is especially needed with any of the students we work with who have struggled with school, who have been traumatized in their past, or who are English Language Learners. One of the keys to Reality Therapy’s success, Glasser’s approach to counseling, was his emphasis on what he called involvement between patient and therapist. By involvement he meant a warm, caring connection. In 1965, when he introduced Reality Therapy to the world, this therapeutic emphasis on connection was fairly unique. The point here, though, is that whether in the classroom or the therapist’s office a positive relationship is vital.

The most urgent questions students ask as they begin a new school year are Am I safe? and Do I belong?   Rick Wormeli

I began attending workshops in cooperative learning from David and Roger Johnson almost 30 years ago, yet I still remember some of their key points like it was yesterday. They explained that there are three important relationships in every classroom – 1) the relationship between the students and the material, 2) the relationship between the students and the teacher, and 3) the relationship between the students themselves. Not to devalue the importance of the other two, especially the relationship between students and teacher, but the Johnson’s felt the most important relationship that exists in any classroom is the relationship between the students. This stuck with me and during my years as teacher, principal, and superintendent, I came to agree with them. Students enter a classroom unsure about how they will fit in and unsure about how they will be treated by others. Until they experience a classroom environment where they feel safe, learning takes a backseat. Threats and sanctions regarding lower grades or trips to the vice-principals office only contributes to their performance being worse.

If you find yourself frustrated with a student, try to find something that you genuinely like and respect about that student and repeat it to yourself.   Lisa Medoff

Rick Wormeli, who contributed the lead article, What to Do in Week 1?, in the recent Educational Leadership, shared something that Rabbi Harold Kushner said during a 1998 interview –

Often I will read about someone from the most unpromising circumstances – inner city ghetto, drug family, single-parent home, abandoned by father, abandoned by both parents sometimes – and the child will have grown up to be a star athlete, a successful politician, or a doctor. The reporter will ask, “How did you get to be who you are?” And the answer will always begin with the same four words: “There was this teacher.”

It’s true. Whether it’s about our relationship with students as teachers or their relationship as students with each other, relationships matter. And rather than relationships being touchy-feely fluff, they directly impact learning.

I realized very early in my career that to successfully and thoughtfully teach my students, I needed to imagine life through their eyes.   Cherish Skinker

In Choice Theory Speak, as teachers we want students to place us in their Quality World and we want them to place our subject matter and our classroom in their Quality World, as well. We can’t inject ourselves into their Quality World. We can only behave in a way that invites students to place us there. We can only create classrooms that students come to value. Coercion has no place within this dynamic.


As I write this it is early in the morning in Cicero, Indiana, where I am giving a two-day in-service on choice theory to the staff at Indiana Academy. They had already read Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators, so I am now joining them in their journey toward a non-coercive life and a non-coercive classroom. Yesterday we focused on Glasser’s Big Four – the Basic Needs, the Quality World, Creativity, and Total Behavior. Today we’ll focus on application of the ideas here at the academy.


The Indiana Academy campus is well kept with sprawling lawns leading to classic brick buildings. It feels peaceful here.


The school is located north of Indianapolis and is the academic home for 129 students.


A quiet hallway at the end of the day. So busy between classes. So empty now.

Stop and Turn Around

On the heels of Genius or Toxic? and the note a working mother placed on the refrigerator comes a sign taped to the front door of a school.

Sign on the front door at a Catholic high school for boys in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Sign on the front door at a Catholic high school for boys in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Genius or Toxic: Part II

“If you are a parent,” the Washington Post article begins, “racing to deliver your son’s forgotten Algebra assignment to Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock, Arkansas, principal Steve Straessle has a little advice: stop and turn around.

The article goes on to describe how the school prohibits parents from delivering forgotten lunches or assignments for their sons, an expectation the school needs to remind parents off at the beginning of each new school year.

The school’s Facebook page posted a picture of the sign and within days the post had been shared nearly 120,000 times, as well as received 3,700 comments from parents “debating whether it was ethical, fair, or wise to punish teens when their memories fail.”

For its part, the school just wants to teach students to be independent and self-reliant. Straessle explained that they want the boys to think “beyond the default switch of relying on their parents when they need help. We just want a boy to figure out what comes next when mom or dad are not there to guide them. We’ve been amazed that a school teaching self-reliance and personal responsibility seems like a novel idea.”

The school’s strategy has proven controversial and polarizing online. One comment stated that “children don’t learn well on an empty stomach . . . so this is stupid.” Another comment called the strategy “child abuse.” The principal explained that if a lunch is forgotten the student can get an IOU from the cafeteria or borrow money from a friend. He admitted, though, that late assignments can earn less points. Many commenters felt the strategy was very appropriate and that students would learn responsibility as they faced natural consequences.

So what do we think of this school’s “stop and turn around” policy? Genius or toxic? This one seems a bit easier to call than the refrigerator note. This strategy can be genius as long as the school maintains a compassionate spirit in the policy’s implementation. The school seems to really want to help the boys to learn to be responsible, not necessarily to simply focus on catching the boys’ mistakes and teaching them a lesson. They provided for solutions in case the boys forgot something at home, although the solution was never quite as good as if they remembered the stuff in the first place.

What do you think?


A mother taped this note to the refrigerator for her children.

A mother taped this note to the refrigerator for her children.

The refrigerator note featured in the last blog really generated interest. The responses were very insightful and contributed to a great online discussion involving choice theorists around the world. I could say more about the refrigerator note, but several people with a lot of experience and expertise in choice theory shared their insights in their responses to the blog post. I encourage you to read their letters.


The view from the mens' bathroom, if you can believe that.

The view from the mens’ bathroom, if you can believe that.

My stay in Japan has been so positive and such a learning experience! As I write I am looking out across Lake Biwako in the Shiga Prefecture. Beautiful white clouds are slowly floating across the sky; sailboats dot the water; and beautiful buildings meet the shore for as far as the eye can see. The Choice Theory Conference, sponsored by the William Glasser Institute – Japan, is over, yet the memories of new friends are strong and clear in my mind. More on my Japan experience soon.

Genius or Toxic?

A mother taped this note to the refrigerator for her children.

A mother taped this note to the refrigerator for her children.

Genius or Toxic?

So what do you think, fellow choice theorists? Many external control motivators are obvious, easily analyzed, and quickly labeled as hurtful or destructive. What about this note, though? Is it genius or are there elements of being toxic in the approach? The mother adds a “proof of life” element that you see in movies about kidnappings, and she tries to make it feel more lighthearted with “Thank you for playing.”

If we see genius, are we overlooking something manipulative that always come back to haunt or hurt relationships, and if we see toxic, are we making too big a deal out of a parent having fun with incentivizing the chore of cleaning the kitchen?

Genius and Toxic?

Maybe it isn’t either/or; maybe it’s both genius and toxic. Help me with this one; what do you think?


This is where I will be landing in Japan - Kansai International Airport - an incredible airfield built in the middle of a bay on landfill.

This is where I will be landing in Japan – Kansai International Airport – an incredible airfield built in the middle of a bay on landfill.

Heading for Japan tomorrow. Looking forward to giving presentations on the writing of the Glasser biography. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the biography, Champion of Choice, has been translated into Japanese. And for good reason since there is a very strong Glasser organization and choice theory presence in Japan.

Glasser's story and his ideas in English and in Japanese.

Glasser’s story and his ideas in English and in Japanese.

4 Powerful Ideas, Like North Dakota Lightning!

One of the lightning strikes during my North Dakota stay this week. It was totally dark, yet now it is almost like daytime, the flag flying proudly during the storm.

One of the lightning strikes during my North Dakota stay this week. It was totally dark, yet now it is almost like daytime, the flag flying proudly during the storm. (Photo by Jim Roy)

Incredible explosions in the North Dakota sky!

Incredible explosions in the North Dakota sky! (Photo by Jim Roy)

A North Dakota lightning storm provided quite a send off this past Tuesday evening. Wow! From far in the distance to very close, the lightning flashes for a while exceeded 40 per minute. Talk about a show!

More North Dakota lightning!

More North Dakota lightning! (Jim Roy photo)

I headed home on Wednesday from Dakota Adventist Academy where I led out in a choice theory in-service for teachers in the Dakota Conference. I appreciate the spirit in which the teachers tackled and considered a non-coercive approach to managing students. For them, school begins in just a few days, though, so I wondered (as I flew home at 550 mph) about how much choice theory they will be able to bring into their classrooms.

With the reality of school beginning for so many of you right about now, here are FOUR things to keep in mind, especially for those of you who took your first choice theory class this past summer, as another school kicks into gear.

ONE – Focus on creating a need-satisfying environment
Rather than worrying about what you still don’t totally understand about choice theory, focus on coming up with ways to intentionally meet students’ Basic Needs. Meeting students’ physical and psychological needs isn’t rocket surgery. It’s more about shifting our mindset to consciously consider that each of our students, like each of us, has a unique set of Basic Needs that want to be met. For instance, rather than resenting or even “fighting” students that have a high need for power, come up with activities or strategies that help them meet their need for power. Such activities can include students having meaningful classroom jobs, being asked to plan classroom events, older students helping younger students, teaching a concept to fellow classmates, or being given a chance to master a new skill. Each of the Basic Needs – Purpose, Love, Power, Freedom, Joy, and Survival – are not difficult to address when we turn our attention to them.

Just think about the goal of creating an environment that students want to be a part of every day. Instead of ignoring whatever needs students may have, and expecting them to fit the needs of the work, how about doing everything we can do to fit the work to the needs of the student.

Some might reply, Well, that’s not the real world! We’ve got to get kids ready for reality. Reality doesn’t make allowances! Actually, that isn’t necessarily true. I agree there are companies or jobs in which management doesn’t care about employee welfare and that expects employees to show up and do their best regardless of the circumstances. But I would also contend that such companies wrestle with employee morale and performance. Such companies struggle to produce a quality product and it isn’t unusual for them to go out of business, unable to satisfy customers. The reality is that there are model companies that do a lot to provide perks for their employees – flexible scheduling, working from home, on-site day care, on-site exercise centers, generous maternity leaves, creativity days, support teams, and leadership sharing, to name just a few. These companies are highly successful, partly because they want to create a place in which employees want to come to work and give their all. Shouldn’t schools be like the companies that care about supporting their employees and that look for ways to have their work be need-satisfying?

TWO – Private and Public
Invest the time to more deeply understand the principles of choice theory. Workshops and in-services can be an important part of improving our understanding, but you will need to do more on your own. Books are a good way to marinate in the ideas and strategies of choice theory. Reading on your own provides a safe place for reflection and change. What I am trying to say is that our private choice theory journey is as important, if not more important, than our public choice theory journeys. Implementing a transforming idea in our classroom can be so satisfying, but often we need to spend the time privately in connection with our public efforts.

THREE – Begin practicing the Caring Habits
One of the best things we can begin practicing privately is using the Caring Habits in our interactions with family, colleagues, and students. Remember, Caring Habits are behaviors that maintain or improve our relationships with the important people in our lives. These behaviors include: encouraging, accepting, respecting, trusting, supporting, listening, and negotiating differences. Try replacing a Deadly Habit, like criticizing or blaming, with Caring Habits like listening and supporting. You can begin these early choice theory steps without making a grand announcement or proclaiming your undying commitment to choice theory. You just practice the Caring Habits, maybe even trying the approach skeptically. Just trust the process and see what you think.

FOUR – Share something about choice theory with your students
It can be as simple as introducing students to the Basic Needs, or having them do the Quality World picture activity. Maybe you can present the idea of the classroom being a Caring Habit Zone and then having them do some role plays that demonstrate the difference between the Deadly Habits and the Caring Habits. Choice theory isn’t something we do TO kids or use ON kids; it’s something we share with them and then engage them in the process. Don’t put off step four. Remember the cooperative learning maxim: He who does the teaching does the learning. If you want to learn choice theory better yourself, I guess teach it.


Dakota Adventist Academy in the early evening light.

Dakota Adventist Academy in the early evening light.

The administration and classroom area atrium. The entire school - classrooms, dorms, and gym - is under one roof.

The administration and classroom area atrium. The entire school – classrooms, dorms, and gym – is under one roof.

Working with a partner on the Basic Needs self-evaluation sheets.

Working with a partner on the Basic Needs self-evaluation sheets.

The Quality World picture activity.

The Quality World picture activity.

To my new North Dakota friends, thank you for a good in-service. I have thought about you a lot since saying good-by on Wednesday. My thoughts will continue to be with you as you start the new school year this next week. Let me know if I can be of help.


When a flower doesn’t bloom
you fix the environment in which it grows,
not the flower.
Alexander Den Heijer

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