Posts tagged “reward and punishment

Too Big a Deal?

I was recently asked to write a 500-word article on school discipline as a non-coercive process. The short essay appeared in Leading the Journey, a newsletter for SDA school administrators. As a result, a few of you may have already read it; I reprint it here for those who haven’t –

Sometimes I wonder if I make too big a deal out of the Choice Theory thing, or if it is even a thing at all. Doubts and stinkin thinkin seem to lurk. Yet while distracted by these temptations to doubt, I soon come back to what, for me, are unchangeable realities. These realities include –

  • God places an exceptionally high value on love and freedom.
  • He designed and created humans for free will and internally driven choices.
  • He died to redeem us, to restore us, and to preserve our freedom to choose.
  • The sanctified life is about our becoming, through Jesus, loving, powerful, and joyful self-managers.

Regardless of where my thoughts and feelings may want to take me, these truths are not going away. These are the truths that jolt me out of my occasional sulking and doubting.

God Values

Adventist schools have a tremendous opportunity and, indeed, responsibility to teach students what it means and what it looks like to be sanctified self-managers. Whether we’re talking about how learning is organized, or about how classroom Procedures are implemented, or about how discipline is applied when serious infractions occur, students need to be shown how to evaluate their own behavior and make choices for improvement.

For students to gain this important (eternal) life skill, Adventist schools must let go of management strategies based on rewards and retribution and instead pursue strategies based on redemption and restoration. Reward and retribution (punishment) strategies are tools for controlling students from the outside, even though humans were designed for internal control. Attempting to externally control students is like putting regular gasoline into a diesel engine. The sputtering results are predictable.

God Values-3

We tend to like students that comply, even if it places their ability to self-manage at risk. The prodigal son’s brother was compliant and we can see what that led to. And so our challenge is to outline behavioral standards that are realistic and relevant for kids and then to artfully support them toward achieving their learning and living goals. Redemption and restoration don’t have to be words and concepts only associated with the mysteries of Bible class. Instead, they can be concepts that become very real to students as teachers and principals model the spirit of redemption and provide students with a means to on-going restoration. For instance, when we problem-solve with students do we tell them how it is going to be or do we help them effectively self-evaluate; when students get in trouble do we simply apply a punishment or do we ask them how they are going to resolve the problem?

In the book Education, EGW made a very powerful point when she described that “In the highest sense the work of education and the work of redemption are one . . .” (p.30) To this end may we each become fully-equipped self-managers and as we do, may we help our students become the same.


The Better Plan workshops this summer at PUC are designed to help educators become fully-equipped self-managers, with the hope that you will then be able to share these insights and skills with students.

The Better Plan 1    June 25-28

The Better Plan 2    July 9-12

Contact Jim Roy for more information on the workshops at or at

In a Nutshell


I sometimes get asked, “In a nutshell, what is choice theory?”

The person doing the asking may not have heard of William Glasser or choice theory and, when the conversation comes around to Glasser and his ideas, they become interested in a short-cut description.

It’s a fair question. So, how would you, in a nutshell, describe choice theory?

Some possible descriptions include –

Choice theory explains how human beings are motivated and guided by an internal control mechanism. Whether we are proactively creating new behaviors or simply responding to external circumstances, it is this internal control process from which we decide how to behave or how to respond.

Choice theory describes a psychology that is based on the belief that human beings behave in purposeful ways to meet their personal needs. These needs include connecting with others, being successful at what we want to do, being free to do what we want without undo restrictions, and having fun and enjoying life. Rather than being controlled by others, we are constantly behaving in a way that we think will be need-satisfying.

Choice theory describes how free we are, and how much power we have, to be the architects of our own mental health. It helps us understand how to become more responsible for our thinking, our acting, our feelings, and even our physiology.

What is your nutshell description? Do you have a “go to” answer for this situation?



The implication of people being motivated and guided by an internal control system is huge! Bigger than huge! It takes existing approaches and practices and sweeps them away. For educators the implications of internal control are especially significant.

Choice theory, along with explaining the reality of internal control, also explains why external control—rewards and punishments in their varied forms—is ineffective, at best, and destructive at its worst. For over a century schools in the U.S. have sought to discover some new form of reward or punishment to externally control students, and even teachers, toward better performance. The No Child Left Behind school improvement plan led to underperforming schools being listed in the newspaper, with the hope that public embarrassment would spur them toward higher achievement. It didn’t work that way, as you might predict. Policy makers with an external control mindset want to extend the hours of the school day and lengthen the school year, thinking these external factors will make better learning take place. What they have failed to see is that doing things ineffectively, only now doing them for longer periods of time, still result in ineffective performance. What is needed is to design a school experience that acknowledges the internal control system by which every student is guided. Only when we intentionally create schools that are need-satisfying to students will performance reach the desired levels.


Some schools have created this kind of environment and are experiencing wonderful results. Glasser Quality Schools would be a prime example. Closer to home for me, the New Technology schools throughout Napa County are creating this kind of environment as well. It can be done.



Thank you to those who have written a review on Amazon for the Champion of Choice biography! Eight reviews have been submitted so far. It would be good if we could get that number up to 80, or even higher. Writing a review is a simple way to draw attention to Glasser’s life and his ideas.


“I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
Carl Jung

Why DRIVE Drives Me


Drive (2009), Daniel Pink’s New York Times Bestseller, represents one of the reasons I was “driven” to write the Glasser biography. Drive is a well-written, captivating explanation of human motivation. Pink describes what he sees as a progression from Motivation 1.0 – motivation based purely on a biological drive for survival – to Motivation 2.0 – motivation based on extrinsic reward and punishment – to Motivation 3.0 – motivation based on intrinsic needs for autonomy, creativity, and achievement. Reading Pink’s insights and examples are like reviewing a What’s What list of research and a Who’s Who list of thought leaders and gurus in the fields of psychology, philosophy, and business over the last 50 years. Only problem is, even though the book covers the dawning of intrinsic motivation and the human need for freedom and self-determination, the influence and contributions of William Glasser are never mentioned.

I read and re-read Drive with such intense mixed emotions. On the one hand I really appreciate the way Pink makes a case for choice theory, while on the other hand I am really frustrated, and even a bit angry, that choice theory or Glasser is totally left out of the book. Abraham Maslow is included; Deci and Ryan are included; and others like Csikszentmihalyi, Seligman, Herzberg, and Deming are mentioned, and a host of others, but not Glasser. How you can write a book about human motivation that summarizes the theories on the topic from the last 50 years and not include William Glasser is beyond me.

Drive is not the only example of Glasser being left out or overlooked. In the course of my research for the Glasser biography I noticed a troubling trend of his work and ideas being less and less at the forefront and more and more slipping into the shadows. Even as the wave of internal control psychology grew bigger, affirming the personal power of choice, people seemed to forget the identity of one of the original wave creators. This felt unfair to me, and even unwise. Unfair because Glasser was one of the pillars on whom others built, and unwise because his message, and the behavior model he developed, is so helpful.

Part of what has motivated me to write Glasser’s story is the hope that the biography will contribute toward establishing his legacy and his prominence as a progressive leader in the fields of mental health and education. I don’t want his ideas to ride off into the sunset. I want his ideas to be recognized as laying the foundation for today’s effective practices.

In spite of Drive not referring to choice theory or Glasser, I still recommend you read it. Drive really is an excellent book and if you are into choice theory you will find that it adds to your understanding and expertise. Just be prepared to have mixed emotions as you go through it.


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“Everything that frees our spirit without giving us control of ourselves is ruinous.”  Goethe

What does a lead-manager sound like?

(Not the actual seagulls that Tim photographed. These gulls were willing to fill in as substitutes at the last second. A big thank you to them.

(Not the actual seagulls that Tim photographed. These gulls were willing to fill in as substitutes at the last second. A big thank you to them.)

Lead-management is based on persuasion, invitation, and reasonable guidelines with natural consequences; on the other hand boss-management is based on directing, demanding, and often arbitrary boundaries with reward and punishment applied when boundaries are broken. Capturing the tone of a lead-manager is an important step toward becoming a choice theory teacher or parent. Today’s blog comes to us courtesy of Tim Mitchell, Bible teacher at Mountain View Academy in Mountain View, California. Tim has been a successful pastor for many years, but last year he decided to teach Bible, rather than preach it, and made the switch to the classroom from the pulpit. After attending summer classes, including Soul Shapers 1 at PUC, Tim sent the following Facebook message to his students, a message that captures the tone and content of a lead-manager.

Just took this shot from my backyard where I am working on my summer homework. These birds were about 500 feet in the air and pass overhead regularly. Whenever they fly over I think of you, my students — I want you guys to soar!

My summer school classes are about giving students room to feel freedom and plot out the course of their education as a team. Most schooling is too confining. It’s worse than the average workplace. “Sit in your chair.” Don’t talk.” “Do the (irrelevant) work I tell you to do.” I hated school from 7th grade until about age 22 when I was getting my Masters Degree. And I can see the same in many of your eyes. Once I got interested in school again my grades shot back up.

Pray for me/us so that Bible class can be more relevant, free, team-oriented, humane, and FUN! (Fun is one of the basic human needs!) Let’s begin working in August to set up our procedures so they don’t get in the way of your natural human interest in learning and experiencing new things.


I really appreciate Tim’s message. Teaching Bible, teaching any subject for that matter, can be challenging and it’s not unusual for teachers to turn classroom interactions into struggles and battles when students act like, well students. As teachers, we may not want fights, but we tend to go into fight mode when students “ask for it.” Tim’s message “takes the fight out of the classroom” and is setting the tone for a fun, productive, enjoyable school year.


Do you have artifacts — letters, messages to parents, lesson plans, management strategies — that have helped to implement a choice theory approach? I would love to see them, and share them, when you send them on to me. Please take a moment and send me something that has worked for you, or even that you are working on.


Remember to click on the Follow link to become a part of the blog. Our goal is to strengthen and support the choice theory community. Let friends and colleagues know about the blog, too. Thanks.

God and Choice Theory

Some questions have been coming in and I thought that, while I’m finishing up We Want to Feel Good, Pt. 4, you could wrestle with one of them.

What about God in the Old Testament and choice theory? He seemed pretty into rewards and punishments. People who argue with me argue about this.  Nina D.

OK, choice theory community, what do you think? I have a feeling that 1) this strikes a chord with a lot of us, and 2) a lot of us have already thought about this topic. How have you answered this question? What are some of the bullet points that reflect your thinking?

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