Posts tagged “freedom in the classroom

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.

Freedom Calls Us to a Higher Standard


Why do external enforcers like threats and punishments not work as well as an internal control environment based on freedom? Maybe some insights from sixth graders can help shed light on the topic.

“It’s weird, I know, but that’s how things work. My old teacher was big into control, lots of threatening and punishing. Probably more threatening, but it was pretty constant. Names on the board, calling parents, staying in from recess, and not being allowed to go on field trips. We saw it all. Then a different teacher comes in and changes things. We have rules and all, don’t think we don’t, but it’s different. For one thing, the classroom doesn’t feel like a Zap You kind of place. If you mess up, you need to take responsibility for what you did and deal with the situation. The new teacher actually helps you deal with the situation, too, if you want him to.   Ryan

Before you didn’t feel trusted. You always felt like you were bad somehow, even when you weren’t being bad. Sometimes I acted kind of bad because I felt like, whatever, I’m bad so I might as well act like it. Now I feel like we are trusted more, and it’s like, if I’m trusted I don’t want to break that trust. Do you know what I mean?   Lauren

It was like a competition. You’d come to school kind of wondering   . . . well, like . . . I knew what the teacher wanted and expected from me, but he made such a big deal of forcing me to be that way that I wanted to do the opposite. I wasn’t like that in the lower grades, but I turned out that way in the sixth grade.   Tyler

We all feel freer. Our new teacher wants us to enjoy school. He really does. He doesn’t let us get away with stuff, but we really don’t want to get away with stuff like before anyway. Before it felt like school was kind of a fight every day; the new guy just took the fight out of it. Before I dreamed up ways to cause a little ruckus, now I don’t do that.   Taylor




I like how Desire of Ages (1898) says that “Our little world is the lesson book of the universe.” (p.19) Said another way – we are God’s classroom. And apparently he has had to make the same kind of decisions in his classroom that we make in ours. Hmm . . . force or freedom? In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul explained that we “no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, we live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Rom. 6:14) As we study God’s classroom management plan two words become more and more important – love and choice.

Just prior to the birth of Jesus, Desire of Ages describes how –

The earth was dark through misapprehension of God. That the gloomy shadows might be lightened, that the world might be brought back to God, Satan’s deceptive power was to be broken. This could not be done by force. The exercise of force is contrary to the principles of God’s government; He desires only the service of love; and love cannot be commanded; it cannot be won by force or authority. Only by love is love awakened. (p.22)

God created us with the power of choice and He places incredible value on our freedom. One of the reasons I am drawn to the concepts of choice theory is that it provides me with a psychological framework that complements my view of God, and further helps me to include freedom and grace at home and at school. I want to do what works and freedom and choice do that – they work.



I want to welcome teachers from the Upper Columbia Conference who are now following The Better Plan blog. I hope you will feel free to add to our conversations about non-coercive living. I have very good memories from my time as one of the superintendents in Upper Columbia. Thank you, Sharon Searson, for letting teachers know about The Better Plan.



Click here to access Soul Shapers on Amazon – new copies are going for around $12; used copies for around $4. Contact me at for a signed copy.



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