Posts tagged “Adventist education

Tough Love?

Reality Therapy cover]

“Patients want you to correct their irresponsible behavior,
but they want it to be done in the genuine spirit of helping them,
not to satisfy yourself by winning a power struggle.”
William Glasser

The above quote is from Reality Therapy, the book that propelled Glasser onto an international stage. While I am not a therapist the quote spoke to me as an educator, as I think students want something similar from us as principals and teachers. Students don’t mind being corrected, but not when it feels like they are losing a contest. Reality Therapy emphasized the idea of responsible vs. irresponsible behavior and Glasser became known for a get-tough approach, not only in psych wards and private practice offices, but in schools, too. Through Glasser’s writing and speaking, through advertisements in journals and magazines, and through word-of-mouth testimonials, educators became aware of his matter-of-fact toughness and it appealed to them.

As he saw, though, how teachers were latching onto the responsibility theme, and how they wanted to blame students for their irresponsible behavior, Glasser pulled back from his use of the word responsible. His “toughness” was always meant to be cradled in what he called involvement. Involvement was about a warm, caring relationship between two people, a meaningful connection between therapist and patient, or in our case, between principal and student. It may be that we need to correct a student who makes a mistake, or that we need to correct a faculty member who uses poor judgment, but this interaction should not become a contest between two people. The skill lies in our ability to confront without attempting to control; to correct while preserving the student’s or faculty member’s sense of freedom.

A spirit of wanting to feel in control and wanting to “win” interactions with others can run very deep in our personal way of being. Our lives are not easily compartmentalized and if we show up this way at school, chances are we will show up this way at home, too. Our spouse and our children may experience us in this mode on a regular basis. At least two bad things happen when we go into the control or contest mode. One, the focus becomes the contest, rather than the needed area of improvement. And two, the relationship is harmed. Whether between principal and student, husband and wife, or parent and child, a controlling interaction removes capital from a relationship bank account that is not that easily replaced. Over time a controlling approach can bankrupt even our most precious connections with loved ones.

It’s not that correction is bad. Correction is sometimes needed. The trick is staying in a place of love and empathy as we seek to maintain a necessary boundary. The apostle Peter came to understand this way of being and gently reminded us to –

“Care for the flock that God has entrusted you.
Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly
—not for what you will get out of it,
but because you are eager to serve God.
Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care,
but lead them by your own good example.
1 Peter 5:2,3

(This post first appeared as a contribution I made to a recent edition of Leading the Journey, an e-newsletter on excellence in leadership, which is being co-written and sponsored by Dr. Ed Boyatt, retired and former Dean of the School of Education at La Sierra University, and Dr. Berit von Pohle, Director of Education for the Pacific Union Conference. I wrote it with school principals in mind, however I think it can apply to teachers and parents as well. To receive the Leading the Journey e-newsletter, send an email to

Sink into our own hearts first

ss 001

We are improvers, changers, and fixers, especially when it comes to improving and changing other people, especially loved ones like children and spouses. We seem to be gifted at identifying the faults and flaws of others and then fixing those flaws according to our improvement plan. Of course, with this responsibility of correcting others we are constantly on the lookout for effective resources to help our cause. A good book on going vegan and reducing calories can be an excellent improvement tool, or a magazine article on the need for regular exercise, or a sermon on guarding the edges of the Sabbath. We are convinced, yea, verily, we are convicted that if a loved one or a friend, in the midst of living in a way that we can’t approve of, would just read this book or listen to this sermon that it would change them. For the better.

In the Soul Shapers 1 class, which takes place at PUC each June, one of the first things we consider is the message found in Ezekiel –

Then he added, Son of man, let all of my words sink into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself.          Ezekiel 3:10

This text is very, very choice theory. It affirms the choice theory axiom that the only person we can control is ourselves. It urges us to stop looking at others as the problem and to begin to look within. “Let all of my words sink into your own heart first.” We may feel convinced that criticizing and nagging are our only options, that someone we know would really benefit from the Truth, but our role isn’t to convict others with our words. Our need is to listen to them carefully for ourselves.

The message in Ezekiel doesn’t prevent us from sharing our opinions with others. It just says to let God’s words sink into our being first. It reminds me to focus on the person I am responsible for, the person I can control, that person being me. It reminds me, too, that there is a way, a time, and a place for improvement messages to be shared with others. Such sharing is always dependent on a positive relationship being in place. Such sharing is also dependent on my having let the words sink into my own heart, on my having experienced the transformation that I am hoping for in the other person, and on my asking for and receiving permission from that person to talk about the topic in question. When others know that we love them and that we recognize their power to choose, heartfelt discussions can take place without defensiveness and manipulation.

An Invitation

Begin to make plans to attend one or both of the Soul Shaper workshops this summer at Pacific Union College.

Soul Shapers 1 meets June 17-20.

Soul Shapers 2 meets June 24-27.

Encourage colleagues to attend as well.
Remember that Soul Shapers 2 can be taken more than once. It is an excellent way to recharge your choice theory battery and review non-coercive classroom strategies.
Both workshops can be taken for one or two hours of credit (your choice).
If you need elective credits for your Master’s program, I can work with you individually to create that credit option.
I would very much like to see you at PUC this coming June!

One day is ours — Today!


I want to give a shout-out to Gretchen Rubin and The Happiness Project (You can access her blog and website at  I receive a quotation about being happy every morning from The Happiness Project and one of these quotes very much resonated with choice theory. It went like this –

“There is almost one time that is important – Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time we have any power.”    Leo Tolstoy

Reality therapy is based on the belief that all problems are present problems. Something in our past may have influenced our behavior, but we can only deal with what’s happening in our lives right now. Choice theory states that the only person we can control is ourselves. Similarly, that control is always in the present, in the now, as Tolstoy would say it. William Glasser understood as well as anyone the importance of living in the present. The past is past, gone, nothing we can do to change it, and the future isn’t here yet, but we can affect the now, the present.

Glasser didn’t formulate reality therapy or choice theory from a spiritual perspective. He believed such views made sense and would best contribute to mental health, but his views weren’t based on scripture. At least he wasn’t aware of a scriptural tie-in. As it turned out, though, living life in the present is very scriptural. In the Sermon on the Mount, after explaining that His Father will give us everything we need, Jesus further assured us with, “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:34

Commenting on Matthew 6:34, a little book called Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing encourages us to embrace the principle of today. Let these words sink into your heart, soak in them, be at peace.

   When we take into our hands the management of things with which we have to do, and depend upon our own wisdom for success, we are taking a burden which God has not given us, and are trying to bear it without His aid. We are taking upon ourselves the responsibility that belongs to God, and thus are really putting ourselves in His place. We may well have anxiety and anticipate danger and loss, for it is certain to befall us. But when we really believe that God loves us and means to do us good we shall cease to worry about the future. We shall trust God as a child trusts a loving parent. Then our troubles and torments will disappear, for our will is swallowed up in the will of God.

   Christ has given us no promise of help in bearing today the burdens of tomorrow. He has said, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Corinthians 12:9); but, like the manna given in the wilderness, His grace is bestowed daily, for the day’s need. Like the hosts of Israel in their pilgrim life, we may find morning by morning the bread of heaven for the day’s supply.

   One day alone is ours, and during this day we are to live for God. For this one day we are to place in the hand of Christ, in solemn service, all our purposes and plans, casting all our care upon Him, for He careth for us. “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” “In returning and rest shall ye be saved; in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength.” Jeremiah 29:11; Isaiah 30:15.         Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, p. 100, 101

One day alone is ours – today!

Remember to let colleagues and friends know about The Better Plan blog. The goal of the blog is to support people as they think about and implement choice theory principles. Encourage them to enter their email address and click on the Follow link.

The Sacrifice of Thanksgiving


A little book, Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young, has become a part of my morning devotion time. A recent passage in the book encouraged readers to bring to Jesus the sacrifice of their thanksgiving. I did a bit of a double-take. Sacrifice of thanksgiving? How do those words go together? Sure enough, though, the phrase is from the Bible and can be found in Psalms 116:17. “I will offer to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving,” writes David (probably sings David), “And will call upon the name of the Lord.”

The passage in Jesus Calling went on to describe how, when we focus on what we don’t have or on situations that displease us, our thinking becomes darkened. We nurture a blaming, complaining, and critical spirit as a way of defending and rationalizing our resentment, hurt, and anger. We deserve to be hurt or offended, we convince ourselves, and go about showing others how hurt we are. Choice theory explains that we choose our misery, and this passage seemed to strongly support that view. In a moody condition it is easy to miss the blessings in which we wallow and to take for granted the good things in life that surround us. It is also easy to obsess on fixing the problem, which is almost always involves the behavior of another person in our lives, usually someone close to us like a spouse or colleague.

As I was reading this, still wondering about the phrase ‘sacrifice of thanksgiving,’ it hit me. When we approach God with thanksgiving, when we maintain a spirit of gratitude, we become willing to let go of what we don’t have. As we remain thankful for what we do have we give up the anger and hurt and frustration over perceived offenses and unfairness. We literally offer to God the sacrifice of our thanksgiving. It isn’t much of a sacrifice when you really think about it. We give up our slights and our bruised egos and our misery and God, in His graciousness, counts it as a sacrifice. He seems to understand how hard it is for us to give up our resentments and worries.

We really do have the choice to be thankful.  White reminds us that “It is within the power of everyone to choose the topics that shall occupy the thoughts and shape the character.” (ED127) We can nurture hurts and resentments, which actually feels good in its own way, or we can nurture gratitude and healing, which feels way better and which strengthens us in the process. Let’s choose gratitude and begin to sacrifice our complaints on the altar of thanksgiving.

See also Romans 8:31; Psalms 118:24; Psalms 23:1

Competition, Cooperative Learning, Control Theory, and Choice Theory

(Before I write anything today I want to emphasize that the “What is the purpose of Bible class?” discussion has been very interesting and even helpful. It has been interesting as your comments and explanations have stimulated our thinking and challenged us to really examine our approaches. It has been helpful because I have shared your comments with my “Teaching K-12 Bible” class. Your points, suggestions, and admissions have provided excellent springboards and gateways into class discussion and deeper learning.)

We aren’t done with our Bible class discussion (e.g. – we haven’t even mentioned Bible class and choice theory yet), but today .  .  . well .  .  . today is my 40 year reunion at Rio Lindo Academy. And, apparently, with 40 year reunions comes reflection. What have I experienced in the 40 years since I was 18? What did I make happen? What did I let happen? How have I changed? The change question got me to thinking about the big ideas that led to significant changes in my life. I don’t know how complete this list is, but these areas definitely stick out in importance for me. For some reason, they each begin with the letter C.

I was very much involved with sports and competition as a young man (it was basically my life), yet by the time I finished college I had come to the conclusion that competition was unhealthy for me, and basically unhealthy for everything and everyone it touched. This was a remarkable epiphany for me, given the extent to which I had come to rely on competition. Coming into a better understanding of how competition shows up in our lives and ways in which it affects us marked much of my early career. I did some writing on the topic. See Should Adventist Schools Be Involved with Inter-school Sports? Review & Herald, Oct. 13, 1988.

Cooperative learning was a huge discovery for me. I remember feeling like the little boy (I’ve heard a story about this somewhere) who was playing beside a puddle on a foggy morning, but as the fog lifted he could see that the puddle was connected to a pond, and then to an inlet, and ultimately to the ocean. It was incredible to me that someone who had fought for competition so vehemently could now be seeking to turn people on to cooperative formats. In 1986 I began to get training in cooperative learning (from the Johnson brothers) and soon thereafter I started The Cooperation Company, a mail order company with a catalog of over 130 books, games, and resources, all of them focused on cooperating. I let the company go when I became an associate superintendent in 1996, a mistake, I think. Two of our blog family, Dick and Anita Molstead, I actually met because of The Cooperation Company. I did some writing on topic. See the April/May, 1995, edition of the Journal of Adventist Education.

I read Schools Without Failure, for an MAT class I was taking at Andrews University in 1978, and it did have an impact on my thinking. During my early years of teaching–Kingsway College, in Oshawa, Ontario, and Feather River School in Oroville, California–I adjusted my grading practices because of Glasser. But I didn’t in any way see the big picture, the more far-reaching implications. In 1991, though, I read The Quality School and not only re-discovered Glasser, I also began to get a glimpse of the importance of his ideas. This era would have been during my time as principal of Foothills Elementary in Deer Park, California, and especially during my time as principal of Livingstone Junior Academy in Salem, Oregon. I began to try and apply the concepts of control theory at home and at work. I liked the results, especially how it seemed to affect my own thinking. I began to see that I could be less controlled by my feelings. The faculty and staff at LJA participated in a control theory in-service and I don’t think Livingstone has been the same since. Control theory certainly helped me to begin to be a better husband and father, too. I began to write Soul Shapers during this time.

I can remember how surprised I was as an associate superintendent in the Upper Columbia Conference to learn that Glasser had changed control theory to choice theory, and that he had rejected school discipline plans, in general, and especially a management approach known as Restitution. I had been drawn to his ideas, even applied them as a principal and presented them as a superintendent, yet now I wondered was going on. I wondered from a distance, as I had never met Glasser and didn’t know anyone with whom he was close. I certainly had no idea then that I would meet him in at the 2000 NAD convention in Dallas; that we would become friends; that I would begin a doctorate and conduct a biographical study, with his involvement, on the development of his ideas; and that I would become his authorized biographer as a result. Since 2000 I completed training to become a faculty member for Glasser International, Inc., completed the doctorate, and after years of interviews and research, completed the manuscript for Glasser’s biography, which is being published this year.

It is interesting that I would think of these guiding ideas, these big idea eras, on a nostalgic day like a 40 year reunion. Apparently, my basic need for purpose and meaning is pretty high. When you look back, what are the big ideas that have influenced you? Is there one in particular that has been significant for you? I would love to hear about your big idea list!


Choice Theory in a Spiritual Jacket

Last summer (2012) I presented a breakout session on choice theory during the NAD convention in Nashville. In preparation for that breakout I got to thinking about the key beliefs of choice theory and how those beliefs jibed with key beliefs of Christian faith. Glasser developed what he referred to as the 10 axioms of choice theory, belief statements that, to him, were self-evident bedrock foundation points of his approach. I came up with the following belief statements to serve as a springboard for discussion during the convention breakout. I don’t think the list is comprehensive, so I invite you to help me complete it. I am also open to any questions you may have. Here goes —

Choice Theory in a Spiritual Jacket

God created us in His image – with free will being the most impressive of our attributes.

We are designed to create, to think, and to choose.

He created us to be in connection and harmony with Him.

He created us to be in connection and harmony with each other.

Every individual is designed to control himself.

We were not designed to control others.

Neither were we designed to be controlled by someone else.

Since God created us with free will, this would indicate that even God Himself will not control us.

Humans constantly behave.

All behavior is purposeful.

Our actions represent what we think will best meet our needs at that moment.

The only person we can control is our self.

The world of Choice Theory is a responsible world where individuals understand how and why they make choices and then own the results of those choices.

We choose our state of mind, including the misery we feel.

Instead of adults seeking ways to control the behavior of children, often extending this desire to control even into adulthood, their goal should be to wean children from such control as soon as possible.

(Remember that weaning children from our control does not mean weaning them from our guidance and influence. Our influence actually increases as our control decreases.)

Children need to understand their status as free will beings and the power that comes  with their ability to make choices.

Schools need to be a part of the process that helps students recognize and embrace their choice power.


Some of you may be curious about Glasser’s 10 choice theory axioms. Just in case, his axioms are listed below as they appear on his website.

The Ten Axioms of Choice Theory

The only person whose behavior we can control is our own.

All we can give another person is information.

All long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems.

The problem relationship is always part of our present life.

What happened in the past has everything to do with what we are today, but we can only satisfy our basic needs right now and plan to continue satisfying them in the future.

We can only satisfy our needs by satisfying the pictures in our Quality World.

All we do is behave.

All behavior is Total Behavior and is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling and physiology.

All Total Behavior is chosen, but we only have direct control over the acting and thinking components. We can only control our feeling and physiology indirectly through how we choose to act and think.

All Total Behavior is designated by verbs and named by the part that is the most recognizable.

It’s THE better plan

The phrase “the better plan” did not make it as the title of the book. Soul Shapers took that distinction. The Soul Shapers title was better than The Blindfolded Dolphin, however it could be misleading if a reader thought that it was his/her role to shape the souls of the children in his/her care. During one of our conversations regarding the title one of the Review editors informed me that the subtitle of the book would be A Better Plan for Parents and Educators. I was glad that the phrase “better plan” was going to be on the cover, but wondered aloud why it was going to be printed as “A” better plan, rather than “The” better plan. She explained that “A” made it sounded more open and allowed for their being other good plans, too. Proclaiming it as “The” better plan made it sound like it was THE way and that there weren’t other ways that might be good, too. I replied that the phrase “the better plan” was not my idea. I didn’t come up with that emphasis. I got the idea from the following quote –

“Those who train their pupils to feel that the power lies in themselves to become men and women of honor and usefulness, will be the most permanently successful. Their work may not appear to the best advantage to careless observers, and their labor may not be valued so highly as that of the instructor who holds absolute control, but the after-life of the pupils will show the results of the better plan of education.” Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 57

In referring to “the better plan” in this blog I have often written it as ” . . . the better plan . . .”, rather than “The Better Plan.” I have surrounded the phrase with ellipses to emphasize that it is a part of something bigger, some important things that come before and something important that comes after. One of the important things that comes before is the idea that our motivation is internally driven, not externally controlled by others. I believe God designed us with freedom to choose and that ultimately He died on the cross to preserve this freedom. Another important thing that comes before is a description of a teacher that prefers control and compliance, rather than guidance and freedom. An important thing that comes after is the reference to “the after-life.” which to me means both the life we lead after we leave school and, most importantly, the life we lead eternally. That this topic has eternal implications makes it really important to me.

I grew up a PK – that is, a preacher”s kid. My dad passed away before Soul Shapers came out in 2005. If he had lived long enough, I think he would have been very pleased at its being published, although the concepts of internal, rather than external, control would have been a stretch for him. His upbringing as a child and the views of his generation, in general, would have led to a steep learning curve with these non-traditional ideas. I don’t know that he always got it right when it came to non-coercive living and leadership. One thing he did get right (and he had many) was his value of and support for Christian education. When it came to “his” church school he talked the talk and walked the walk. He was always involved in a project to raise money for the school. (Many of these were smaller projects, but some were bigger, like the time he planted and harvested 50 acres of sunflowers.) His Education sermons frequently included a reference to what he called an “education blueprint” that, I now assume, could allegedly be found in the Spirit of Prophecy. As I mentioned in Soul Shapers, after 35 years in Adventist education, and after a lot of time spent in the Spirit of Prophecy, I am not aware of a blueprint for SDA education. The phrase . . . the better plan . . . comes the closest to it as far as I know. To me . . . the better plan . . . captures the idea that children (and adults for that matter) are in the process of forming their own characters and as significant adults in their lives we have the privilege of guiding, modeling, inviting, persuading, and inspiring them to form characters that serve others and honor God. And so I have embraced . . . the better plan . . . I like it, in fact, enough to name this blog after it.

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