NapaLearns logo 2

I recently became a member of NapaLearns, a non-profit organization doing amazing things to support and improve the learning throughout Napa county. Our monthly meeting yesterday, which began with tours of two classrooms, took place at American Canyon Middle School. These classrooms are noteworthy because they are using Project-Based Learning (PBL) as the framework for their lessons. In PBL students focus on real-life challenges and demonstrate their answers or solutions. Technology is an important piece of this approach and the school provides classrooms with Chromebooks for students to use as they tackle the assignments. It was impressive for me to enter a classroom and see 100% of the students involved in the learning.

Find out more about NapaLearns at –

After our time in the classroom we were able to visit with our guide, a teacher from the school who is now a PBL mentor, and the school principal. I really appreciated what these gentleman shared with us, especially when it came to some of the peripheral impacts of the PBL approach. The principal explained that PBL changes the power structure in the classroom from the teacher holding all the power and telling or lecturing to the teacher now sharing the power with the students. Instead of the sage on the stage, the teacher becomes the guide on the side. While this shift may sound simple enough, it can be a real stretch for teachers accustomed to another way of doing things. We noticed that everyone on campus was wearing a card on a lanyard around their necks. The principal, who was also wearing a card, explained this was a trust card. When students misbehaved in some way (e.g.- looking at inappropriate sites on the internet, disrespecting a classmate) they had to give up their trust card. The plan is that students who lose their cards, and the privileges that go with them, need to take the responsibility to go to their teachers and work out how they can get their cards back. Some students are able and willing to work through this process and restore the trust that was broken. Some students, though, maybe because of pride, maybe because of fear, maybe because they have never worked with an adult in this way before, are unable to approach their teacher and engage in restoring the trust. This dynamic has called on teachers and staff to create an atmosphere of positive, caring relationships. They want their campus to be a safe environment where students learn to fix what they have broken. I don’t think that choice theory is driving their emphasis at American Canyon Middle School, but their program is definitely aligned with a choice theory approach. Teachers are learning to give up academic and behavioral control and to effectively share that power with students. It is true, you gain power as you give it away.


Along these same lines, the Los Angeles Unified school board voted yesterday “to ban suspensions of defiant students, directing officials to use alternative disciplinary practices instead.” The vote is viewed as a step back from zero tolerance policies that swept the nation after the Columbine shooting more than a decade ago. It was noted that harsh discipline practices did not lead to better behavior. In fact, such practices led to poor academic achievement and run-ins with law enforcement.

It is important to understand that willful defiance included all kinds of lesser behaviors, like not taking off a hat or having a cell phone in class or failing to wear a school uniform. Proponents of yesterday’s vote cited growing national concern that suspending students from school hurt their learning and disproportionately singles out minority students. The vote does not prevent schools from dealing with student problems. It just prevents them from sending students home for every little thing. In-school suspensions, for instance, are still an option.

I talked about suspensions in the Soul Shapers book. I am not a proponent of automatically sending students home for misbehavior. When students defy a teacher in some way or mistreat a fellow student they need to think through what they have done and make a commitment to behave better. Rather than students simply be sent away when they mess up, this is a time when they especially need support to help them resolve the problem. With the L.A. school board wanting school officials to employ “alternative disciplinary practices” it is a great time for choice theory to provide such a strategy.

The link to the L.A. Times article can be found at –,0,5454548.story

Reminder – The Soul Shapers workshops are just around the corner. Soul Shapers 1 is scheduled from June 17-20 and Soul Shapers 2 is scheduled from June 24-27. Invite colleages to join you in taking Soul Shapers 1, which you can sign up for at I encourage those of you that have already taken Soul Shapers 1 to sign up for Soul Shapers 2. You can re-take Soul Shapers 2, which is a great way to stay current in the choice theory conferencing skills.
Keep letting your colleagues know about thebetterplan blog. Let’s grow the choice theory community together.