Posts tagged “humane classroom management

The Ship Is Turning

Connection - Brene Brown

Large ships, like oil supertankers, are not very nimble. Their size (1,200′ and longer) and their weight (some carrying almost two million gallons of crude oil) and their speed (over 20 knots) combine to create momentum that requires serious planning ahead when it comes to stops and turns.  Stopping a loaded supertanker can take five miles or more (even with the gears in full reverse) and turning requires a radius of five to ten miles.


The education system can be compared to a supertanker in that it seems to take so long for meaningful change to take place. Based on several recent articles, though, it appears the supertanker of education is turning! Of special interest, these significant changes are directly tied to the principles of choice theory.

An article (May, 2015) in Phi Delta Kappan – Relationships: The Fundamental R in Education – is an example of a recurring theme in educational journals for several years now. “Adolescents need to feel cared for,” the article opened, “if they are to succeed in school.” More than warm fuzziness, caring relationships are based on tangible action. Important for young children, certainly, however more and more it is being recognized just how important caring, supportive relationships are for teenagers. The article emphasized points many of us could rattle off without even reading it: 1) establishing a safe, academically-focused culture, 2) helping each student to see their own role as a classroom stakeholder, 3) teaching students how to effectively communicate, both in what and how they say things, as well as the importance of listening, 4) fostering friendships between students, 5) inspiring students to embrace respect and to express respect to one another, and 6) encouraging and expecting responsibility.

Use personal pronouns. “I care enough about you to be involved, to be your friend.” Spend a few seconds throughout the day reinforcing involvement.  William Glasser (1974)

These are the kinds of ideas and behaviors that Dr. Glasser emphasized throughout his life. He started off talking about the need for involvement between therapist and client or between teacher and student. For him, involvement was about a warm, caring regard that therapist or teacher would have toward the client or the child with whom they worked. This caring connection, for him, was vital to success. Only as students felt connected to their teachers and to their fellow students could they thrive in a classroom setting.


It got my attention even more when I saw some of the headlines in the most recent edition of American Educator. On the cover it proclaimed, “Seeding Change in School Discipline: The Move from Zero Tolerance to Support,” while the first article’s headline read, “From Reaction to Prevention: Turning the Page on School Discipline.” The opening paragraphs describe this change well –

We stand today in the middle of an important debate on the role, function, and practice of school discipline. There can be no question that any approach we implement should strive to create a school climate that is safe, orderly, and civil, and that teaches our children basic values of respect and cooperation. The key question revolves around the best way to accomplish that goal.
For some 20 years, numerous policymakers responded to concerns about school safety and disruption with a “get tough” philosophy relying upon zero-tolerance policies and frequent out-of-school suspensions and expulsions. But research has overwhelmingly shown that such approaches are ineffective and increase the risk for negative social and academic outcomes, especially for children from historically disadvantaged groups. In response to these findings, educational leaders and professional associations have led a shift toward alternative models and practices in school discipline. District, state, and federal policymakers have pressed for more constructive alternatives that foster a productive and healthy instructional climate without depriving large numbers of students the opportunity to learn.


I have written about this before, but it needs to be said again. When Glasser was working at the Ventura School for Girls (a prison school) he learned from the girls that rather than their troubled homes being the cause of their path to getting into trouble and eventually into prison, they explained that it was getting into trouble at school, and then being suspended or expelled that put them onto the streets and ultimately into prison.


“From Reaction to Prevention” – written over 50 years later – strongly confirms that suspension and expulsion are “in themselves risk factors for negative long term outcomes,” which affect not only the student but also society as a whole. To put this in clearer terms –

The Council of State Governments’ report Breaking Schools’ Rules: A Statewide Study of How School Discipline Relates to Students’ Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement found that suspension and expulsion for a discretionary school violation, such as a dress code violation or disrupting class, nearly tripled a student’s likelihood of involvement with the juvenile justice system within the subsequent year.

A get tough approach based on external control rewards and punishments wasn’t the answer 50 years ago and it isn’t the answer today. The article states that three keys are needed toward the creation of effective discipline alternatives: 1) relationship building, 2) social-emotional learning, and 3) structural interventions. Choice theorists can readily embrace relationship building and social-emotional learning, as these are the essence of what choice theory is about. Choice theory, in fact, has much to offer in these two areas. The third key, structural interventions, is not so easily embraced. By structural interventions the article is talking about management models based on a humane, choice-oriented format.


Glasser’s Ten Step Approach to School Discipline            (circa 1974)

Glasser began to be uncomfortable with school discipline models in 1990 and completely rejected them in 1996, citing his belief that by their very nature discipline models focused on changing the kid, rather than on changing the system that led to the misbehavior in the first place. Additionally, he cited that he didn’t like things that were “cooky-booky.” He even rejected his own 10-Step Plan, though it didn’t contain even a shred of external control. I agree with Glasser’s concerns, as I have witnessed first hand how hard it is for teachers to really shift from external control, with its rewards and punishments, to internal control, with its focus on all individual behavior being purposeful. In spite of this agreement, though, I think it may be time to re-look at what choice theory has to offer when it comes to classroom management.

Choice theory, while present in some school districts, is not a major player on a national scale when it comes to school leadership and classroom management. It should be. In its absence, other models – like Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS) and The Responsive Classroom – are more than happy to fill the void. Teachers need the theory of choice theory, but they also need the key steps in the application of the theory. A model, framework, or structure is needed for those just beginning the journey. There is a danger in adopting a structure, as it can be misunderstood and misapplied, but it seems like there is also a danger in not having one, that being the danger of becoming irrelevant.

Regardless, though, the ship is turning! We can celebrate that school systems are more ready than ever for change when it comes to classroom management. Educators and researchers agree that get-tough approaches based on reward/punishment don’t work. With schools in desperate need of classroom management alternatives, what can choice theory offer them? Certainly a wonderful theory and compelling ideas. A framework? A model? Hmm . . .


Brene’ Brown and William Glasser are right – we are hardwired to connect with others. Management plans that don’t acknowledge and embrace this truth cannot succeed.



Don’t become too preoccupied with what is happening around you.
Pay more attention to what is going on within you.
Mary Frances Winters

What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?

Mary Harris Jones, who came to be known as Mother Jones, was an Irish-American trade union activist and a child labor opponent. The Mother Jones magazine was named after her and is know for its journalism to inform a more just and caring world.

Mary Harris Jones, who came to be known as Mother Jones, was an Irish-American trade union activist and a child labor opponent. The Mother Jones magazine was named after her and is know for its journalism to inform a more just and caring world.

A recent article in Mother Jones explains that negative consequences and punishment just make bad behavior worse. The following link allows you to check out their explanations for yourself.

What If Everything You Knew About Disciplining Kids Was Wrong?

The article was a good read for me, thought-provoking, not reflecting my views in every detail, but overall very much reflecting the principles of choice theory. What follows are some of the key points the article makes, which may provide you a shortcut to hearing what the article has to say.


School-to-Prison Pipeline
Chronic trouble-makers at school all too often become involved in the court system, which all too often leads to a lifetime of incarceration. The expression school-to-prison pipeline has become more common in the literature as data consistently exposes the connection between misbehavior at school and the criminal justice system later in life. This school to prison connection is especially significant with Hispanic and African American students. The article makes the point that “Teachers and administrators still rely overwhelmingly on outdated systems of reward and punishment, using everything from red-yellow-green cards, behavior charts, and prizes to suspensions and expulsions.” (In 2011-2012, records indicate that 130,000 students were expelled in the U.S., 7,000,000 were suspended; and 250,000 received some form of corporal punishment, even though only 25 of the 50 states still allow it.) The article emphasizes that external control responses to student misbehaviors may appear to gain momentary peace, but in the long run these strategies make the problem worse.


Consequences Have Consequences
Ed Deci’s research (Univ. of Rochester) has found that “teachers who aim to control students’ behavior, rather than helping them control it themselves, undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation – autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others.” (To a choice theorist that sounds like Freedom, Power, and Love & Belonging.)
Carol Dweck (Stanford) has “demonstrated that rewards-even gold stars-can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher things, rather than the intrinsic rewards for learning.”

Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, whose research is having a growing impact across the US and beyond.

Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, whose research is having a growing impact across the US and beyond.

Harshest Treatments for the Most Challenging
We consistently treat students as if they don’t want to behave when maybe it isn’t that at all. Maybe they don’t have the tools to take in a social setting and respond appropriately, or to be aware of their own emotions and manage them in a way that works for them and others. It turns out there is now an entire population of kids who are “overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. They have habituated to punishment.”

Focusing On the Real Problem, Rather Than Punishing
Talking with students and really listening to them, in fact, helping them to communicate what the real problem is can be incredibly meaningful in the life of that child. As our attention shifts from to “meeting a student’s needs to simply trying to control their behavior,” the results are tangible and profound.


The Goal Is Self-Control
Students can be taught to create a personal success plan for any of the challenges or misbehaviors at school. Their plan, then, isn’t something imposed on them by someone else, like a teacher, but instead is something they have thought through and developed. The teacher can be a resource during the process, but isn’t there to make the child do something.

Making Things Worse
Ross Greene, author of The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as well as the founder of the non-profit Lives in the Balance, has been an advocate for students who misbehave to be treated differently. “Behaviorally challenging kids,” he says, “are still poorly understood and are still being treated in ways that are adversarial, reactive, punitive, unilateral, ineffective, and counterproductive. Not only are we not helping, we are going about doing things in ways that make things worse. Then what you have to show for it is a whole lot of alienated, hopeless, sometimes aggressive, sometimes violent kids.”
Greene was initially trained in the Skinner method of behavior modification, but his early work led him to question what he was trying to do.

Dr. Ross Greene

Dr. Ross Greene

Things Can Get Better
Brains are changeable. Students can learn new skills and tactics that affect their own behavior and motivation. Positive relationships are one of the key factors contributing to this kind of change. Prison guards at Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional facility in Portland, Maine, complained after receiving training in Greene’s methods, but they changed their minds as they attitudes change and recidivism rates plummet. One guard said later, “I wish we had done this sooner. I don’t have the bruises, my muscles aren’t strained from wrestling, and I really feel like accomplished something.”

Focus On the Difference You Can Make At School
Educators can be quick to blame the students’ homes for the students’ inability to perform at school. Greene points out that this focus is fruitless. What teachers can do is focus on the six hours they have students under their influence during the school day. Glasser would certainly agree with that! He learned from the girls at the Ventura School for troubled teenagers that their getting involved with the criminal system and eventually getting into prison wasn’t because of their poor homes. The girls explained that their homes might not have been that great, but they weren’t necessarily that terrible either. What got them on the road to real trouble, they said, was when they failed at school and then dropped out. That’s what put them on the streets, which then led to their collision with the juvenile court system.

So, what if everything you knew about disciplining kids was wrong? It’s possible to change. A growing number of educators are seeking more humane ways to work with students, especially those students who misbehave. The ship is turning as more schools pursue beliefs and strategies like those of Glasser’s Choice Theory and Greene’s Collaborative and Proactive Solutions. I’m glad you’re a part of the journey!



I’ve been in Bermuda since last Wednesday, and had the privilege of presenting choice theory concepts to the staff of the Bermuda Institute of Seventh-day Adventists, a 12 grade school on the island. It is an impressive operation, reminding me a little bit of the schools I visited in Beirut, Lebanon. They are a team of incredibly committed educators and I wish them the best as they begin the new school year on Monday! I hope to stay in touch with them in the future, this blogsite being one of the easy ways to do just that.


New copies of Soul Shapers are now being published by the Pacific Press, instead of the Review & Herald. The quick copies that were created for the recent Atlantic Union in-service sported a simpler cover (no graphic of a heart-shaped cookie cutter), yet I think the content of the book remains the same. Some of you were getting in touch with me because you were unable to find copies anywhere. Hopefully, that problem is solved now.

This original cover may be a thing of the past. We'll see what the Pacific Press does with the book.

This original cover may be a thing of the past. We’ll see what the Pacific Press does with the book.

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