One – Treat students like they were your own kids
When our own children are at school we want them to be treated with love and compassion. We appreciate it when an adult seeks to know the full picture before simply handing down some form of discipline. It means a lot to us when our child is given more than one chance to be successful.
The law says that schools and teachers serve in loco parentis, which means in place of the parent. It is true that not all parents know how to treat their children well, but as teachers, let’s take in loco parentis to represent the best parents possible. More than once I have seen parents who admit to their child’s teacher that they have no idea what to do with their kid. Besides teaching students, we can help parents, too, by modeling love and compassion and structure to them.
Two – Plan lessons that matter to kids
When we sit down to plan lessons we may need to ask “Why would this topic matter to my students?” One of our biggest challenges as teachers is to present the learning in a way that interests kids. Relevance is the gold standard for all learning; there is no way around this. The fact that some students like to fill out worksheets doesn’t mean that it’s good for all students (it’s probably not even good for the worksheet students). Glasser felt that knowledge you write out on worksheets or spit back on objective tests was throw-away knowledge. For him, real learning had to do with application and answered the question, How could you use it in real life?
Three – Intentionally create a need-satisfying classroom
Choice theory describes how every human being is driven by a unique set of basic needs. While we are born with these needs, we are not born with instructions on how to meet them. So from birth we are searching for the people and things and activities that help us feel that our needs are being met. Teachers, both elementary and secondary, can count on the fact that students will be engaged in the process of meeting their own needs as best they can. Some students have learned to meet their needs in ways that are socially acceptable and effective. Some students are seeking to have their needs met in ways that are not effective. It is such a huge gift to students when teachers help them to understand the concept of the basic needs and the ways in which the needs can be met.
For instance, you will have students with a high power need in your classroom. Instead of trying to beat their power, though, with your power, think about designing classroom activities that fulfill this need for students. Classroom management based on reasonable structure and procedures, rather than on reward and punishment disciplinary measures, will meet the basic need for freedom and autonomy.
Just remember that human beings are driven to have their basic needs met in six different areas –
Purpose and meaning
Love and belonging
Power and success
Freedom and autonomy
Joy and fun
Survival and safety
These are the areas that we need to be aware of and be intentional about.
Four – Teach for mastery rather than sorting for grades
One way that students can have their need for power met at school is when they are successful in assignments and projects. It is important for teachers to provide students with coaching and multiple chances at improvement. It’s not enough to give an assignment, grade it, and then sort students according to their performance. That isn’t teaching. Teaching occurs when we work to get every student over the learning bar into the success zone.
Get rid of the perception that students should be graded after one attempt. The important thing is that they “get” the concept and can apply it in real-life situations. If it takes more than one attempt to get it, that’s ok. That’s the process of teaching and learning.
Five – Create non-coercive structure on which your students can count
Choice theory doesn’t mean students do whatever they want, whenever they want. Choice theory isn’t based on a laissez-faire approach.
Students, like the rest of us, need and appreciate reasonable structure. We need to be explicit about how things work in the classroom and the order in which simple things are done.
Like Harry Wong reminds us –
Teach the structure, rehearse it, and consistently expect it.
Wong’s new book, The Classroom Management Book (2014), is loaded with over 50 classroom procedures, along with things to keep in mind as you implement them.
Teachers can love the concepts of choice theory, but if they don’t have clear procedures not even choice theory can save them.
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