Posts tagged “progressive education

Yoda on a Cold, Dark Football Field

Instead of heading west back to California after the Glasser conference, Maggie and I headed a half hour east of Toronto to the city of Oshawa. Oshawa is special to us for a number of reasons – I got my first teaching job as a physical education teacher at Kingsway College in Oshawa; it was really the first place Maggie and I lived after getting married; and our daughter, Rachel, was born there. I was 23 when I began teaching and Maggie was 21. How could we have been so young, so ready to tackle a new place, so naïve in so many ways? We left Oshawa and moved back to California in 1980, so it has been 34 years since I last saw the campus, and since I saw some of the good friends we made during our time there.

I am not at the end of my career yet, but I can see the end beckoning to me from my present vantage point of being a couple months short of 60 years old. To be able to go back and visit the place in which my career started was special, a kind of magical doorway into the past.

The old Kingsway gym.

The old Kingsway gym.

Me and the gym, together again after 34 years.

Me and the gym, together again after 34 years.

The old building I am standing in front of was the gymnasium. It was old when I first arrived at Kingsway, too, but I was so excited to have a gym I could call my own. I remember painting the entryway with a fresh coat of paint, with a burgundy stripe that added life to the space, and then tearing up the old carpet in the entryway so that tile could be installed. I was proud of the improvements, glad that others on campus would see that the gym was important enough to update. I peeked in the doors and could see that those improvements had become distant memories. The entryway is now completely black, a worn out space leading to what looked like a storage area. (Just in case you’re wondering, a wonderful new gym has been built to replace it.)

Me when I first began teaching at Kingsway, in my referee jacket. Ralph Jurianz is on the right. We were student association sponsors that year.

Me when I first began teaching at Kingsway, in my referee jacket. Ralph Jurianz is on the right. We were student association sponsors that year.

Besides seeing the campus, it was even better re-connecting with friends. Kurt and Anne Cao arrived at Kingsway in 1978, the same year I arrived. They were experienced teachers from Monterey Bay Academy; me, not so much. Kurt was the new boys’ dean and Anne taught part-time in the physical education program with me. Seeing them again recalled how much they meant to us, a young couple just recently married and in a totally unfamiliar environment, and to me, a brand new teacher just beginning to find his way.

Jim, Maggie, Anne, and Kurt

Jim, Maggie, Anne, and Kurt

In those early days I had not heard of choice theory yet and had not identified what it even meant to be a progressive educator. A readiness for progressive approaches was somewhere down deep in me, but I had not yet started to build on that foundation. Being with Kurt and Anne, though, memories began to flood back regarding their mentoring of me. Anne helped me develop the structure that was needed to teach multiple classes and run intramurals. And Kurt modeled to me the kind of love, patience, and commitment that really supporting students required. He would frequently involve me in dorm events, and sometimes even dorm challenges. So many times I saw him patiently working with students, teenage men, sometimes from dysfunctional backgrounds, often with so few emotional tools to navigate adulthood and responsibility, patiently trying to help them understand that they have choices. I have a clear memory of Kurt and I walking across the football field one night, walking back from my house to the dorm, talking about the challenges at the school that year. I was frustrated with some of the students and was ready to talk about how we could make them get into line, yet I remember Kurt, rather than grousing about their behavior, expressing how much he cared about the guys in the dorm and how he only had four months left to reach them. Other teachers and staff might have been yearning for the school year to get over and send the kids home, but Kurt was treasuring every day left in the school year as one more opportunity to connect with students and help them.

I had forgotten that moment, that dark and cold evening, until I saw Kurt again. Now that moment floods back and I recall how significant it was to me. Years later I would be introduced to the concepts of a Glasser Quality School and choice theory. Something in me would resonate at a very deep level with those concepts, and I would eventually embrace them as a way of life. I would forget, though, until now, how maybe, just maybe, there were moments in my past, people in my past, that prepared me to desire and resonate with choice theory ideas, that had prepared me to see the importance of connecting with kids, and acknowledging their need for power, freedom, and fun. Before I became familiar with a movie character named Yoda, I was fortunate to have Kurt as a kind of Yoda in my life.

Jim and Yoda. I'm wiser; I don't think Yoda can get any wiser, can he?

Jim and Yoda. I’m wiser; I don’t think Yoda can get any wiser, can he?

Also years later I would meet another Yoda, a guy by the name of William Glasser, and my journey would continue. I would add pieces to my thinking and beliefs that would build on moments like those on that cold, dark football field, that faraway galaxy from a long time ago. I’m still adding pieces.

I don’t know if Kurt remembers that football field moment, and I don’t know if he recognizes his Yoda-like qualities, and that is why I am sharing this with you. You could be a Yoda to someone right now, and like Kurt, not even realize it. You could be a Yoda to someone just learning about choice theory for the first time, or maybe to a young teacher finding his or her way, or maybe to a friend admitting he or she wants a better marriage. Stay the course with choice theory. You never know who is watching and listening.



Got home last night from Canada and will be filling the book orders placed at the conference today or tomorrow at the latest. I will also be setting up a way to sell signed copies of the Glasser biography right here from the blog. Stay tuned.

Please add a book review of Champion of Choice to It doesn’t have to be long and it will make a big difference!

If Dr. Glasser’s Ideas Are So Great . . .

The following article was written by Charlotte Wellen, a teacher at Murray High School in Virginia. Murray was the first public high school in the U.S. to become a Glasser Quality School.


If Dr. Glasser’s Ideas Are So Great and Have Been Around for Fifty Years, Why Aren’t All Schools Using Them?

— A Murray High School Perspective

Recently, I received an email from a teacher who hopes to convince the administration and staff of her school to move in the direction of creating a Glasser Quality School. She was asked the question that is the title of this article and she wanted my help to answer it. Perhaps she sent this to many of the Glasser Quality Schools. I found this a compelling question and I wanted to share my answer here because we have all given a lot of thought to our goal of teaching the world choice theory and we have often wondered why there aren’t more Glasser Quality Schools. Below is my answer to her question:

What a great question! Actually, it has only been 20 years since Dr. Glasser put his ideas together into a form that could help people create an entire school. He came out with The Quality School and Quality School Teacher in the mid-90’s. Also, this is not the type of program that can be started in a school at the beginning of a year and then changed a couple of years later. This is a program that starts up inside of each participant, from the administration to the teachers, the students, and finally going home to the parents, and home to the teachers’ families and the principal’s family, too.

Choice Theory is not a program. Glasser Quality Schools are not a program. They are a thought system, a way of life, a new way of thinking about the world, about the relationships between students and teachers, administrators, and families. It has taken us 26 years to create our current level of mastery of Dr. Glasser’s ideas here at Murray. We still have a long way to go and are involved in making many changes, many improvements. Dr. Glasser always said that 95% of any problem was a system problem and only 5%, if that much, was a people problem. So, the job of creating a Glasser Quality School is to come up with a system that works to create happiness in the school. This is not as easy as it sounds, nor as difficult.

For instance, each of us is learning Choice Theory. Each of us has our own level of understanding of these ideas and each of us is wrestling with our own level of resistance to these ideas. We are not all in the same place at the same time, so the system you develop has to have a tolerance and a love for the growing, the individual transformation, that is required. The system has to have a tolerance for the time it takes for each individual to transform him/herself.

I can attest to the idyllic environment that is created when you work hard for 26 years to develop a school based on Dr. Glasser’s Choice Theory. We are not all perfect here. Most of our students have been very hurt by life in so many ways, hurt by the education system that has left too many of them feeling like failures. We have conflicts every day, but we have a system to understand the conflicts and to work them out. For instance, when two students became angry at one another on Friday, both of them requested to be able to separate from the other, so no physical conflict would arise. They walked away. This is the result of years of work with these two boys to learn Choice Theory, that they can get in charge of the choices they make when anger hits them. They did not get “in trouble” because they raised their voices at each other and disrupted class. They got time and attention from trained and loving teachers who heralded their decisions not to hit each other and helped them think through what had happened that led to the conflict, what they each could have done differently, and on Monday, will help them mediate with each other until a plan they can both agree with is in place and a solution to their conflict has begun.

There is so much to say about this program. Our test scores soar because our students are happy here and want to do well to help the school, and themselves. But the best of all is the feeling of camaraderie, of friendship between students and teachers. Here, there is trust between us. We work hard at it. We constantly work to improve our relationships because we know kids won’t learn well from people they don’t love and who don’t love them. We use the word love all the time here. We aren’t afraid to say we love our kids and they aren’t embarrassed to say they love us, too. We think schools should be built on a foundation of love and trust.

So, why aren’t there thousands of these schools — good question. We work all the time to help schools consider adopting these ideas. Our students travel to schools around the world, teaching people how to start up a Glasser Quality School. No one is as great a spokesman about Glasser Quality Schools than the kids who are educated here. Just last week, we hosted a team from a county in North Carolina who had heard about Murray and wanted to see it in action. Afterwards, they were so overwhelmed by the level of love the kids shared about the program and the level of understanding they had about why they are being educated the way they are. They said they want that for their school. They asked our kids for advice about how to implement these ideas with middle school kids and got lots of suggestions. They are planning to bring a team of Murray kids to North Carolina to talk to their faculty.

I think that it takes a long time and a lot of commitment to help an entire staff come to believe that it’s possible to create a school based entirely on love and respect and to be willing to transform themselves by learning Choice Theory, Reality Therapy, and Lead Management, in order to bring this about. For instance, teachers may have become set in their ways and it might be tough for them to give up their “teacher look,” the one that nails a kid who is disrupting. But that look is a threat. That look has no place in a Glasser Quality School. So to even give up the looks we’ve come to rely on, that’s asking a lot. And it takes YEARS of practice, but like anything worth doing, years of practice pay off hugely! We think our kids deserve an education from a team of professionals who have been practicing for years to treat them respectfully, and to expect great things from them, so they feel inspired to excel. But I think you can see that each of the individual transformations that will need to take place for this to happen take time and inclination and especially belief.

When we first started Murray, we all believed we could change schools so kids and teachers would like them more. At first, we brought all our old controlling and punitive behaviors with us and we used them all. This was good because we got to see that they don’t really work, if working means helping resistant students come to love us and to therefore love school and education. And because we began the school open to changing education in a serious way, we kept tinkering. We kept developing methods of helping ourselves as staff grow and slough off our old punitive ways and to keep from having a school of chaos with kids running around causing untold trouble. We learned that kids who love their school don’t want to cause trouble and are willing to keep working to unlearn their old habits of acting out and hurting others without thinking. They are mostly grateful to be learning the skills they can clearly see will help them in their lives, both in and out of school.

So, if you want to talk more about Glasser Quality Schools, feel free to call me. I LOVE talking about Glasser Quality Schools because I believe that these ideas are so superb that one day all schools will be using them. Educators would be fools not to use these ideas when they work so well at helping people love school and learning.

I would be greatly interested in your opinions in this site regarding my thoughts about the challenges of setting up thousands of Glasser Quality Schools.


Charlotte Wellen, NBCT, Murray Choices Teacher
Instructor at the William Glasser Institute – US

Murray High School
Ashby Kindler, Principal
Charlotte Wellen, Contact
1200 Forest Street, 
Charlottesville, VA 22903
PH: 434-296-3090   
FX: 434-979-6479


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, 2013!
May each of us become able to recognize the blessings for which we can be thankful!
And may we choose to be grateful.


Choice Theory Study Group
December 7

Shifting the Culture – Roots of Change


During the last NapaLearns board meeting I sat next to Paul Curtis, Director for School Quality of the New Tech Network. New Tech is an amazing advocate for progressive educational change and has gone from having one high school in Napa, California, to having more than 130 schools across the U.S. Project-Based Learning (PBL) forms the basis for a lot of their success, but schools wanting to emulate the New Tech approach soon learn that such success is based on a lot more than just PBL. Project-Based Learning can only thrive when other important factors are present. In other words, there needs to be a culture shift for progressive ideas to take root and become a permanent part of the school or district landscape.

Visiting with Paul got me to thinking about the kinds of cultural shifts that a choice theory emphasis would bring about in a school. I probably should have been paying more attention during the meeting, but this is what I came up with instead –

The Cultural Shifts of Choice Theory

1. Shifting from “You Will Be Forced to Adjust to School Requirements” to “How Can We Better Meet Your Needs?”

2. Shifting from Intimidation to Relationships

3. Shifting from Rote to Relevance

4. Shifting from External Evaluation to Internal Evaluation from “Other” Evaluation to Self-Evaluation

5. Shifting from Mediocrity to Mastery

6. Shifting from Compliance to Cooperation

7. Shifting from Punishment to Problem-Solving

I was asked to serve as a panel member for History/English presentations at New Tech High School (Napa) last Thursday. Their presentations, by four member teams, were impressive, but I was even more impressed with the way the rest of the class listened so respectively and attentively, and with the questions they asked afterward. New Tech has made cultural shifts that contribute to their model’s success, shifts that you feel as soon as you walk in the front door. Too often schools focus on details of change, like the nuts and bolts of forming a PBL lesson plan, without creating the environment in which PBL can thrive.

Glasser Quality Schools should not be left out of this conversation, as they are alive and well across the country, too. For a review of the criteria for a Quality School, along with a list of the current declared Glasser Quality Schools, go to

On the left hand side of the page click on The Glasser Approach; then click on Glasser Quality School Education.

As always, if you can add to the “Shifts” list above, let me know and I will add your suggestion.

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