Posts tagged “Glasser quality school

In a Nutshell


I sometimes get asked, “In a nutshell, what is choice theory?”

The person doing the asking may not have heard of William Glasser or choice theory and, when the conversation comes around to Glasser and his ideas, they become interested in a short-cut description.

It’s a fair question. So, how would you, in a nutshell, describe choice theory?

Some possible descriptions include –

Choice theory explains how human beings are motivated and guided by an internal control mechanism. Whether we are proactively creating new behaviors or simply responding to external circumstances, it is this internal control process from which we decide how to behave or how to respond.

Choice theory describes a psychology that is based on the belief that human beings behave in purposeful ways to meet their personal needs. These needs include connecting with others, being successful at what we want to do, being free to do what we want without undo restrictions, and having fun and enjoying life. Rather than being controlled by others, we are constantly behaving in a way that we think will be need-satisfying.

Choice theory describes how free we are, and how much power we have, to be the architects of our own mental health. It helps us understand how to become more responsible for our thinking, our acting, our feelings, and even our physiology.

What is your nutshell description? Do you have a “go to” answer for this situation?



The implication of people being motivated and guided by an internal control system is huge! Bigger than huge! It takes existing approaches and practices and sweeps them away. For educators the implications of internal control are especially significant.

Choice theory, along with explaining the reality of internal control, also explains why external control—rewards and punishments in their varied forms—is ineffective, at best, and destructive at its worst. For over a century schools in the U.S. have sought to discover some new form of reward or punishment to externally control students, and even teachers, toward better performance. The No Child Left Behind school improvement plan led to underperforming schools being listed in the newspaper, with the hope that public embarrassment would spur them toward higher achievement. It didn’t work that way, as you might predict. Policy makers with an external control mindset want to extend the hours of the school day and lengthen the school year, thinking these external factors will make better learning take place. What they have failed to see is that doing things ineffectively, only now doing them for longer periods of time, still result in ineffective performance. What is needed is to design a school experience that acknowledges the internal control system by which every student is guided. Only when we intentionally create schools that are need-satisfying to students will performance reach the desired levels.


Some schools have created this kind of environment and are experiencing wonderful results. Glasser Quality Schools would be a prime example. Closer to home for me, the New Technology schools throughout Napa County are creating this kind of environment as well. It can be done.



Thank you to those who have written a review on Amazon for the Champion of Choice biography! Eight reviews have been submitted so far. It would be good if we could get that number up to 80, or even higher. Writing a review is a simple way to draw attention to Glasser’s life and his ideas.


“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
Carl Jung

External Standards vs. External Control

Do you want a doctor who “thinks” she has learned enough to do your surgery?

Writing from a coffee shop in Spokane, Washington, this morning. Margaret and I are on our way to Missoula, Montana, to see our son, Jordan, graduate from law school. More on Jordan and law school this weekend.

Tim Mitchell and Jim Weller brought up great questions regarding the process of evaluation and specifically, self-evaluation, and today, Bob Hoglund, senior faculty at William Glasser, Inc., and the chairperson of the Glasser board in the U.S., adds to our understanding in the following article –

External Expectations and Standards vs. External Control
Bob Hoglund, Senior Faculty, WGI

With Dr. Glasser’s emphasis on External Control Psychology vs. Choice Theory®, it seems necessary to distinguish between reasonable external expectations (standards) and external control. Consider the following:

  • Do you want a pilot who self-evaluated that he is able to fly a passenger jet?
  • Do you want a farmer to self-evaluate that his meat is acceptable for consumers?
  • Do you want a manager who NEVER gives you feedback or direction?
  • Do you want an auto company to decide on its own that the problem with the brakes isn’t that bad?
  • Do you want a doctor that “thinks” she’s learned enough to do your surgery?
  • Do you want a dentist that has “decided” he’s ready to do your root canal?
  • The flaw of self-evaluation is… If all you do is self-evaluate, how do you know what you don’t know?

Given the above questions and expected answers, it would seem that there is a place for external standards and evaluations. For example,

  • Teachers provide needed instruction and feedback to their students. Without this, students may not learn properly or may practice incorrect methods.
  • Coaches correct actions to improve skills the players have not yet mastered.
  • Parents provide instruction and limits to teach their children the values and behaviors that they expect.

Many professions require external certifications in order to ensure standards of safety are met; however, unless an individual finds some worth in the external expectations and evaluations, there is little likelihood that he will produce quality work. The key to external evaluation is involving the individual in finding value in expectations and evaluations.

Additionally, it is important for the workers to be taught exactly what is expected of them, prior to any self or external evaluation. Dr. Deming said, “It is not enough to do your best. You must first know what to do and then do your best.” When there are set processes, procedures or policies, rubrics, checklists and other quality tools are helpful to the teaching/learning process and to enhance the quality or self and external evaluations.

When external evaluations are required, there are three factors that increase the likelihood that external evaluation will produce the desired result. External evaluation and information is crucial to our learning and growth. The external evaluation doesn’t “make” us do, think or feel anything. We take the external information and use the “self-evaluation” process to determine if we will use the information we are getting.

The term learner is used from this point forward to represent anyone receiving feedback or evaluation information because successful external evaluation results in learning.

There are three factors that determine the effectiveness of external evaluation?

1. Does it benefit the learner?
a. How will the evaluation be used?
b. Does the learner have a chance to improve the rating/grade or score?

2. Is it wanted / asked for?
a. Does the learner “respect” the source of the evaluation?
b. Does the rating / grade / score mean anything to the learner?

3. Does the evaluation give the learner the information needed to make the necessary improvements?

“Does the evaluation give the learner the information needed to make the necessary improvements” is the crux of the Glasser Quality School Model. Reteach and retest.

Dr. Glasser’s emphasis on self-evaluation and co-verification can coexist with the expectations of external evaluation that are expected in many workplaces and schools. This coexistence can become positive by involving others in the evaluation process.

A suggestion for increasing meaningful methods of external evaluation is to survey the individual(s) who will be evaluated. Questions, such as the following, provide a base from which to build useful, meaningful evaluations.

1. What does your ideal performance review look or sound like?
a. What would you like it to say?
b. What knowledge and skills would be recognized?
c. What accomplishments would be included?

2. In what type of environment do you work best?
a. How do you get along with others?
b. How do you treat others?
c. How do others get along with you?
d. On a scale of 1 to 10, how autonomous would you prefer your job to be?
i. How often do you think you should report your progress?
ii. How would you like to report your progress?

3. What expectations do you have of yourself?
a. What expectations do you think that the company has of you?
b. What expectations seem reasonable to you?
c. What expectations don’t seem reasonable to you?
d. How do you reconcile any differences between the two?

4. What type of evaluation is most helpful for you?
a. When do you want to receive it?
b. How do you want to receive it?

In conclusion, The Three E’s (Hoglund, 2000) provide the framework for optimal benefit:
The expectations and evaluations occur within a positive, supportive, trusting learning and working environment.
The expectations, even when external, have benefits for the learner or worker.
The evaluation is helpful because it meets the above criteria.




Glasser’s Big 3 Quality School Pieces


Glasser believed that three essential elements in a Quality School are –

+ Relationships

+ Relevance, and

+ Relf-Evaluation

(It helps if all the elements on a list like this begin with the same letter.)

There are nuances to these three elements, and there are other elements entirely, but any school that authentically and effectively addresses these three will be well on its way to being a Glasser Quality School.



Glasser wanted schools to be places of joy, where staff and students treated each other warmly and with respect. I refer to this piece as Intentional Friendship. It isn’t something we just hope for, it is something we strategically plan for and implement. Students respond well to our Intentional Friendship efforts, however not all will do so right away. Some have attended schools that rely on coercion and punishment and have never experienced a place – at home or school – that is based on positive relationships and natural consequences. They have used their cold, adversarial attitudes as leveraged responses to the school’s effort to control them. When a school ceases to behave in this way, and to literally take the fight out of their rules and procedures, students don’t exactly know how to respond at first. So they test their teachers to see if this approach is really real or just some form of control in disguise. I think a term we need to embrace is the idea of Unconditional Liking. And by that I mean that we behave like we like our students, not just love them in some ethereal, spiritual way, but really like them. Many of our students have never experienced unconditional anything. It’s a powerful element in a Quality School.



We all crave it. We want things in which we are involved to matter. Students are no different in what they experience at school. Busy work is the opposite of relevance. Teachers know this, yet it isn’t always easy to develop lessons that are relevant. Part of students’ complaints about school is that so much of what they do isn’t relevant to them. Consider some simple ways that topics and assignments can be made to matter more.

+ Fifth and sixth graders learn and review Math processes by calculating the performance data of their favorite baseball team – earned run averages of pitchers and batting averages of batters. Older students can study the concepts of Billy Beane, the GM of the Oakland A’s, and the metrics from which little known players are evaluated and ultimately hired at a much lower rate than the well-known, but expensive stars. (The A’s are in first place as we speak.)

+ Second and third graders track 10 day weather predictions on The Weather Channel and determine their rate of accuracy.

+ Eighth graders consider the effects that a meat diet has on the planet. How would things be different if everyone was a vegetarian?

+ It is now being said that major portions of the Antarctic ice shelves are melting and that the rate of melt is now irreversible. High school students present reports on the extent to which this claim is true.

+ High school students research the effects on the economy of raising the minimum wage to $12.00 and hour and give presentations that include the math they used to support their conclusions.

These are just examples. You can come up with even more I am sure. The point is that as teachers we must be vigilant in our search for relevance.



The Self-Evaluation piece is an essential piece of a Quality School, yet it is easy for educators to leave this piece out. Our view that academic evaluation is the teacher’s domain runs deep apparently. Maybe we view evaluation as our responsibility; maybe we see evaluation as an element of control that we don’t want to share; or maybe we think students won’t take it seriously. Whatever our reason for doing all of the evaluating, as teachers we need to reconsider this way of doing things and think of ways we can share this process with students.

One way to do this is to include a student self-evaluation column, as well as a teacher verification column, in the rubrics that you produce. Not every assignment will have such a rubric, but certainly the major assignments and projects will benefit from giving students a chance to rate their own performance. When they submit their assignment or project they will also submit a completed self-evaluation. My experience is that they in fact do take self-evaluation seriously. Their scoring and my scoring as teacher do not always match, but our scoring differently always leads to important conversations about their performance.

I may say that “I notice that you have given your self a 5 out of 5 on the personal examples section of the paper. Could you show me where those are?” The student may then attempt to show me how they interpreted that requirement or they may admit that maybe they didn’t do as much as they thought on that area. We eventually agree on a score, politely, focusing on the content rather than the person. I have noticed that it isn’t unusual for them to give themselves lower scores than I gave them. It is fun when that happens to point out to them the ways they got it right.

Glasser and Deming agreed that self-evaluation was really the only evaluation that mattered. We have to hold to this principle, pursue it, nurture it, if we are to create learning environments that are need-satisfying.

Relationships, relevance, and self-evaluation are just as important in the home, or in our churches, too. They are basically three of the essential principles of life.


Remember that our Choice Theory Study Group has been cancelled this coming Sabbath, May 24. I know you may be keenly disappointed, maybe even overcome with despondency, but try to have a good weekend anyway.

If Dr. Glasser’s Ideas Are So Great . . .

The following article was written by Charlotte Wellen, a teacher at Murray High School in Virginia. Murray was the first public high school in the U.S. to become a Glasser Quality School.


If Dr. Glasser’s Ideas Are So Great and Have Been Around for Fifty Years, Why Aren’t All Schools Using Them?

— A Murray High School Perspective

Recently, I received an email from a teacher who hopes to convince the administration and staff of her school to move in the direction of creating a Glasser Quality School. She was asked the question that is the title of this article and she wanted my help to answer it. Perhaps she sent this to many of the Glasser Quality Schools. I found this a compelling question and I wanted to share my answer here because we have all given a lot of thought to our goal of teaching the world choice theory and we have often wondered why there aren’t more Glasser Quality Schools. Below is my answer to her question:

What a great question! Actually, it has only been 20 years since Dr. Glasser put his ideas together into a form that could help people create an entire school. He came out with The Quality School and Quality School Teacher in the mid-90’s. Also, this is not the type of program that can be started in a school at the beginning of a year and then changed a couple of years later. This is a program that starts up inside of each participant, from the administration to the teachers, the students, and finally going home to the parents, and home to the teachers’ families and the principal’s family, too.

Choice Theory is not a program. Glasser Quality Schools are not a program. They are a thought system, a way of life, a new way of thinking about the world, about the relationships between students and teachers, administrators, and families. It has taken us 26 years to create our current level of mastery of Dr. Glasser’s ideas here at Murray. We still have a long way to go and are involved in making many changes, many improvements. Dr. Glasser always said that 95% of any problem was a system problem and only 5%, if that much, was a people problem. So, the job of creating a Glasser Quality School is to come up with a system that works to create happiness in the school. This is not as easy as it sounds, nor as difficult.

For instance, each of us is learning Choice Theory. Each of us has our own level of understanding of these ideas and each of us is wrestling with our own level of resistance to these ideas. We are not all in the same place at the same time, so the system you develop has to have a tolerance and a love for the growing, the individual transformation, that is required. The system has to have a tolerance for the time it takes for each individual to transform him/herself.

I can attest to the idyllic environment that is created when you work hard for 26 years to develop a school based on Dr. Glasser’s Choice Theory. We are not all perfect here. Most of our students have been very hurt by life in so many ways, hurt by the education system that has left too many of them feeling like failures. We have conflicts every day, but we have a system to understand the conflicts and to work them out. For instance, when two students became angry at one another on Friday, both of them requested to be able to separate from the other, so no physical conflict would arise. They walked away. This is the result of years of work with these two boys to learn Choice Theory, that they can get in charge of the choices they make when anger hits them. They did not get “in trouble” because they raised their voices at each other and disrupted class. They got time and attention from trained and loving teachers who heralded their decisions not to hit each other and helped them think through what had happened that led to the conflict, what they each could have done differently, and on Monday, will help them mediate with each other until a plan they can both agree with is in place and a solution to their conflict has begun.

There is so much to say about this program. Our test scores soar because our students are happy here and want to do well to help the school, and themselves. But the best of all is the feeling of camaraderie, of friendship between students and teachers. Here, there is trust between us. We work hard at it. We constantly work to improve our relationships because we know kids won’t learn well from people they don’t love and who don’t love them. We use the word love all the time here. We aren’t afraid to say we love our kids and they aren’t embarrassed to say they love us, too. We think schools should be built on a foundation of love and trust.

So, why aren’t there thousands of these schools — good question. We work all the time to help schools consider adopting these ideas. Our students travel to schools around the world, teaching people how to start up a Glasser Quality School. No one is as great a spokesman about Glasser Quality Schools than the kids who are educated here. Just last week, we hosted a team from a county in North Carolina who had heard about Murray and wanted to see it in action. Afterwards, they were so overwhelmed by the level of love the kids shared about the program and the level of understanding they had about why they are being educated the way they are. They said they want that for their school. They asked our kids for advice about how to implement these ideas with middle school kids and got lots of suggestions. They are planning to bring a team of Murray kids to North Carolina to talk to their faculty.

I think that it takes a long time and a lot of commitment to help an entire staff come to believe that it’s possible to create a school based entirely on love and respect and to be willing to transform themselves by learning Choice Theory, Reality Therapy, and Lead Management, in order to bring this about. For instance, teachers may have become set in their ways and it might be tough for them to give up their “teacher look,” the one that nails a kid who is disrupting. But that look is a threat. That look has no place in a Glasser Quality School. So to even give up the looks we’ve come to rely on, that’s asking a lot. And it takes YEARS of practice, but like anything worth doing, years of practice pay off hugely! We think our kids deserve an education from a team of professionals who have been practicing for years to treat them respectfully, and to expect great things from them, so they feel inspired to excel. But I think you can see that each of the individual transformations that will need to take place for this to happen take time and inclination and especially belief.

When we first started Murray, we all believed we could change schools so kids and teachers would like them more. At first, we brought all our old controlling and punitive behaviors with us and we used them all. This was good because we got to see that they don’t really work, if working means helping resistant students come to love us and to therefore love school and education. And because we began the school open to changing education in a serious way, we kept tinkering. We kept developing methods of helping ourselves as staff grow and slough off our old punitive ways and to keep from having a school of chaos with kids running around causing untold trouble. We learned that kids who love their school don’t want to cause trouble and are willing to keep working to unlearn their old habits of acting out and hurting others without thinking. They are mostly grateful to be learning the skills they can clearly see will help them in their lives, both in and out of school.

So, if you want to talk more about Glasser Quality Schools, feel free to call me. I LOVE talking about Glasser Quality Schools because I believe that these ideas are so superb that one day all schools will be using them. Educators would be fools not to use these ideas when they work so well at helping people love school and learning.

I would be greatly interested in your opinions in this site regarding my thoughts about the challenges of setting up thousands of Glasser Quality Schools.


Charlotte Wellen, NBCT, Murray Choices Teacher
Instructor at the William Glasser Institute – US

Murray High School
Ashby Kindler, Principal
Charlotte Wellen, Contact
1200 Forest Street, 
Charlottesville, VA 22903
PH: 434-296-3090   
FX: 434-979-6479


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, 2013!
May each of us become able to recognize the blessings for which we can be thankful!
And may we choose to be grateful.


Choice Theory Study Group
December 7

Shifting the Culture – Roots of Change


During the last NapaLearns board meeting I sat next to Paul Curtis, Director for School Quality of the New Tech Network. New Tech is an amazing advocate for progressive educational change and has gone from having one high school in Napa, California, to having more than 130 schools across the U.S. Project-Based Learning (PBL) forms the basis for a lot of their success, but schools wanting to emulate the New Tech approach soon learn that such success is based on a lot more than just PBL. Project-Based Learning can only thrive when other important factors are present. In other words, there needs to be a culture shift for progressive ideas to take root and become a permanent part of the school or district landscape.

Visiting with Paul got me to thinking about the kinds of cultural shifts that a choice theory emphasis would bring about in a school. I probably should have been paying more attention during the meeting, but this is what I came up with instead –

The Cultural Shifts of Choice Theory

1. Shifting from “You Will Be Forced to Adjust to School Requirements” to “How Can We Better Meet Your Needs?”

2. Shifting from Intimidation to Relationships

3. Shifting from Rote to Relevance

4. Shifting from External Evaluation to Internal Evaluation from “Other” Evaluation to Self-Evaluation

5. Shifting from Mediocrity to Mastery

6. Shifting from Compliance to Cooperation

7. Shifting from Punishment to Problem-Solving

I was asked to serve as a panel member for History/English presentations at New Tech High School (Napa) last Thursday. Their presentations, by four member teams, were impressive, but I was even more impressed with the way the rest of the class listened so respectively and attentively, and with the questions they asked afterward. New Tech has made cultural shifts that contribute to their model’s success, shifts that you feel as soon as you walk in the front door. Too often schools focus on details of change, like the nuts and bolts of forming a PBL lesson plan, without creating the environment in which PBL can thrive.

Glasser Quality Schools should not be left out of this conversation, as they are alive and well across the country, too. For a review of the criteria for a Quality School, along with a list of the current declared Glasser Quality Schools, go to

On the left hand side of the page click on The Glasser Approach; then click on Glasser Quality School Education.

As always, if you can add to the “Shifts” list above, let me know and I will add your suggestion.

%d bloggers like this: