A young principal described how his dad was a great guy, but that he didn’t know how to listen. With the challenges that come with being a school administrator, Dave (we’ll call him) would occasionally share what he was up against with his dad. He confided that –

I would call him, just needing to talk with someone, someone not close to the situation. My dad was a sharp guy and had a lot of life experience and as soon as I explained the problem, sometimes even before I was done explaining, he would quickly start telling me what I needed to do. He was trying to help. I have no question about that. But I didn’t call for advice. I just needed to talk. The sad thing is that when he started giving me advice during the phone call, I would feel myself withdraw or pull away. I kinda wanted the phone call to be over at that point.

It is easy to fall into the same habit as Dave’s dad. We are quick to tell what the answer is or where the solution lies, rather than simply listening and then accepting or affirming. Husbands are quick to do this with wives, parents are quick to do this with children, and teachers are quick to do it with students. We mean well. The answer seems obvious to us. We just want to save time and get to the solution.

Teachers who learn about choice theory begin to understand the pitfalls of telling, rather than listening, and begin to see that one of the best things we can do for another person is to help them develop their own solutions. In other words, the goal is to help a person effectively self-evaluate. Whether we are a listening to a friend explain why she wants to quit her job and go back to school, a husband listening to his wife wonder aloud about problems with the upcoming Home & School potluck, or a teacher working with a student who keeps forgetting one of the classroom procedures, the answer may have more to do with asking the right question, instead of giving the person your solution.


Conferencing is about

helping another person effectively self-evaluate

in a way that maintains or strengthens the relationship.


Becoming a listener who knows how to ask questions that can lead to self-evaluation is one of the most important steps we can take toward being a choice theory teacher or parent.

One of my mentors, Kendall Butler, once shared with me that “it is better to get something out of someone’s mouth than it is to put it into their ear.” Rather than being smart enough to emphasize the right point, the skill and wisdom lie in asking the right question.


A new Facebook page has been created called The Better Plan. I invite you to Like the page and become a part of The Better Plan community. Joel Steffen will be helping me manage it and our goal is to locate helpful teaching resources, many of them from within our own community, and to provide a place for teachers and parents to ask questions or comment on other’s questions.