1. It will improve students’ mental health

I was reminded recently of one of the essential pieces of choice theory implementation, that being the need for teachers to teach their students about the concepts of choice theory. It is a little bit frustrating for me to see the excitement for choice theory and the commitment to nurture a choice theory environment in classrooms, and then learn that the usual pressures of the school year seem to derail the idea of sharing choice theory with students. I am convinced, though, that bringing students on as choice theory partners will sooner establish choice theory as part of the school culture.

The recent reminder came from an article I read in the Psych Central online journal. The title — Mental Health in High School: Teach Students Link Between Thinking Patterns, Emotions and Behavior — caught my eye. Sure enough, the article could have been written by a choice theorist.

Researchers from the Ohio State University College of Nursing found that a program called COPE (Creating Opportunities for Personal Empowerment) reduced depression, enhanced health behaviors, and improved grades. Health classes used an intervention that focused on cognitive behavioral skills. While not the only focus, the study’s author, Bernadette Melnyk, observed that –

“This is what has been missing from prior healthy lifestyle programs with teens — getting to the thinking piece. We teach the adolescents that how they think directly relates to how they feel and how they behave.”

The important thing about the program is building skills that help students learn to become aware of their negative thoughts, the ways in which such thoughts affect their self-concept, and the behaviors that can come out of that kind of thinking.

“Schools are great at teaching Math and Social Studies,” Melnyk continues, “but we aren’t giving teens the life skills they need to successfully deal with stress, how to problem-solve, or how to set goals, and those are key elements in this healthy lifestyle intervention.”

We know, as teachers and parents, how much our own mental health has been improved through our understanding of choice theory. What is keeping us from intentionally and purposefully teaching the concepts to our students? Glasser once pointed out that expecting students to be successful at life without teaching them about choice theory is like expecting them to play and win a game without teaching them the rules. Kids are wrestling with so many personal challenges and conflicts. And without choice theory (or something like it) their mental health is put at risk.

2. It will improve teacher understanding of choice theory principles

It has been said that a person never understands something so well as when he has to teach it to someone else. A German proverb comments on the same principle by stating –

He who teaches children learns more than they do.

A classic book from 1971, Children Teach Children: Learning by Teaching, cited the results of an anti-poverty reading program in New York City in which older students tutored younger students with reading difficulties. After five months of one on one help it was discovered that the younger students showed a six month gain in their reading scores, which was great. They also tested the older tutors and were blown away to discover that they had made a gain of 3.4 years in their reading scores. Not expecting that kind of gain at all, it alerted them to the potential of increasing the learning through teaching.


Not only will we learn choice theory better as we teach the concepts to our students, imagine for a moment how well students could learn choice theory by teaching it to each other.

I think some teachers may hesitate to teach about choice theory because they don’t feel like they have a lot of expertise in it yet. Maybe they’ll share more after they read another book or attend another workshop. I think some may hesitate, too, because giving the choice theory concepts away to students could lead them to monitor or judge our fledgling efforts toward non-coercive change. It is true that at the very beginning we may want to experiment with the ideas privately, without making a big deal out of them. Pretty quickly, though, we need to share choice theory with our students. Maybe they will monitor our fledgling efforts. All the better as situations and events become teachable “choice theory” moments.

Chances are you don’t need the Psych Central article to remind you that students need mental health instruction as much as they need physical health instruction. I encourage you to go for it!


One of the things we’ll be doing at our Choice Theory Study Group this coming Sabbath afternoon, Sept. 21, at Foothills Elementary is sharing some of the ways we have used or implemented choice theory so far this school year. I will pass on some of these examples in future blog posts.


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