Some anecdotes from the Beirut conference, Sunday, October 20, 2013:
My view of the Middle East culture, now that I am a veteran of a few days here, is that they are reserved with someone they don’t know that well, but not reserved at all with each other. By the end of the conference, people were greeting me and even saying thank you, but not much more than that. They seemed to be into the topics that were covered, especially if the learning involved an activity, but I didn’t get a lot of direct feedback from them one way or another. There was positive energy in the room; I could definitely feel that. One woman who attended came up to me during a break and thanked me rather strongly, ultimately sharing with me that I had come to the Middle East just so she could here about choice theory. Made my day, actually.
I do an activity where I hold up a $10 bill and say that I will give it to the person who comes to the front of the room and does 15 legal push ups. Usually, there will be some who start waving their hands to be chosen as I slowly approach others and one by one offer them the money for the pushups. People will decline; some refuse even to give me any eye contact for fear I will ask them. I continue trying to get someone (not waving his/her hands) to go for it. Eventually, I select a person and he/she does the push ups, whereupon I congratulate them and hand them the money. This activity is a lead-in to a discussion on behaviorism and stimulus-response approaches to motivation. I ask them “What just happened here? Did the $10 make the person do the push ups?” It didn’t seem to work with those who declined, some of whom could have done the push ups. Ultimately, the group realizes that external motivators work for some people, some of the time, and always for reasons that are inside of them. The reason I share this is that when I did this activity in Beirut I had fewer responses than at any other place I have used it. Absolutely no women were interested in doing the push ups, and basically none of the men were either. One raised his hand briefly, but then his hand kind of disappeared. An American student missionary eventually said he would do it, which he did, and he got the $10. I am curious, though, if this is a cultural thing or if I just didn’t do it right. I’ve been doing it for a long time, so I don’t think it is the latter, but you never know. (Most of the participants who have done the push ups and won the $10 over the last, say three or four years, have been women.)
For variety, I also offer $10 to the person who will come to the front and sing the national anthem, a cappella. People seemed even less interested in doing this than they did in doing the push ups. I offered and invited, but no takers. Finally, a gentleman said he would do it and moved to the piano on the stage to play as he sang. I said, no, it needed to be a cappella. He complied, took the microphone, and begin to sing the Lebanese national anthem. He sang with conviction and gusto. Very quickly after he began to sing, one by one audience members stood to their feet and began to sing as well. Rather than simply being entertained by this impromptu solo, they felt compelled to stand in honor of their country and join in singing their national anthem. It was an impressive moment, a touching moment. I was out another $10, but it was totally worth it, though.
After lunch, problem-solving groups were created that were asked to apply information from the morning session to real classroom settings. For instance, one of the questions asked group members to identify a need-satisfying classroom strategy or activity for each of the Basic Needs. I was very impressed as group reporters from each of the groups went to the microphone and explained their choice theory strategies for a better classroom environment. Examples included –
Purpose and Meaning– explaining assignments better; allowing students to ask and explore “why” questions; helping students to research career possibilities without pressuring them in a certain direction
Love and Belonging – greeting students personally at the start of the school day and asking them how they are doing; teaching them to work with partners or in small groups more effectively; looking out for the student who may not feel as connected; modeling positive relationships by being supportive of each other as staff members
Power and Achievement – having students present to the class or to teach the class a skill that they do well; allowing students to re-do an assignment until they get it; giving students roles or jobs in the classroom; try to provide students with choices when it comes to how they fulfill assignments
Freedom and Autonomy – trust students more and expect them to live up to that trust; allow to give input into how an assignment could best be done; allow students to give input into the selection and wording of some of the class procedures and rules
Joy and Fun – read funny stories or share jokes; create an environment that is emotionally and physically safe, where creativity can flourish; be optimistic with students; express belief in their ability
Survival and Safety – design and implement a structured school program that protects students physically, emotionally, and academically; be aware of any students displaying bullying behaviors; repair damaged or broken equipment or furniture quickly; prioritize the emotional well-being of every student
Check your calendar, because if you were really responsible and organized you would have Sabbath afternoon, November 2, from 2:00-4:00 pm already scheduled for the next Choice Theory Study Group. If you haven’t scheduled it yet, you can go ahead and do that now. Hope you can be there!
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