Posts tagged “need satisfying classroom

4 Powerful Ideas, Like North Dakota Lightning!

One of the lightning strikes during my North Dakota stay this week. It was totally dark, yet now it is almost like daytime, the flag flying proudly during the storm.

One of the lightning strikes during my North Dakota stay this week. It was totally dark, yet now it is almost like daytime, the flag flying proudly during the storm. (Photo by Jim Roy)

Incredible explosions in the North Dakota sky!

Incredible explosions in the North Dakota sky! (Photo by Jim Roy)

A North Dakota lightning storm provided quite a send off this past Tuesday evening. Wow! From far in the distance to very close, the lightning flashes for a while exceeded 40 per minute. Talk about a show!

More North Dakota lightning!

More North Dakota lightning! (Jim Roy photo)

I headed home on Wednesday from Dakota Adventist Academy where I led out in a choice theory in-service for teachers in the Dakota Conference. I appreciate the spirit in which the teachers tackled and considered a non-coercive approach to managing students. For them, school begins in just a few days, though, so I wondered (as I flew home at 550 mph) about how much choice theory they will be able to bring into their classrooms.

With the reality of school beginning for so many of you right about now, here are FOUR things to keep in mind, especially for those of you who took your first choice theory class this past summer, as another school kicks into gear.

ONE – Focus on creating a need-satisfying environment
Rather than worrying about what you still don’t totally understand about choice theory, focus on coming up with ways to intentionally meet students’ Basic Needs. Meeting students’ physical and psychological needs isn’t rocket surgery. It’s more about shifting our mindset to consciously consider that each of our students, like each of us, has a unique set of Basic Needs that want to be met. For instance, rather than resenting or even “fighting” students that have a high need for power, come up with activities or strategies that help them meet their need for power. Such activities can include students having meaningful classroom jobs, being asked to plan classroom events, older students helping younger students, teaching a concept to fellow classmates, or being given a chance to master a new skill. Each of the Basic Needs – Purpose, Love, Power, Freedom, Joy, and Survival – are not difficult to address when we turn our attention to them.

Just think about the goal of creating an environment that students want to be a part of every day. Instead of ignoring whatever needs students may have, and expecting them to fit the needs of the work, how about doing everything we can do to fit the work to the needs of the student.

Some might reply, Well, that’s not the real world! We’ve got to get kids ready for reality. Reality doesn’t make allowances! Actually, that isn’t necessarily true. I agree there are companies or jobs in which management doesn’t care about employee welfare and that expects employees to show up and do their best regardless of the circumstances. But I would also contend that such companies wrestle with employee morale and performance. Such companies struggle to produce a quality product and it isn’t unusual for them to go out of business, unable to satisfy customers. The reality is that there are model companies that do a lot to provide perks for their employees – flexible scheduling, working from home, on-site day care, on-site exercise centers, generous maternity leaves, creativity days, support teams, and leadership sharing, to name just a few. These companies are highly successful, partly because they want to create a place in which employees want to come to work and give their all. Shouldn’t schools be like the companies that care about supporting their employees and that look for ways to have their work be need-satisfying?

TWO – Private and Public
Invest the time to more deeply understand the principles of choice theory. Workshops and in-services can be an important part of improving our understanding, but you will need to do more on your own. Books are a good way to marinate in the ideas and strategies of choice theory. Reading on your own provides a safe place for reflection and change. What I am trying to say is that our private choice theory journey is as important, if not more important, than our public choice theory journeys. Implementing a transforming idea in our classroom can be so satisfying, but often we need to spend the time privately in connection with our public efforts.

THREE – Begin practicing the Caring Habits
One of the best things we can begin practicing privately is using the Caring Habits in our interactions with family, colleagues, and students. Remember, Caring Habits are behaviors that maintain or improve our relationships with the important people in our lives. These behaviors include: encouraging, accepting, respecting, trusting, supporting, listening, and negotiating differences. Try replacing a Deadly Habit, like criticizing or blaming, with Caring Habits like listening and supporting. You can begin these early choice theory steps without making a grand announcement or proclaiming your undying commitment to choice theory. You just practice the Caring Habits, maybe even trying the approach skeptically. Just trust the process and see what you think.

FOUR – Share something about choice theory with your students
It can be as simple as introducing students to the Basic Needs, or having them do the Quality World picture activity. Maybe you can present the idea of the classroom being a Caring Habit Zone and then having them do some role plays that demonstrate the difference between the Deadly Habits and the Caring Habits. Choice theory isn’t something we do TO kids or use ON kids; it’s something we share with them and then engage them in the process. Don’t put off step four. Remember the cooperative learning maxim: He who does the teaching does the learning. If you want to learn choice theory better yourself, I guess teach it.


Dakota Adventist Academy in the early evening light.

Dakota Adventist Academy in the early evening light.

The administration and classroom area atrium. The entire school - classrooms, dorms, and gym - is under one roof.

The administration and classroom area atrium. The entire school – classrooms, dorms, and gym – is under one roof.

Working with a partner on the Basic Needs self-evaluation sheets.

Working with a partner on the Basic Needs self-evaluation sheets.

The Quality World picture activity.

The Quality World picture activity.

To my new North Dakota friends, thank you for a good in-service. I have thought about you a lot since saying good-by on Wednesday. My thoughts will continue to be with you as you start the new school year this next week. Let me know if I can be of help.


When a flower doesn’t bloom
you fix the environment in which it grows,
not the flower.
Alexander Den Heijer

The Stowaway

A 15 year old boy is loaded into an ambulance at the Maui airport.

A 15 year old boy is loaded into an ambulance at the Maui airport.

The remarkable story earlier this week of the young stowaway aboard a Hawaiian Airlines jet underscores the significance and power of the basic psychological needs. The wheel-well passenger, a fifteen year old boy from Somalia, climbed a security fence at the San Jose Airport, hoisted himself into a wheel-well of the closest parked jet, waited for seven hours as the plane readied for departure, tucked himself into the tiniest of spaces when the wheels lifted back into the fuselage, and then endured a five hour flight that included altitudes of over 36,000 feet and temperatures that approached 60 degrees below zero. After arriving in Maui, Hawaii,  an airport camera filmed legs dangling from the plane’s wheel well, which is almost 10 feet off of the pavement, and then witnessed the boy jump to the tarmac.


In the days following the young man’s miraculous flight across the Pacific there has been much written about the implications of his stunt on airport security and about the science of surviving in a sustained environment with so little oxygen and such bitterly cold temperatures. Fewer people, though, are talking about, what for me is, the more important question – that being – What would lead a teenage boy to seriously break the law (climbing over the perimeter fence of an international airport) and then risk his life flying in the wheel well of a passenger jet? Why did he do it?


Understanding choice theory and the concept of the basic needs, along with a few more details about our young traveler, will help us answer the important Why question. The young man immigrated from Somalia four years ago. He lived in the San Diego area for awhile, but more recently relocated to the San Jose area. He struggled in school, as he had not attended school at all before coming to the U.S., especially in Math and Science, and he apparently did not get along with his father and stepmother that well, as an argument between him and them was one of the reasons he climbed over that security fence at 1:00 am in the morning. He missed Somalia and his grandparents, who lived there. And he wanted to visit with his mother, who he had not seen since he was two years old.

 Correct Basic Needs

As you listen to the details of this harrowing misadventure, a picture of the basic needs* of this teenage boy begin to emerge.

His need for love and belonging exerted a strong urge on him. He yearned to be with relatives that he felt loved him and cared about him, especially his mother, who he was separated from at a very young age. He did not feel, apparently, a strong sense of belonging here and he was motivated to find the human connection he needed.

His need for power was also unmet and also urged him to make a change. He didn’t know English very well and he wasn’t very successful in school. The feedback he may have gotten from his father and stepmother may have contributed to his lack of worth and accomplishment.

So powerful were these unmet psychological needs that it led him to risk his physical safety and overrule his basic need for survival.

That he did survive made for a compelling news story this week, and gives us a human drama from which to consider choice theory. We just need to remember that, while their stories may not make news headlines, we may be surrounded by young people struggling to meet their basic needs. Somehow we need the x-ray emotional vision that my friend, Tom Amato, talks about, that ability to see a situation through another person’s eyes.

Most people, upon hearing that a teenage boy climbed into the wheel well of a passenger jet and rode across the Pacific Ocean, would proclaim that the kid is nuts, a psych job. But when you consider the details through a choice theory lens you begin to see that his behavior was rational, thought out, risky, yes, and even ill planned, but his choice takes on meaning.

May we see the potential stowaway in our own children, and in our students, and focus on creating a need-satisfying environment that will prevent such stunts. May our children and students especially know that they are loved.


Those of you in the PUC area, we are having a Choice Theory Study Group this Sabbath afternoon, April 26, at 3:00 pm. Please note the later 3:00 pm start time.

* I have added the need for purpose as one of the basic psychological needs. Glasser didn’t feel that it was a basic need, but he didn’t get worked up that I felt it was.

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