Posts tagged “choice theory in the classroom

The Quiet Crisis

I am teaching a summer school class this week on secondary reading. Some of you just zoned out at the very thought of taking such a boring class. I’d rather have a needle stuck in my eye than take that class you might be thinking. Memories of thick textbooks, “overpacked” with information and with questions at the end of each chapter, drift across your glazed eyes. A class in high school reading may as well be a class in *static omnibetoline. (Who cares? Right?)

The secondary reading class at work.

The secondary reading class at work.

But that is just the thing. Literacy skills, which include reading, are the life blood of learning. Reading connects us to classroom success, but by learning to read well – to read with a purpose, to be able to identify the key points, and to comprehend what is read – it also connects us to an incredible world and a lifetime of discovery and learning. Rather than contributing to boredom and irrelevance, a skillful teacher can select WHAT is read and then coach students on HOW it is read in a way that ignites an interest and lures students into engagement.

The teachers in the class represent schools in Arizona, California, and Oregon.

The teachers in the class represent schools in Arizona, California, and Oregon.

I haven’t mentioned Choice Theory in the class yet this week, yet Choice Theory has been an important part of what we are learning. Known as the “quiet crisis,” data indicates that 25% – 40% of high school students are unable to access information in a textbook. There are multiple reasons for this, many that we have discussed in class, but the key is how can we as teachers enable students to be more successful? The Basic Needs framework provides a great viewpoint from which to consider possible solutions. For instance –

We honor a student’s need for Power and Success when we explicitly teach reading strategies.
Even if a student can read, we don’t assume that she/he knows HOW to read for comprehension. Being able to do things like 1) identifying the key idea, 2) comparing and contrasting different viewpoints, and 3) summarizing what an author really wanted to say can be taught. In fact, skills like these have to be taught, and probably re-taught. Human beings have a basic need to be successful in what they attempt. When we expect kids to know how to do complex tasks without teaching them how to complete the task their response is predictable. While a few students will ask for help or clarification, many students will act like the book is stupid or the assignment is dumb and doesn’t matter. “Who would want to do this ridiculous task?” they mutter with some disgust. Let’s not be faked out by their feigned coping mechanism. Instead let’s give them the tools to be successful.

We honor a student’s need for Purpose and Meaning when we make available or assign articles and books and other resources that are relevant to teenagers.
This is the challenge of teaching – connecting the learning to the learner. The casual observer doesn’t get this. You tell someone something, maybe you show them how to do something, and that should be it the casual observer thinks. But that isn’t it. It is nowhere near it! High school students, like everyone else in the world, latch on to ideas that matter to them. They engage in ideas that for them are important. Believe me, high school students care, they have intense opinions, and they want to make a difference. They yearn for school experiences that are not boring and irrelevant. Keep the following graphic in mind –



We honor a student’s need for Freedom and Autonomy when we design choice into assignments and projects, including choices in what materials are read and researched.
This is not as hard as it may sound, and even if it initially adds to your “to do” list the rewards will be worth it. Not only can teachers come up with more than one book or article to complete the same assignment, it is also possible to create a rubric for an assignment or project, which includes the students themselves coming up with the appropriate reading or documents.

We honor a student’s need for Love and Belonging when we provide opportunities for talking about what is read with other students.
This can’t be overstated! Classrooms need to be places of safe, supportive connections. The connection between teacher and student is very important, however I believe the connections between the students are even more important. Students achieve success to the extent they feel supported and encouraged, by the teacher as well as by each other. Creativity flourishes in a safe environment. Real engaged learning often involves getting out of our comfort zones and risking a bit. We are much more open to risking when we feel safe and connected with others. (The importance of this need being met is even more important for English Language Learners.)

The classroom abuzz with students talking presenting their cultural heritage projects to each other.

A classroom abuzz with students talking presenting their cultural heritage projects to each other.

We honor a student’s need for Joy and Fun when we select reading materials that are enjoyable to read and when we provide an environment for reading that is welcoming and relaxing.
Some learning tasks require hard work and extended effort, but hard work doesn’t make a task less satisfying. Usually it is just the opposite. Our satisfaction increases when we are engaged in a challenging task in which we see value. Glasser viewed fun as the payoff for learning. The human brain is a natural information seeker, always on the lookout for the interesting, the novel, the important, or the sacred.

Baiting the Reading Hook (Educational Leadership, October, 2010) is an article that describes the possibilities of how a school can create this environment for students. With a little effort we can help to change the way adolescents view reading.

It is a privilege to work with the dedicated educators who are a part of this secondary reading class. It was need-satisfying for me to see the material ignite ideas and inspire changes for next school year. In the process I learned, too, and will be making changes in my own classes. The goal for each of us to help students – regardless of their academic skill set – to become better at the literacy skills of reading, writing, listening, and speaking.


The Better Plan 1 (formerly Soul Shapers 1) begins on Monday, June 20, here at PUC. If it’s possible, I would love to have you join us and become part of the class.


I was recently sent the following question: Is there a test to take to find out your basic need strengths / weaknesses?

How would you respond to this query? I may take a stab at it this weekend.


* static omnibetoline – a totally made-up, fabricated, fake topic or condition

Desks as Cars. I DID IT!!

A recent email described a great way to share choice theory with children!


I DID IT!!!!

I finally got enough courage and taught my students the Total Behavior Car!! I thought I’d share with you the how and why 🙂

Since I am leaving my position of K-2 teacher/principal this year I had been thinking a lot about making sure my students were equipped and prepared for change in their life. At our Spring Education Council meeting one of the principal breakouts had been about children and crisis. The main thing we can do to help prepare our children for crisis, they said, is to teach them how to handle, understand and express their emotions. I agreed with all of this since I have been a big fan of choice theory and seen how it has helped me personally over the last 3 years. So now it was time to help prepare my students to express themselves.

I tried on Monday to teach the concept of the Total Behavior Car. It went terribly. It was all on the board and they weren’t engaged. I think I left more frustrated than they were. So back to the drawing board. I didn’t want to make toilet paper cars like I did way back during The Better Plan workshop (too much tiny work and I didn’t have the supplies on hand) and suddenly about an hour before class it came to me! Turn the desks into cars!


We moved all the desks into their own parking spaces. What kid doesn’t like a mid-day desk move! Then I got out the wheels (big paper plates) and the steering wheel (small paper plates) and we reviewed the car model. On the board I drew the desk and labeled it according to the chart. We talked about how to choose to be happy, smile, think about happy things and then how our body will feel happy and our feelings will follow. They were understanding it! Hurrah! So while they were labeling their wheels I was taping the parking spaces. Then I became a mechanic and taped all their wheels to their desks. I kept them high so they will be constant reminders to them. As they were finishing the wheels I gave them their steering wheels to decorate (making sure they wrote Wants on it, had I more time or resources I might have them cut out pictures of things that are in their quality world?). Then they even got to make their own license plates. They LOVED it. We reviewed at the end how to make our car go where we want it to and how sometimes people can drive it backwards.


Tomorrow I’ll be going over more emotions and why they come based on wants, actions and thoughts. I plan on ending this unit with the movie Inside Out where we will talk about the emotions and who has control and what she could have done during different parts to change her emotions.

What do you think? Anything I should add? I was just so excited to finally figure out a way to teach it and to no longer be intimidated by it. Yes, I wish I would have taught this in August, but better late than never, right? I’m sticking some pictures in this so you can see what it all looked like.



I am really glad that Sonya decided to go for it and venture into the land of Choice Theory implementation. The implementation step is difficult for some reason, yet her story reminds us that implementation is not as hard as we make it out to be and the rewards are worth our becoming vulnerable. We don’t have to be perfect choice theorists to share the ideas with our students. In some ways, our imperfection makes our sharing even more compelling. Students often latch onto to a topic or idea in which they become co-learners with their teacher.

Students often latch onto to a topic or idea in which they become co-learners with their teacher.

When I contacted Sonya to ask if I could share her story on The Better Plan blog, she wrote back –

The students still have their cars and we refer back to the wheels all the time! I can’t believe it took me so long to use. It’s also helping me to reevaluate how I drive my car. Man I love Choice Theory 🙂 Share away!

There is something very powerful about the concept of Total Behavior. It is transformative, for instance, to learn about the relationship between our thinking and our feelings, and to further learn that we can choose what we will think about. Such realities are life-changing.

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.

Much is currently being written in educational journals about the importance of social-emotional learning and the value of positive relationships in classrooms. From the very beginning of his career William Glasser was motivated to unlock the mysteries of psychology for everyone on the planet! The concepts of Choice Theory, with Total Behavior being one of its most important concepts, are such an effective way to introduce and nurture the psychological and emotional health of students. Don’t hold this information back. Don’t worry about not being wise enough to teach the concepts. Go for it!


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How To Parent Like An FBI Agent

I don’t make this stuff up. One of the sidebar titles in the recent edition of Time magazine (January 25, 2016) read How to Parent Like an FBI Agent. “Some spycraft techniques also work for parenting,” says a former FBI special agent in his new book, The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over.


The sidebar listed four main techniques –

Create the illusion of control
FBI agents de-escalate drama by letting subjects call some shots.
Offer kids a list of options, all of which you already like.

Use the scarcity principle
FBI profiling shows that people like things they can’t get much of.
Parents should factor that in when banning an activity or a friend.

Ask indirect questions
Kids (and perps) hate being interrogated.
Instead, try queries like “My friend’s son was drinking. What should his parents do?”

Hang in there
The more time you spend with a person, the more influence you have on each other.
Yes, even on teenagers.


Parenting might be the most challenging of all human endeavors, and remarkably we don’t have to receive any training or pass any performance assessments to become one. As a result, parents are usually pretty desperate for tips and ideas on how to parent better, even when the advice is from law enforcement agencies. (Maybe especially when the tips are from law enforcement.) So what are we to make of these four FBI recommendations? What follows are thoughts through the lens of choice theory.

Create the illusion of control
Choice theory is about truly empowering others. Parents and teachers must share power in age-appropriate ways that leads children to ultimately become able self-managers. There are no illusion strategies in choice theory, no tricky ways to exert control, even as you are acting otherwise. Kids seem to possess excellent “manipulation detectors” and will sooner-rather-than-later sense when they are being coerced into certain behaviors.

“Creating the illusion of control” underscores one of the challenges for teachers. It is no easy thing to shift from wanting to control kids to wanting to coach them into controlling themselves. Choice theory offers understanding and a skill set to help with this shift, but old habits do not die easily.

Oh, my goodness! What can I say? When we talked about this in the Soul Shaper class I didn’t really think it applied to me. I recognized how external control I had been up to that point and I was fully convinced of the value of choice theory and the need for me to make a change – both at home and in the classroom. But thinking this way within the confines of the Soul Shaper classroom and applying it a couple of months later in my own classroom are two different things. I just didn’t appreciate how steeped I was in my need to control! During the Soul Shaper class, Jim Roy would talk about teachers taking the internal control ideas of choice theory and then using them in externally controlling ways in their classroom. We all laughed at the irony of that possibility, never thinking for a second that we were capable of that. Now I know different. I am capable of it, in fact, very capable of it. I started seeing the ways in which I shared the least amount of control possible. In other words, I gave out just enough for the kids to maybe think I was giving them a choice, when I was keeping all of the real keys to power. One thing I have learned during this process is that choice theory really gets to the heart of who I am and what makes me tick.   Sophie T.

Choice theory is not about illusion; it is about authenticity and honesty. It isn’t about fake power; it is about really empowering others.

Use the scarcity principle
Instead of saying “use the scarcity principle,” a choice theory parent or teacher would say “be aware of the scarcity principle.” I agree that withholding something or taking something away from a person tends to increase the desire for that very thing. This is one of the drawbacks of traditional punishment strategies that are based on the removal of privileges, and if that doesn’t work “we’ll just remove more privileges.” Trying to control a person through punishment almost always backfires. Choice theory reminds us, whenever possible, to replace things that have been taken away with viable alternatives. Without new things or alternatives to take the old behavior’s place, it is much more difficult to introduce and maintain the new replacement behavior.

When my kid basically left home at 19 I was shocked. I thought things were pretty good between us. What I didn’t realize was how accommodating he was as a child. I was controlling and even angry, but for years he did what I told him to do. When he got old enough to do what he wanted to do, he kind of flipped me off and left. It killed me, but I couldn’t really blame him. It was my way or the highway and he took the highway.   Carl M.

Ask indirect questions
Questions are good, especially artful questions that help a child or student to self-evaluate and then form a new behavior plan. As I have said before, it is better to get something out of someone’s mouth than it is to put it into their ear. The key lies in the spirit of our questioning. Are our questions more accusation than inquiry; more interrogation than problem-solving? Are we listening to correct and censure or are we listening to understand? Indirect questions are by nature less confrontational and seem to invite discussion rather than argument.

Hang in there
When I saw the phrase “hang in there” I was reminded of the Reality Therapy principle of Never Give Up. This principle, though, has more to do with than simply spending time together, as the FBI approach seems to indicate. Our ability to influence is more about the quality of our connection with our child or student than about the amount of time we spend together. When asked how long “never give up” means, Glasser wrote that “each of us must define ‘never’ for ourselves, but a good basic rule of thumb is to hang in there longer than the student thinks you will.” I don’t know if this is the best explanation for never give up. For me, it means just what it says. As long as another person is willing to keep trying, to consider a new plan, I think I would want to keep trying, too.


The words kids and perps appearing in the same sentence should alert us to a possible conflict, although a good sentence might be – The better we treat kids, the fewer perps there will be.


Young, Future Teachers “Get It” When It Comes to Choice Theory

Ethical Dimensions class in action.

Ethical Dimensions class in action.

We hear from two of my students in today’s blog post. They both are candidates in the teacher credential program at Pacific Union College, and are enrolled in Ethical Dimensions of Teaching and Learning, a course I teach during Fall quarter. One of the short essays represents a creative response to a chapter on Fearing in Ted Sizer’s book, The Students Are Watching. The other two are pretend Diary Entries in response to reading the chapter on Being and Becoming in the book, Soul Shapers. The Sizer book does not overtly refer to Glasser or choice theory, yet students in our Education program are more and more coming into a deeper understanding of choice theory principles and it shows up in their writing. The Soul Shaper book is an introduction to choice theory for teachers and parents.

Each of the cards have responses on the other side. (A student creation from Ethical Dimensions.)

Each of the cards have responses on the other side. (A student creation from Ethical Dimensions.)

The actual assignment for chapter four in Soul Shapers went like this –
After reading the chapter on Being and Becoming, pretend you are an experienced teacher that has taught in traditional, controlling ways, and write a Dear Diary entry revealing his/her thinking as they begin to see the implications of their current teaching strategies. Remember to weave key chapter points into your entry.

From Ashley –

Dear Diary,
There are days when I am just so frustrated with the behavior of students in my classroom. There are times when I feel myself repeating over and over for someone to “sit down” or “stop talking.” I try warnings and consequences. Some students have just accepted that they will sit out recess or run extra laps. I’m pretty sure some of the boys have even made it a competition to see who can get the most laps in one day. I take away privileges and have talked to some of their parents. Why can’t they just listen? I guess that is where I need to start.
While I wonder why they repeat bad behavior over and over, the better question, though, is why are they even doing it in the first place? I am always so focused on punishing bad behavior sometimes that I forget to get to the source of the problem. If I could figure out why they are misbehaving, I can come up with a better strategy for solving it.
I also need to stop focusing only on my students, and maybe focus on myself as well. I admit that my attitude has a huge impact on the attitude of my students. Are there days when I just want to pack up and go home early? Of course. Do I do it? Of course not. But when I choose to stay, do I also choose to change my attitude? I care about each and every one of my students, but do they know that? If I want to create an environment where my students care about each other, I need to set that tone in the classroom. If I expect respect, I better be willing to respect my students. It isn’t always about them being a problem; it often times is about me and how I am as a model.
As a model, I also need to act in the way I want them to become. If I want them to write neatly, I need to write neatly. If I want them to keep a clean classroom, then I need to keep a clean desk area. My goal is to guide them on their journey to becoming respectable adults who are accountable for themselves, and in order to do so, I have to be one.
So next time someone acts up I need to take a breath, think about my attitude, and try to understand why there is an issue. If I can convey to the students that I am trying to work with them and not against them, so many battles will be avoided and my job as an educator can only get better. With patience and prayer, I got this.

One of the key themes in chapter four is the idea that as teachers (and parents) we need to BE what we want our students to BECOME. Ashley’s Diary Entry captures the angst a teacher feels as she searches for clues and insights on how to accomplish it.

BEing what we want our students to BECOME.

Lenny’s Diary Entry captures the difficulty of letting go of what feels like control, as well as where such a focus leads –

Dear Diary,
I don’t know what to do. I feel like a failure. I love what I do, I love working with children, teaching them and mentoring them, but it’s not working. There’s something that happens in someone’s heart when the children they love don’t respond to them in kind. I know they’re not mine biologically, but they’re mine all the same. I love them all, but one in particular stands out. Ethan.
Today started out normally, adhering to the strict schedule created for optimal efficiency. I believe that for students who struggle to learn, the only way to move past it is efficiency, efficiency, efficiency. It’s simple math; the more information I can get to them, the more information they will retain. There are simple rules that need to be followed to reach the highest possible level of efficiency: silence, stillness, and focus. All it takes is a little discipline. Ethan, however, has a hard time staying still. And in the process of not being still, he breaks the silence, which in turn ruins the focus of the class. I don’t know what got into me, but today was the last straw. All I want to do is help him. I love him. But he won’t let me help him. He won’t listen. He won’t stay still. The others can do it, why can’t he? Perhaps I went too far. He was so angry, so embarrassed. All that work, all that progress, I feel like it was for nothing.
I must not falter. It is my responsibility to hold him accountable, no matter how he feels about me. I know what is best. I’m the teacher. I know what is best. Sometimes a thing must be broken to be put back together again, correctly. It will hurt me as much as it will hurt him, but I will break him. I have to.

I gave this Diary Entry full credit and added, “A compelling read. You capture conviction and determination. Yet in the end so sad. For all involved. Wow!

It is sad when teachers get caught up in thinking based on “I’m going to win” or “I’m gonna control this kid.” When we are tempted to go there I hope we can remember the axiom that You Gain Power As You Give It Away!

A total behavior car made from a paper towel tube. (Created for one of the Ethical Dimensions assignments.)

A total behavior car made from a paper towel tube. (Created for one of the Ethical Dimensions assignments.)

The Sizer chapter talked about schools and teachers using fear to motivate students. The assignment went like this –
After reading the chapter on Fearing, and in the tradition of The Breakfast Club (1985), write a one-page essay on the use of fear in school. Write the essay in 1st person voice from the perspective of a high school student. Creatively weave at least two elements from the chapter into your essay.

Once again we hear from Lenny on the topic of fear in school –

They tell me that they are here to help me. They tell me they care about me and about my future. Some even say that they love me. But that is not what I see. What I see is a system designed to keep me in my “place”. This system is creating unrealistic standards for me to meet in order to motivate me to keep working harder and faster. They treat me like a donkey with a stick tied to my back and a carrot dangling in front of me. They say it’s for my own good, the hours and hours of studying. But I see through them. I know what’s really going on.
The fear they are creating in me and my peers is their natural response to the fear within themselves. Their fear of failure as a teacher. Unlike other professions, a teacher’s success is abstract. They do not produce anything concrete, anything palpable, anything visible to the human eye. There is nothing to be inspected. Their success as a teacher is tied inexorably with the success of their students. Of my friends. My success is their success. My failure is their failure. When I falter, they falter. They feel the same fear I feel when they set unreasonable goals as a means of motivation. As a means of striking fear into the hearts of their students.
The irony of course is that both fears are paralyzing. If they would just relax and treat us like human beings instead of a means of personal success or failure, everything would run so much smoother. We would have attainable goals and feel better about ourselves, and as the teacher of a successful class, they in turn would feel better about themselves.
But until then, I will not subscribe to their methods of control. I will do what I must to break the chain. I am the student, they are the teachers. It is not my job to placate their fear, it is theirs to placate mine. So until they figure it out how to do their jobs, I refuse to do mine.

I wish you could read all of the papers for these two assignments and get caught up in the joy of seeing candidates like these move ever closer to having their own classrooms. I am privileged to see every day the beliefs and talents of the young teachers about to take their place on the stage of the educational system. These short essays (remember they are pretend responses to a hypothetical prompt) are examples of their insight, which I hope will prompt and provoke your choice theory thinking. Blessings!


If you find it difficult to get a copy of Soul Shapers, let me know and I will quickly ship a copy to you.

Choice theory from a unique perspective. Original and practical.

Choice theory from a unique perspective. Original and practical.

How To Make Schools Better For Kids


Time magazine (Sept. 7, 2015) featured an article this week about strategies that will lead to happier, healthier, and better prepared students. Each of the eight bullet points appear below, along with their choice theory strengths and weaknesses.


Ditch Traditional Homework
Many seem to view homework as a non-negotiable requirement, even though it leads to such mixed results, including high levels of stress at home. Teachers may feel that they are creating a more “rigorous” program by assigning consistent homework, but students don’t necessarily benefit from such rigor. When projects are meaningful to them, students are often willing to work on them wherever, whether at home or at school. It’s ok to occasionally have students complete assignments at home, but more often as educators we should be trying to protect home time as family time.


Make Recess Mandatory
Taking recess time away from students is one of the most common “motivators” of a boss manager. Recess is the most popular time of the day and adults for decades have used it as a threat or form of punishment. Childhood obesity rates have quadrupled in the last 30 years and prominent voices from many fields are calling for more physical activity, not less. I do think recess time should be honored, rather than used as an external controller, however I don’t think we have to make them mandatory. There are times when students might want to finish up a project or get ready for a presentation. We just need to stop using recess as a punishment tool and recognize its value when it comes to student physical, psychological, and social health.

Screen Kids for Mental Illness
I don’t see it as helpful to evaluate and label children with mental illness diagnoses. I do see it as helpful to create and maintain need-satisfying schools where students learn to self-evaluate their own needs and wants, and where they learn to be responsible for their own behavior. When this kind of learning takes place within a warm, caring, and fun environment, bad behavior (often interpreted as mental illness) becomes a non-issue.


Prioritize Diversity
Schools are truly our best hope for a peaceful, and even thriving multicultural future. Human beings are not born with intolerance and hatred; those attitudes are learned. Schools, whether public or private, are melting pots of diversity and can be a strong force for good when it comes to learning to accept and respect others.

Turn Discipline into Dialogue
One of choice theory’s key mantras is managing students without coercion. “Punishments like detention,” the article explains, “or getting sent to the principal’s office remove problematic kids instead of addressing what made them misbehave in the first place.” Inappropriate behavior does need to be confronted, but students must be involved in the process. Ellen White describes how “The true object of reproof is gained only when the wrongdoer himself is led to see his fault and his will is enlisted for its correction.” (Education, p. 292) Another choice theory mantra is the only person you can control is yourself. School management needs to be about helping students learn to control themselves, rather than supposedly being controlled by the punishments or rewards of teachers.

Let Students Customize Their Curriculums
As the article points out, “Kids have always learned best when they get personal attention.” This is especially true when the topic or material is relevant to them. Computers and tablets (and Smartphones) are able to provide support and enrichment in ways barely imagined until recently. Teachers are learning to differentiate assignments, based on student interests and abilities.


Start Classes After 8:30 am
Certain aspects of the school schedule have been around so long that we don’t even question them, even though data strongly suggests we should do just that. The traditional schedules are not based on student needs, but rather on adult needs (eg-work schedules). Studies on adolescent biology indicate they are hardwired to stay up later, and then get up later. Only one in five schools begins after 8:30 am, so the word on school scheduling still needs to get out.


Design Cafeterias that Encourage Healthy Eating
This is an uphill battle from both the school and student perspective – it is hard for schools to re-tool and offer a more nutritious diet at a reasonable cost, and it is hard for students to change their tastebud preferences. The battle is worth fighting, though, both for student performance now, and for a healthier populace tomorrow. Health care costs related to obesity and heart disease are skyrocketing, a bill that affects all of us.

The eight bullet points got me to thinking. Is it possible to prioritize the top three in this list of eight? I think I would put the following three at the top –

+ Turn discipline into dialogue

+ Let students customize their own curriculum

+ Prioritize diversity

Which three would you put at the top?


Very sorry to see that Wayne Dyer passed away. He has been, to me, a voice of reason and compassion. He credited Glasser with being an early influence on his thinking. For a lot of us we hold that in common with Dr. Dyer.

Dr. Wayne Dyer

Dr. Wayne Dyer


The Glasser biography, Champion of Choice, is an excellent way to learn about the breadth and depth of William Glasser’s influence. A copy of the book can quickly be gotten through Amazon. Signed copies are also quickly available through the author (that would be me).

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser's ideas and his career.

The book that connects the dots of William Glasser’s ideas and his career.

Door Mats and Place Mats. Pretty Cool.


I love this door mat for its sheer creativity! I give a tip of the hat to the person who came up with this idea.

Speaking of mats, there were some creative mats in my life this past week, some place mats to be more exact.

I had the privilege this week to teach The Better Plan 1 course here at Pacific Union College, a summer class I have now taught for 10 years in a row. The Better Plan (also the name of this blogsite) is an experiential class in choice theory for educators. This summer, teachers in the class came from California, Arizona, and Oregon.

The Better Plan 1 class, summer, PUC, 2015

The Better Plan 1 class, summer, PUC, 2015

It has been a very special week for me (alumni of the class will know what I am talking about) and now I am sitting in the class reflecting on our experiences and our discussions. The tables and chairs are empty, yet I have a distinct memory of each person in the class sitting at their usual place. I see them even now. I think about their journey this week and the shifts that began to take place in their thinking. The room become a kind of sacred place as people shared about their lives and their challenges, a sacredness that for me still remains as I sit here and think about all we did and said. I shared of myself, too; my thinking has shifted, too.

Tom Amato, director of the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, during the Better Plan class.

Tom Amato, director of the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, during the Better Plan class.

I yearn for everyone in the class to be fully grown in their choice theory understanding and hope that we covered everything needed for choice theory expertise. Just as quickly, I know that we didn’t cover everything, and that even if we had covered everything expertise in choice theory takes time. Glasser himself said that “choice theory is easy to understand and hard to do.” I hope that students in the class this week will 1) recognize the week as a beginning, 2) be patient with themselves as they experiment with the choice theory ideas, and 3) continue to seek resources that will support them in the choice theory journey. Resources include books by Glasser and other authors on choice theory, as well as, for example, The Better Plan blog you are reading now. Also, I have found that Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy are a huge part of the choice theory journey for me.

A quiet classroom in the early morn. Soon the buzz of learning will make its wonderful presence felt.

A quiet classroom in the early morn. Soon the buzz of learning will make its wonderful presence felt.

Can a classroom get better than this?

Can a classroom get better than this?

One of the book racks available to students all throughout the week.

One of the book racks available to students throughout the week.

On the last day of the class, early in the morning, I took a few pictures before anyone else arrived. I like hanging out in a classroom pleasantly cluttered with learning. One of the ideas that seemed to work well this week had to do with place mats. Everyone received a small poster, or place mat, that they could doodle on and, in whatever they wanted, capture important thoughts or concepts that were important to them. I explained that except for one thing that I wanted them to include, they could put anything they wanted on it. The one thing I requested they include on their place mat was the How the Brain Works chart. (The Chart as the Glasser “family” affectionately refers to it as.) There is something about creating or drawing something yourself that strengthens the learning, I think.

Learning place mats.

Learning place mats.

So much good stuff here!

So much good stuff here!

These could be framed.

These could be framed.

And so, while the Better Plan 1 class ends, the choice theory journey really begins. For some the journey will continue with The Better Plan 2 class that kicks off on Monday. Looking forward to our time together!




Misdirected Zeal and Why We Keep Trying or Quit


It’s amazing to me just how important our view of reality is! And it is fascinating to me how involved we are in shaping our personal view of reality!

In choice theory-speak, the perceived world represents what we think we HAVE, or what we believe reality to be. (The quality world, on the other hand, represents what we WANT.)

I have read a couple of things recently that reminded me of the significance of our individual perceived worlds. One of the things I read is from Scripture; the other is from a study* out of Rutgers University on perseverance.

The apostle Paul, describing people who want to make themselves good by keeping religious rules, uses a phrase that got my attention. He writes –

I know the enthusiasm they have for God, but it is misdirected zeal.              Romans 10:2 NLT

The phrase misdirected zeal conveys our ability as human beings to become convinced about an idea or belief that isn’t true. Our self-created convictions can lead to zealous behavior, but this behavior doesn’t make the conviction any truer. We see extreme examples of misdirected zeal when terrorists blow themselves up or when members of the Westboro Baptist Church put on hateful demonstrations. Their extremism, though, shouldn’t divert our attention to the numerous more common examples of how we create our own reality. That Fox News is now a major media outlet is testimony to the millions of viewers who view reality from a certain perspective.

Fox 708

For choice theorists the Rutgers study will not be earthshaking, yet it is worthy of our attention. The researchers’ goal was to find out what caused some people to quit, while others work harder and push on. The answer they discovered has to do with how much control people perceive they have over the situation.

The student who fails an exam because he feels he didn’t study hard enough will probably study harder, or differently, the next time. On the other hand, the student who fails an exam because he believes the teacher used trick questions on the test that didn’t really cover the content will probably give up studying or even drop the course.


Classroom Application

Teachers may need to give students “bad news,” but it should be done in a way that conveys belief in the student’s ability to complete the task. Some possible approaches include –

+ “Let’s think of some ideas that will help you understand this better.”

+ “Would changing the way you study for this kind of test be helpful? Would you like to talk about different study strategies?”

+ Would you like another chance on this assignment? Do you understand it well enough to give it another try?”

+ “I think you’re very capable of doing well on this material. I wonder what is preventing it so far.”

Helping students to perceive that their doing well is within their control is really a key. The Rutgers research recognizes the value of providing constructive feedback that encourages students to persevere and keep on keeping on. We all like that kind of feedback actually. We all persevere with things we feel are in our control.

* An article regarding the Rutgers study can be found here –


An Interview with Jim Roy

This interview took place on September 11, 2014, at Lower Lake High School in Lower Lake, California. Chris Kinney, who led the interview, teaches Social Studies and Technology classes at the high school and has more recently been given the school’s broadcasting program. Besides being posted to YouTube the interview will also be shown on a local Clearlake television channel.

Chris Kinney and Jim Roy

Chris Kinney and Jim Roy

Chris, a former student of mine who completed his teaching credential through Pacific Union College, is an incredible example of what can be accomplished when belief, energy, and commitment come together. He wants to empower his students to achieve success and he sees the principles of choice theory as essential in that process.

After a recent class discussion one of Chris’s students shared the following on her/his Facebook page –

“Ok, I meant to post this last night, but I was really tired. Ok, so yesterday one of my teachers, whom I highly respect and look up to, gave a mind blowing speech on choice theory. He went on and on about how our education system is very messed up and is only a grade, not actually showing off the experience you learned in the class. It’s what your grade says, not what your brain says. He then went on about how everyone in life is only trying to fill their basic needs, which is literally in every case scenario. He then talked about how school is literally the only place that you will be told you fail in your life, and as soon as he said that my mind was amazed. I couldn’t believe how much all this theory made sense and actually should be in all schools. Sadly the state doesn’t want you to have experience and know what you’re doing; they want you to have a good grade on a test or a quiz.”

The principles of choice theory are empowering, and because of that it appeals to high school students, middle school students, and even elementary students. Like Glasser used to say, “There is nothing in choice theory that a six year old can’t understand.”


Now priced at $17.44 on Amazon; 17 reviews have been submitted. (We’re not stuck on 16 anymore!)

The eBook version can be accessed at –

The paperback version can be accessed at –

or from Amazon at –

Signed copies of Champion of Choice can be accessed through me at –


Mistakes, Mischief, and Mayhem

There are some things we just never forget!

The phrase “mistakes, mischief, and mayhem” turned out to be one of those things for me. I first saw it in Jane Nelsen’s book, Positive Discipline (1981, 2006), twelve years ago, and it made such an impression on me that it has become a part of my management paradigm, a kind of beacon that, combined with choice theory, helps to point me in the right direction.


Nelsen felt that classroom behaviors can be categorized as either mistakes, mischief, or mayhem, and that our management strategies need to keep these levels of behaviors in mind. For the sake of clarity, the following definitions will help –

Mistakes – misbehaviors that are just that, mistakes. It is easy for us to forget how complex a classroom can be. There are so many expectations regarding how students relate to one another, how they relate to things, how they relate to places, and how they relate to time. Additionally, each of them comes from unique backgrounds that differ greatly. Most of the “misbehavior” in classrooms fit into the mistakes category.

Mischief – misbehavior that has an element of intentionality. It may not have a meanness element to it, however it is distracting, probably draining to the teacher if not corrected, and takes away from the learning environment.

Mayhem – misbehavior that breaks a rule and crosses the line of civility and respect, whether the behavior is directed at fellow students, teacher, or things within the classroom. Mayhem behaviors involve disrespect, disobedience, and/or destruction. These are serious misbehaviors that require a student response, maybe in the form of an action plan to prevent the misbehavior in the future, which also may involve steps to restore what their misbehavior harmed (e.g. – relationship, trust, broken object).

It becomes plain that misbehaviors are not all equal and that a mistake is vastly different than mayhem. Treating each of these misbehaviors on the level they deserve can greatly affect the learning atmosphere of the classroom, and will allow teachers to head home each day without a pit of worry and tension in their stomach.


One common mistake for teachers is to treat any and all misbehavior as mayhem. Teachers may not know about the concept of Procedures or have forgotten about their value and treat all behavior, or lack thereof, on the level of Rules. A student forgets to walk into the classroom after recess – Bam! – he broke a rule; a student leaves her desk and gets a drink during a teacher presentation – Bam! – she broke a Rule. Treating everything like mayhem creates a controlling, tension-filled space that foments rebellion in all kinds of forms.

It is freeing to teachers when they acknowledge that most misbehaviors are simply mistakes that can be prevented or corrected through the use of Procedures. Mistakes don’t have to be about getting in trouble or being punished. Procedures are taught, reviewed, and rehearsed, and when students forget a Procedure they are reminded of it and probably asked to rehearse it correctly.

Harry Wong emphasizes that the first two weeks of school should focus on learning Procedures. Once students “get” the idea of Procedures and know the Procedures needed to get the school year started the classroom environment is then ready for students to “soar!”

Using Procedures to provide helpful classroom structure will prevent most of the usual behavioral issues, although there may still be students who are mischievious in class in a way that distracts from the learning. It is common for mischief to include clowning and various forms of pranks. Mischief can be reduced and eliminated by 1) consistently implementing the Procedures, and 2) creating a need-satisfying classroom. By need-satisfying I mean a classroom where the teacher is intentional about helping students meet their need for purpose, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun. In other words, planning activities, events, and opportunities for students with a high need for power to meet that need, and students with a high need for fun to meet that need, and so forth. As teachers we don’t just hope this happens or merely allow it to happen, we plan for it to happen.


Lastly, we hope that mayhem behaviors never occur in our classroom, but inevitably they do. Kids sometimes behave poorly, sometimes very poorly, and when they do we must confront the behavior and assist them toward forming better behaviors. It is important that teachers convey compassion to the student being confronted, but this compassionate spirit should not prevent dealing with such behaviors decisively. Mayhem behaviors (e.g.- defiance of the teacher, attacking another student verbally or physically, willful destruction of school property) may involve a time out or in-school suspension and may involve the student developing a plan to restore what was broken and prevent further incidences in the future. As the teacher I need to have a sense that the student understands the importance of kind and safe behavior and that s/he can make a commitment to kindness, respect, and cooperation. We can’t expect perfection, however we can expect a willingness and a desire to grow in these areas.

And so the 3Ms of classroom behavior are Mistakes, Mischief, and Mayhem. Treating each of them for what they are will go a long way toward student success this year!


Chris Kinney, who teaches at Lower Lake High School, and who was featured in the August 20, 2013, blog (Good Morning, Mr. Kinney) right here in The Better Plan, invited me to come and talk to people at his school about the new Glasser biography and about choice theory in general. So, I will be doing just that tomorrow evening, September 11, from 6:00-7:00 pm. He put together the following flyer, which is really well done. I would love it if local choice theorists could attend this event!



The quickest and cheapest way to access William Glasser: Champion of Choice is to purchase the eBook version at the following link –

Now priced at $17.73 on Amazon; 16 reviews have been submitted. (We've been stuck on 16 for a while.)

Now priced at $17.73 on Amazon; 16 reviews have been submitted. (We’ve been stuck on 16 for a while.)

Off and Running with Glasser and Wong

Screenshot 2014-09-06 19.44.32

Classes begin on Sept. 22 at PUC and one of the courses I will be teaching this Fall quarter is Classroom Management. Pre-service teachers worry ahead of time about whether or not they will be able to manage a classroom and after entering the profession, those teachers who leave teaching mostly do so because of issues relating to management. Classroom management is a very important skill set for teachers to possess. I enjoy teaching the class, even as I feel the pressure of the responsibility to teach it well and teach it right.

There are basically two different paradigms from which to consider classroom management – either you view the world operating according to external control (reward / punishment) or you see it operating according to internal control and the principles of choice theory. There are many different approaches and management models to choose from, but each of them sits on one of these paradigms.


I am using two books as texts for the class that I haven’t used before. The first is Choice Theory in the Classroom (1986; 2001), which I am quite familiar with, and the second one is The Classroom Management Book (2014), which is brand new.


I chose these books because I think they will help students understand and appreciate the essential elements of classroom management. (A big THANK YOU to those who posted their essential elements in the last blog. I am going to share your insights with my class.) Some of the elements I would like to include –

+ Know yourself – Recognize that your beliefs about motivation and behavior (which you can change) form the frame within which all of your classroom management pieces fit.

+ Prevention rather than cure – Seek to create a need-satisfying class in which students want to be. Focus on positive relationships all the way around. Focus on instructional organization. Focus on teaching and rehearsing the Procedures needed for the room to run smoothly.

+ Natural consequences rather than punishment – If students do break a rule, help them learn to take responsibility for their behavior and restore what they have broken.

I plan to start with Glasser’s Choice Theory in the Classroom and have him help us understand the concepts of choice theory and how the internal control model of human behavior really is the only model that honors the way our brains work. I think role plays in class will help us get the essential points in better ways than me lecturing the points.

Bill giving a talk in Ventura, CA (2006)

Bill giving a talk in Ventura, CA (2006)

I am glad I re-connected with Choice Theory in the Classroom. I have known about the book, of course, but I haven’t tapped into it like I am about to. Here are a few key points from the book. You can almost hear Glasser’s voice –

“We cannot pressure any student to work if he does not believe the work is satisfying.” (12)

“We are far too concerned with discipline, with how to ‘make’ students follow rules, and not enough concerned with providing the satisfying education that would make our overconcern with discipline unnecessary.” (12)

“When we talk about better discipline with no attempt to create a more satisfying school, what we are really talking about is getting disruptive students to turn off a biological control system that they cannot turn off.” (58)

I then plan to transition into Harry Wong’s new book, The Classroom Management Book. I have been using Wong’s classic The First Days of School for a number of years, and I really like that book, but I decided to go with his new book. The new book is so strong on Procedures and how to teach them. I can supplement what the book doesn’t cover, but I really want the students to have access to what he does cover. I think experienced teachers will want to check out his new book, too.


I just recently received the latest edition of Educational Leadership, the journal for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, and the entire journal is devoted to the topic of motivation. I will be having the students read several of the articles, including the keynote (lead) article by Daniel Pink, entitled Motivated to Learn: A Conversation with Daniel Pink. The title reminded of the many journal articles back in the day that featured control theory or choice theory and had as part of the title A Conversation with William Glasser. As it so happens, even though this current journal has been devoted to the topic of motivation, and specifically motivation within the school environment, not one of the articles references Glasser or mentions him in any way. It is true that his ideas and beliefs are splashed throughout the journal. Schools wanting to improve instruction and embrace educational “best practice” are heading the way Glasser pointed for years. That really is the important thing.


Discipline is helping a child solve a problem.
Punishment is making a child suffer for having a problem.
To raise problem-solvers, focus on solutions, not retribution.
L.R. Knost
(Thank you Bette Blance for sharing this on Facebook)


One way to keep Glasser’s legacy alive is to let colleagues know about The Better Plan blog. Think about it.


Now priced at $17.73 on Amazon; 16 reviews have been submitted.

Now priced at $17.73 on Amazon; 16 reviews have been submitted.

The eBook version of William Glasser: Champion of Choice can be accessed at the following link –

The paperback version can be accessed at the following Amazon link –

For U.S. customers, get a signed copy of Champion of Choice for $20 + $6 (shipping). Send your check, along with any special instructions (e.g.- if the book is a gift), as well as your shipping address, and I will get the biography out to you right away.
Please include your email address, just in case I have questions about your order. My address is P. O. Box 933, Angwin, CA 94508

Get a signed copy of Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Teachers for $17.



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