Posts tagged “principles of choice theory

It’s the 7 Principles of the Thing

The Japanese translation of Glasser's biography, Champion of Choice.

The Japanese translation of Glasser’s biography, Champion of Choice.

I am looking forward next month to traveling to Japan and speaking at their Glasser conference on Reality Therapy and Choice Theory. The Glasser biography, Champion of Choice (2014) has been translated in Japanese (thanks to Masaki Kakitani and Achievement Publishing) and is selling well there. Some of you are aware of Choice Theory’s presence in countries around the world, with several countries – Australia, Ireland, Canada, and Japan, to name a few – having active and influential Choice Theory organizations.

Like a number of other cultures, Japanese read from right to left, and they also read from top to bottom. Again, thank you Masaki Kakitani.

Like a number of other cultures, Japanese read from right to left, and they also read from top to bottom. Again, thank you Masaki Kakitani.

Choice Theory’s worldwide presence and appeal underscores a point that shouldn’t be lost on us, the point being that Choice Theory is based on principles. Think about it, we define a principle as a foundational, fundamental truth, not restricted by time or place. In other words, a principle of human behavior would be as relevant in Singapore as it is in Scotland; as relevant in 1500 BC as it is in 2016.

Glasser referred to Choice Theory having axioms, which is a pretty good word, too, but not everyone really knows what an axiom is. If you are curious, an axiom is a self-evident truth that requires no evidence or a universally accepted principle. So the two words – principle and axiom – are close. (I am not sure I like the idea that an axiom requires no evidence. It seems, even when it comes to an important principle we are constantly reviewing it for accuracy.)

Principles provide compass points for our lives.
(They’re that dependable.)

So, given that Choice Theory is being studied and practiced around the world, what are the principles of human behavior that Choice Theory desires to honor and promote?

ONE – Every human being behaves for totally personal reasons.
We don’t behave for some reasons that are personal, or for reasons that are mostly personal. We behave for reasons that are totally personal. All of our motivation comes from within. We may change our behavior in response to a threat from someone else, or we may disregard the threat and do what we want, but either way we are deciding for reasons inside of us. We may accept a bribe and do what we are being paid to do, or we may reject the bribe and follow our own path, but again, we are deciding for internal reasons. We weigh outside circumstances; those circumstances don’t control us.

TWO – The only person we have a chance to control is ourselves.
Since every human being is internally motivated and controlled, it follows that “external control” or “outside control” really isn’t possible. We are not designed to be controlled by another person; nor are we designed to control others.

THREE – All behavior is purposeful.
I like Glasser’s explanation that any behavior is an attempt at that moment to meet a Basic Need. (Glasser would add that it is our “best” attempt to meet a need, but I am still thinking about that.) If we believe that people are internally controlled, then we must also believe that we behave for a reason, including the behavior of choosing to be miserable. (It’s fascinating to consider how being miserable could somehow be need-satisfying.)

FOUR – Attempts to control another person’s behavior will end poorly.
Because we are not designed to be controlled by others, or to control others, all our efforts to do so will harm the relationship between the controller and the controlee, and will also harm the quality of the task or product being demanded.

FIVE – Positive changes in behavior always come from tapping into a person’s strengths, not from trying to eliminate a person’s weakness.
Weaknesses represent areas in which we lack, sometimes significantly, so expecting changes to be based on areas in which do not have an affinity for or the needed skills seems a bit ill-advised. When working with a student (or teacher for that matter) who is performing marginally, the key lies in identifying areas of strength and building a success plan based on those strengths.

SIX – Positive changes are fueled by positive relationships with key individuals.
This may sound obvious, but it is striking how often this is ignored. Students, for instance, will work for a teacher with whom they enjoy a positive relationship, even in a content area the student doesn’t particularly like. And the opposite is just as true where students will do marginally in a content area they like because they are at odds with the teacher. One of the things that happens because of a good relationship is trust, and very little of value happens without trust.

SEVEN – Effective assessment is standards-based and always includes self-evaluation.
Measuring against a standard, especially when it comes to professional licensing (e.g.- passenger plane pilot, brain surgeon, lawyer, etc.), is important. However, the essential piece in the assessment process always comes back to how the individual being evaluated evaluates himself. Whether a student is working through a behavior problem on one hand or considering his level of performance on a Biology project on another, the goal is to help him/her accurately self-evaluate and then, if needed, to make a plan for improvement.

This list is not exhaustive, but it does state seven important principles of human behavior. My view is these principles have been around since the dawn of time and that they apply regardless of where you live. I have shared the elements of Choice Theory in places like Bangkok, Beirut, and Bermuda, disparate cultures that view the implications of Choice Theory differently. Of course, we here in the U.S. and Canada have our own cultural challenges, too, when it comes to Choice Theory. Yet principles are . . . well . . . principles. They don’t go away because we don’t understand them or don’t want to honor them.

Would you word any of the seven principles differently? Can you add any to the list?



For those of you who read from left to right, remember the English version of Glasser’s biography is also available.

You can buy the paperback version through William Glasser Books at
It is also available through Amazon.

Electronic versions of the biography are available through Zeig, Tucker Publishing at



Lighthouse Then, Lighthouse Now


I had the privilege recently to visit Juvenile Hall in Napa, California, and the classrooms that provide coursework to young people being held there, as well as the alternative middle school and high school community schools that are a part of that system as well. I was inspired by the work being done by educators who teach within this challenging environment. Because of the compassion and commitment of these teachers, students are being reached and lives are being changed for the better.


I was reminded a month ago about the work of the Napa County community schools and decided to reach out to them and learn more about what they do and how they do it. I am teaching a secondary methods class this quarter that seeks to help teaching candidates work with students who struggle with traditional textbooks and who struggle with traditional learning in general. My initial reaching out to the community schools was because I thought my students could probably learn from their methods. As it turns out, I was right. The community school student population is predominantly high poverty, significantly English-Language Learners, and with almost all of them having Individualized Education Plans. Their home backgrounds are mostly difficult, to say the least, and many of them are on probation. The influence of gangs is a factor the schools must continually address.

A student assembly focusing on making plans for a successful future.

A student assembly focusing on making plans for a successful future.

In spite of these difficulties and challenges, some that might tempt the faint-hearted to shrink from, the schools have created a consistent, supportive learning environment that students appreciate. Even when students meet court appointed goals and are eligible to return to regular schools, they often decline this option and express their desire to stay in the alternative school. They feel like they matter in the community school and that teachers want to help them.

Jim and Tom

Jim and Tom

Tom Amato, Director of the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, went on this field trip with me and was as blown away by the positive and loving energy of the school leadership as I was. He describes how “the experience highlighted that the Napa County Office of Education understands the needs of youth in crisis and is there to advocate for and support them, regardless of poor choices, toward a better place. The compassion and passion of those involved was most inspiring.”

Seeing the facilities and listening to teachers and staff brought to mind Glasser’s experience as consulting psychiatrist at the Ventura School for Girls over 50 years ago. The school was part of the California correctional system and many of the 400+ girls being held there had committed serious offenses, yet, like the Napa staff, Glasser and the Ventura staff saw something in the girls that was worth investing in. He would talk about what a pleasant place the Ventura school was and how nice the girls were to work with and how they could go many weeks without a serious incident at all.

I wish I had pictures of Glasser during the Ventura years.

Students respond to love and respect. They can live with reasonable rules and expectations, especially when they are consistently applied without a dependence on punishment. They appreciate it when teachers try to make classes relevant. These are the elements that came to be a regular part of the Ventura School for Girls while Glasser was there from 1956-1967; these are elements I picked up on my tour of the Napa community schools.

Students from the Ventura School were very instrumental in the creation of two of Glasser’s early books – Reality Therapy (1965) and Schools Without Failure (1969) – which were both very successful. The girls’ stories and experiences were included in Reality Therapy, and some of the girls even helped to type manuscript pages for Schools Without Failure. Glasser wanted to acknowledge the importance of the school and explained that “The Ventura School was where I really developed the concepts of reality therapy.”

William Glasser and Brad Greene (2005) Photo by Jim Roy

William Glasser and Brad Greene (2005)
Photo by Jim Roy

In 1986, Glasser began working with Brad Greene, who at the time was the principal of Apollo High School, an alternative school in Simi Valley, California. Their collaboration led to Glasser writing The Quality School (1990), one of his most important books. The subtitle of the book is Managing Students Without Coercion, a key goal in his approach to school management. William Glasser and Brad Greene are examples of adults who combine the head of a teacher with the heart of a social worker, and who seek to instill a belief in students that students do not have in themselves.

I guess what I am trying to say is that whether choice theory methods were used in a prison school 50 years ago or in a prison school today, the methods are equally effective. Whether choice theory principles were a part of Apollo High School in Simi Valley 25 years ago or a part of Chamberlain High School in Napa today, the principles are effective 100% of the time. Thank you to those of you who work with challenging populations, with the goal of inspiring them to see their potential and go for it. So many of us in the greater community do not realize what a big THANK YOU you deserve!


The Glasser biography, Champion of Choice, captures so much insight from his early years, including many anecdotes from his time at Ventura. Get a paperback or digital copy today.

Digital version only $10.

Digital version only $10.



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