Posts tagged “relationships

Always Default to Compassion

By my definition, she is a special missionary. The article she wrote doesn’t talk about which religion she follows, or that she is of any religious persuasion at all. Yet, as an urban middle school teacher where 99% of the students, because of grinding poverty, receive free lunch, she fits that definition in my book.

Elizabeth Peyton teaches at an urban middle school for refugee and immigrant kids. In describing herself she writes, “I spend all day with the most challenging, hilarious, exhausting group of people I can imagine, and I’m extremely grateful for it!” Her love, enthusiasm, and insight caught my eye and the points she made in her article took on a special significance to me.

A 12 year veteran teacher, Peyton admits that early in her career she tried to rely on everything from discipline models that sweated the small stuff to positive reward systems that affirmed the good stuff. Such strategies might in some way work for some, but she has embraced another approach. “Here’s the secret I’ve found for working with poor kids,” she writes. “You ready? It’s pretty simple. Always default to compassion.”

What does compassion look like and sound like? She offers –

A kid shows up late. “Everything ok. We missed you.”

A kid doesn’t have his homework for the fourth time this week. “Hey, is something going on that making it hard for you to get your work done? This is really important, and I want to make sure you’re able to do what you need to do.”

A kid throws a tantrum in class. “Wow, you’re really struggling with self-control. Can you tell me why? Are you hungry or tired?”

For those whose basic needs are being met, it is all too easy to underestimate the trauma kids experience outside of school (and sometimes, unfortunately, in school). When mom and dad are under stress, when living conditions are at risk on a daily basis, when it is “tough to sleep because people are constantly screaming or shooting off guns in your neighborhood,” it is hard to get homework done and even to be able to concentrate in school.

Peyton shared a situation she worked through that really represents what she is trying to say –

Starting with compassion increases the odds that you’ll find out what’s really going on and be able to actually help your students. A couple of years ago, one of my girls stopped doing her homework and paying attention in class. As a new teacher, I’d have assigned a detention and hoped that solved the problem.

Instead, I asked her what was going on. I found out that her dad – her sole surviving parent – had been arrested the week before for driving without a license. This seventh grader had been living on her own for close to a week, and getting herself to school on time every single day, but the food was running out and she was hungry and afraid. We bought her groceries and bailed her dad out, and her grades went right back to where they should have been.

Compassion builds relationships,
where a more aggressive approach will burn bridges.

Will kids ever take advantage of this kind of compassion? Peyton says that it has happened to her, but not very often. Compassion more often leads to the truth, and for that reason, she points out, “it’s better to err on the side of understanding than to be overly harsh.”

Punitive discipline is harmful wherever and whenever it is used, but especially so to vulnerable students. In the end, Peyton offers, “Compassion is the way out. I don’t promise it’ll solve all your classroom management problems, but it’ll go a long way. Treat a kid like a decent person and, more often than not, he or she will act like one.”

I don’t know if she has had Choice Theory training, but if not, Elizabeth Peyton is well on her way to being a Choice Theory teacher. Because they tap into principles and the deeper truths of life, she discovered the ineffectiveness and harm of the Deadly Habits and the effectiveness and healing of the Caring Habits.

 

Besides William Glasser, an architect of Choice Theory, I recall another choice theorist who would very much agree with Ms. Peyton. That other choice theorist, Ellen White, an insightful, and even inspired educator, wrote in 1903 –

In gentleness teachers will set before the wrongdoer his errors and help him to recover himself. Every true teacher will feel that should he err at all, it is better to err on the side of mercy than on the side of severity.   Education, p. 294

I wrote a book comparing William Glasser’s ideas to those of Ellen White, an unlikely duo, yet their beliefs are amazingly similar. That book is called Soul Shapers: A Better Plan for Parents and Educators (2005). Should I ever update Soul Shapers, I would definitely want to include the ideas of Elizabeth Peyton, too.

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Just a reminder: I will be teaching a summer class at PUC based on Choice Theory concepts called The Better Plan. It would be great to have you be a part of it. Get in touch with me if you have questions.

The Better Plan 1   June 26-29

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 It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.
e.e. cummings

 

Learning from Jim Carrey or the NYC Murder Rate

Hmm .  .  . what to write about. While reading a weekly journal called appropriately, The Week, I ran across two items that caught my attention. I’ll briefly share both of them and you can let me know which direction to head.

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1st Item – A Quote from Jim Carrey

I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.   Jim Carrey

Really true, isn’t it? We often do look at the rich and famous and compare our lives to our perceptions of their lives. Each time we see a magazine cover with their gorgeous faces and perfect (photoshopped) bodies and see pictures of them on vacation in exotic places that normal people never go to, we are reminded of how far from their lives we really are. In the process, it’s easy to forget about the often screwed-up lives of the people in those pictures and their desperation for normalcy. And in the process we lose sight of the things for which we can be thankful. We forget to nurture a spirit of gratitude.

Jealousy and covetousness erode us from the inside out. The thinking we embrace and coddle affects our actions, our feelings, and even our physiology. Stinkin thinkin leads to all kinds of problems. Take a cue from Jim Carrey and quickly review your blessings. If the list is short you may need to intentionally seek the reasons for which to be thankful, but any effort put into improving your thinking will make a huge difference in your relationships and your happiness.

Item #2 – Murder Rates in NYC Reveal an Interesting Pattern

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A total of 334 people were murdered in New York City last year, only 29 of them by strangers. That’s down from more than 2,245 murders in 1990, and the lowest number of murders in the city on record.

The low number of murders is good, but what I really noticed had to do with how only 29 of them were committed by strangers. When I saw that I immediately thought of Glasser’s belief that all long-lasting psychological problems are relationship problems. It is telling that over 90% of the murders in NYC were committed by people who knew their victims. Taking the life of a friend or loved one is an extreme act that in a strange way conveys the importance of relationships. We value relationships and get worked up when a relationship doesn’t go the way we want it to go. Murdering another person is never the answer, yet 305 people in NYC last year didn’t know about other options and went ahead and acted out in violence.

This is where choice theory can help. The principles of choice theory gently, but firmly pull us out from the pit of victimhood and place us back in possession of ourselves. We come to understand the control we have on our thinking and our acting and the ways in which we create our own reality. We begin to value our relationships more and to recognize the role we play in whether or not our relationships are successful. Ultimately, without hurting or taking advantage of others, we become responsible for our own happiness.

So, what to write about — Jim Carrey and gratitude or on what can be learned from the NYC murder rate? Hmm .  .  .

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Tom Lee, Jean Buller, and Jim Roy at the Google Education Conference. Each of them are professors in the teacher education program at Pacific Union College.

Tom Lee, Jean Buller, and Jim Roy at the Google Education Conference. Each of them are professors in the teacher education program at Pacific Union College.

I attended a Google Apps for Educators Conference on Jan. 8 and 9 at New Tech High in Napa, CA. Wow! If you ever have a chance to attend a Google educator conference I highly encourage you to do so. (45 such conferences will be put on this coming year) The things you learn and ideas you hear are educationally transformative.

For example, the Research tool in Google Docs places the world (websites, articles, pictures, and video clips) at students’ fingertips. And by students we aren’t just talking about college and secondary students. Elementary students can quickly learn to study a topic more deeply and then demonstrate their understanding in exciting ways. Their presentations become much more RELEVANT to them and their classmates. As you probably recall, relevance is one of the most important qualities in a choice theory classroom.

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Our next Choice Theory Study Group is January 25 at 2:00 pm.

Let me know if you have agenda items or topics you would like to cover.

Hey! It works!

A teacher shares what happened recently when he had the opportunity to use the conferencing skills he learned earlier this summer.

This summer I had the privilege of taking the Soul Shaper 1 & 2 class at Pacific Union College.  After doing so and reading a number of Glasser books, I was extremely interested in putting conferencing into practice.  We did a number of role plays in class to prepare for a conference, but there is something exciting about leading out in a real life scenario.

I received a call from a close friend about a relationship issue he was experiencing.  He was looking for some advice from me, so I told him to meet me at a local coffee shop.  On my way to our meeting, I thought back to the role plays in class and the acronym WDEP came to mind.  After reminding myself what each letter stood for, (W – What do you want, D- What are you doing? E- Evaluate if it is working, and P- The plan) I convinced myself that this would be the ideal time to practice what I had learned.

After breaking the ice a bit over coffee, I finally began our dialogue by asking him what was on his mind.  He gave me a long version of his dilemma, which was whether or not he should break up with his girlfriend.  He was quick to blame this dilemma on his significant other, telling me how he didn’t like how she did such and such. I listened carefully and after he was through I simply asked him, well what do you want right now?  He looked at me, kind of perplexed and asked me what I meant.  I asked him again, “deep down, what is it that you feel you need right now? I know we are here about the relationship, but that aside, what do you want?” He thought a bit, I sipped some coffee trying to keep myself from talking to break the silence.  Finally he spoke up and began to paint a picture that depicted freedom to me.  After he was through, I said, “would it be safe to say that what you need right now is freedom?” He assured me that this is what he needed.  I then asked him if he could find this freedom in his current relationship.  Without much thought he told me no. To make sure, I asked him what it would take to gain the freedom that he felt he needed and again asked if there was any way the relationship could still work with this need.  He assured me that he did not think he could get the freedom he needed while maintaining the relationship.  I then reminded him about the blame he put on his significant other for the current conflict.   I asked him, “Could it be that deep down you have wanted out of this relationship for awhile and you were waiting for a good excuse to end it?”  At this point he looked at me and told me that I was “freaking him out”.  He thought I was reading his mind or something.  We joked a bit and then continued on.  He agreed that this was indeed the case, but he was worried that if he broke things off he may not find someone else that had some of the traits he appreciated about her.  We worked through the process again a bit and he came to the conclusion that he needed to end the relationship.  We role played how that would look and talked about blame and how destructive that could be. He agreed and we were able to talk out what a break up might look like.

I don’t want to say that this experience went perfectly. I talked a bit more then I have expressed here and wish I could have been better at listening, but overall I saw that he had self-evaluated which made for a very rewarding experience for me, and hopefully for him.

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The story above reminds us that we experience problem-solving conferencing opportunities in many normal, every day moments. We can use WDEP conferencing skills as teachers and principals, but we can also tap into WDEP skills as parents and friends. The above story also seems to embody the definition of problem-solving conferencing – that being

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A lot of us are well-intentioned “fixers” who quickly start sharing advice and solutions when our student, colleague, or friend really just wants someone to listen and help them figure things out. The concept of self-evaluation is hugely important in the choice theory scheme of things. Whether it relates to academic performance and grading or to conferencing with a student regarding a behavior at school, the student’s ability to self-evaluate is the key. The KEY! We can count on this reality as surely as we can count on the law of gravity or the sun coming up in the morning. There is no getting around it. We can advise, direct, order, prescribe, or even threaten, but until a student comes to understand and acknowledge the situation for himself our efforts will lead to frustration and a strained relationship.

When we can non-judgmentally ask WDEP questions the results are frequently amazing! Often, people just need a little help thinking through things on their own and coming up with a plan of their own creation.

Sandy Hook, Choice Theory, and Forgiveness

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It is one of the most significant of all human qualities – that being the ability to forgive. I was reminded of this truth from a remarkable source – Newtown, Connecticut.

My cousin, a school administrator in New York City, knowing of my interest in choice theory, recently sent me an article* written by Dr. Anthony Salvatore, president of the Newtown Association of School Administrators. It turns out that Newtown schools, including Sandy Hook Elementary School, have been studying and implementing the ideas of William Glasser and choice theory since the early 1990s. As a result, Newtown has sought to be a needs-satisfying school system for students.

In the aftermath of the unspeakable tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary, Dr. Salvatore represents a voice of healing. Even his comments about the shooter reflect compassion.

“Although I will never know the answer,” he begins, “I keep thinking of what the conversation was that was going on in Adam Lanza’s head. How can we do better in school to help avoid this behavior again, even knowing we can’t control someone else’s behavior, but we can control the conditions around that person. And that takes a whole global community, not just a school or a classroom. Suicide is a final act and one that tells me he saw no other option for meeting his basic human needs. Did he feel like he was loved and belonged to his family or community? I don’t know. Did he feel like he had power in his life to feel competent about who he was? I don’t know. Did he feel like he had a choice in his life besides taking his own life? I don’t know. Did he feel like his life was filled with fun? I don’t know.”

Salvatore emphasized the need for schools to build positive relationships with students “so they can learn how to make the best choice for meeting their own needs and for helping others in society meet theirs as well. Building on the value of relationships and choice, he closed the article on a note I will not soon forget. His vision of forgiveness is more than inspiring!

“It’s time to focus on cooperation instead of competition in our society. It won’t bring back the lives of the 28 victims who died on Dec. 14, 2012, but it will honor the sacrifice they made that day. My fear is we will make the same mistake other communities have made and not recognize that Adam Lanza also was a victim that day. This is where Newtown can truly be a leader toward a new vision and new understanding. We need forgiveness on so many levels, but we first need healing. We already know from research that isolating bullies in school is harmful to the individual and to the school climate. Alienating someone from a community only exacerbates the feeling of powerlessness and not belonging. We must forgive mistakes and nurture our capacity to do good. We have control over that.”

May Dr. Salvatore’s words be an invitation and inspiration to each of us. May the Spirit work in us to prepare our hearts to respond to others, even those who do us harm, with similar compassion.

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Forgiveness is such an essential part of good mental health. Within the scheme of choice theory, though, where does it fit in? Which of the basic needs, for instance, are being satisfied when we forgive someone?

My mind quickly goes to the need for love and belonging. Forgiveness has to do with our relationships. We seek forgiveness, whether from an earthly friend or our heavenly Father, to restore a relationship. And we offer forgiveness for the same reason – to restore or maintain a relationship.

What about the other needs, though. Does forgiveness satisfy the need for power in some way? How about the need for freedom? How about the need for joy and fun? And we shouldn’t leave out the physiological need for survival. Does forgiveness impact us on a physiological level?

I would like to hear from you regarding forgiveness and the basic needs. How does forgiveness help us meet our psychological or physical needs?

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A few of us have started a Facebook page also called The Better Plan. We want it to be a collecting point for choice theory ideas and strategies. I invite you to join us. An article was posted today from a primary grade teacher who has just learned about choice theory on how her management is going to change this coming school year. Great stuff! Check it out.

* This article appeared in the Summer, 2013, edition of The Leader, the newsletter of the American Federation of School Administrators.

Stringless Love

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A key choice theory axiom, maybe THE choice theory axiom, states that the only person we can control is ourselves. This doesn’t mean that we don’t try to control others. We very often do, and in ways that are so subtle that we aren’t aware of it, even as we are in the midst of doing it. Today’s blog will attempt to pull back the curtain of our behavior and give examples of just how powerful this process is, a process that has everything to do with our quality world pictures.

When it comes to axiom #1 it would be more accurate to say that we are controlling for our perceptions, rather than controlling our own or another’s behavior. In other words, the only person’s perceptions we can control is our own. Let me give you an example that Mike (not his real name) shared with me recently –

The other day I am out shopping with my wife, each of us with a list of items to find, and while working on my list I notice her further down the same aisle I am in. I see her and for some reason I want to go to her and express my affection for her, to touch her, you know, to “look lovingly into her eyes” kind of thing. So I’m thinking about that as I’m standing there in the bread section. Some of you may be thinking, “What are you waiting for? Go tell her you love her!” But it’s not exactly that simple. We’re working through some stuff. We’re doing good, but anyway .  .  .

For some reason the question occurs to me, there in the bread section, am I wanting to express my affection to her because I just want to give her affection, or am I wanting to express affection so that she will give me affection in return? Am I wanting to touch her because she would then touch me, too? As I thought about it, I realized that what I really wanted was for her to want me, for her to express affection for me, and for her to touch me. I did feel affection toward her, but more importantly, I was fishing for something from her. My gift was not so much a gift, as much as it was a prompt, maybe even a bit of a trap.

I must admit I was stopped in my tracks at that moment. What you had been saying in the Soul Shapers class kind of just flashed into me. I had this picture in my mind of how I wanted my wife and I to be, how I wanted her to treat me, and there I was trying to create it, trying to turn my picture into a reality. I was stunned at how subtle, yet how real, the process was in my thinking. I was further stunned by how many years I had been behaving this way. My “affection” was really a form of manipulation.

Mike realized that his “love” had strings attached. He was giving, but it was giving to get something in return. When his giving wasn’t responded to in a way that matched his expectations he became frustrated and hurt, and then went about creating another behavior to try to get what he wanted. Maybe this new behavior would be another “loving” action; maybe it would be a punishing action like the silent treatment.

Spouses face this process every day. So does a teacher with his/her students. People have antennae that discern the strings that are attached to gifts. Love with strings attached really isn’t love. Let’s be clear, though. The problem isn’t that we have expectations, at least if the expectations are reasonable and healthy, the problem occurs when we manipulate or coerce to get what we want. It is actually relationship-strengthening to state your expectation and then, using the caring habits, discuss and negotiate the ways in which that expectation can happen.

——   “Love with strings attached really isn’t love.”   ——

On a deeper and more important level, I think this process reveals something about what the presence of sin has brought to our little planet. Jeremiah wrote about our righteousness being like filthy rags, or in other words, even our love seems to involve selfishness. I think the process also reveals one of choice theory’s limitations – that being that choice theory can give us insights into our behavior, but it cannot change the heart. Only the Holy Spirit can give us a perfect love that doesn’t care about strings. Stringless love. That would be powerful.

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