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!
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.
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