Posts tagged “William Glasser and choice theory

Lighthouse Then, Lighthouse Now


I had the privilege recently to visit Juvenile Hall in Napa, California, and the classrooms that provide coursework to young people being held there, as well as the alternative middle school and high school community schools that are a part of that system as well. I was inspired by the work being done by educators who teach within this challenging environment. Because of the compassion and commitment of these teachers, students are being reached and lives are being changed for the better.


I was reminded a month ago about the work of the Napa County community schools and decided to reach out to them and learn more about what they do and how they do it. I am teaching a secondary methods class this quarter that seeks to help teaching candidates work with students who struggle with traditional textbooks and who struggle with traditional learning in general. My initial reaching out to the community schools was because I thought my students could probably learn from their methods. As it turns out, I was right. The community school student population is predominantly high poverty, significantly English-Language Learners, and with almost all of them having Individualized Education Plans. Their home backgrounds are mostly difficult, to say the least, and many of them are on probation. The influence of gangs is a factor the schools must continually address.

A student assembly focusing on making plans for a successful future.

A student assembly focusing on making plans for a successful future.

In spite of these difficulties and challenges, some that might tempt the faint-hearted to shrink from, the schools have created a consistent, supportive learning environment that students appreciate. Even when students meet court appointed goals and are eligible to return to regular schools, they often decline this option and express their desire to stay in the alternative school. They feel like they matter in the community school and that teachers want to help them.

Jim and Tom

Jim and Tom

Tom Amato, Director of the Napa Valley Youth Advocacy Center, went on this field trip with me and was as blown away by the positive and loving energy of the school leadership as I was. He describes how “the experience highlighted that the Napa County Office of Education understands the needs of youth in crisis and is there to advocate for and support them, regardless of poor choices, toward a better place. The compassion and passion of those involved was most inspiring.”

Seeing the facilities and listening to teachers and staff brought to mind Glasser’s experience as consulting psychiatrist at the Ventura School for Girls over 50 years ago. The school was part of the California correctional system and many of the 400+ girls being held there had committed serious offenses, yet, like the Napa staff, Glasser and the Ventura staff saw something in the girls that was worth investing in. He would talk about what a pleasant place the Ventura school was and how nice the girls were to work with and how they could go many weeks without a serious incident at all.

I wish I had pictures of Glasser during the Ventura years.

Students respond to love and respect. They can live with reasonable rules and expectations, especially when they are consistently applied without a dependence on punishment. They appreciate it when teachers try to make classes relevant. These are the elements that came to be a regular part of the Ventura School for Girls while Glasser was there from 1956-1967; these are elements I picked up on my tour of the Napa community schools.

Students from the Ventura School were very instrumental in the creation of two of Glasser’s early books – Reality Therapy (1965) and Schools Without Failure (1969) – which were both very successful. The girls’ stories and experiences were included in Reality Therapy, and some of the girls even helped to type manuscript pages for Schools Without Failure. Glasser wanted to acknowledge the importance of the school and explained that “The Ventura School was where I really developed the concepts of reality therapy.”

William Glasser and Brad Greene (2005) Photo by Jim Roy

William Glasser and Brad Greene (2005)
Photo by Jim Roy

In 1986, Glasser began working with Brad Greene, who at the time was the principal of Apollo High School, an alternative school in Simi Valley, California. Their collaboration led to Glasser writing The Quality School (1990), one of his most important books. The subtitle of the book is Managing Students Without Coercion, a key goal in his approach to school management. William Glasser and Brad Greene are examples of adults who combine the head of a teacher with the heart of a social worker, and who seek to instill a belief in students that students do not have in themselves.

I guess what I am trying to say is that whether choice theory methods were used in a prison school 50 years ago or in a prison school today, the methods are equally effective. Whether choice theory principles were a part of Apollo High School in Simi Valley 25 years ago or a part of Chamberlain High School in Napa today, the principles are effective 100% of the time. Thank you to those of you who work with challenging populations, with the goal of inspiring them to see their potential and go for it. So many of us in the greater community do not realize what a big THANK YOU you deserve!


The Glasser biography, Champion of Choice, captures so much insight from his early years, including many anecdotes from his time at Ventura. Get a paperback or digital copy today.

Digital version only $10.

Digital version only $10.



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Teenagers, Cigarettes and Choice Theory


The California legislature is about to consider a bill that raises the legal cigarette smoking age from 18 to 21.

What a great opportunity to teach students about choice theory!

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not so much that I want to feature the habit of smoking, but current events like this legislation can be a great springboard for learning.

State senator Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, wants to keep cigarettes out of the hands of teenagers and believes that “We can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines while big tobacco markets to our kids and gets another generation of young people hooked on a product that will ultimately kill them.” Most people will agree that smoking is harmful. We agree less, though, on how to go about keeping people from smoking or getting them to quit after they have already started to smoke. As one person reacted to the impending vote, “What’s really going to work, legislation or education?”


When I first read the legislation or education comment a light bulb went on in my head and I recalled Glasser’s belief that the real future of choice theory depended on its becoming part of a public health approach to happiness and mental health. In other words, it’s about education. Toward the end of his career Glasser was excited about a booklet he wrote called Defining Mental Health as a Public Health Issue. He felt that people could be helped by having accurate information, and then supported as they put that information to use in their lives.


Is correct information enough when it comes to keeping teenagers from smoking, though, or is legislation the answer? Maybe the situation requires both education and legislation. This is the question that can begin to form an outline for a learning unit on Teenagers and Smoking.

There are so many good ways to plan and organize such a unit. One way would be to organize essential questions around the four parts that Glasser always covered when he lectured – the basic needs, the quality world, creativity, and total behavior. The following are examples of questions that could be considered by middle school or high school students as they study the topic.

Basic Needs
What basic need is a teenager satisfying by smoking? Or is it a combination of more than one basic need?
What do you think is the average age when people smoke their first cigarette?
Do you think young people are ignorant of the health risk of smoking? Or do kids who smoke simply have a low need for survival?
To what extent would teaching students about their basic needs prevent them from smoking?
Is the need to belong (love & belonging) strong enough to lure a teenager into starting the smoking habit?

Quality World
Why do you think a teenager places the smoking habit in his/her quality world?
Is a boy or a girl more likely to start smoking before he/she is 20 years old? Why do you think so?
Do you think cigarette advertising works? Are teenagers drawn to cigarette advertising or are they drawn to smoking by friends?
Is smoking an act of rebellion? If so, what are teenagers rebelling against when they start smoking?
Is it possible to have conflicting pictures in our quality world? How do we deal with QW conflicts?
Would raising the legal smoking age to 21 keep more teenagers from smoking?
To what extent do teenagers keep laws in mind?
Why do you think leaders and managers put so much effort into forcing people to behave in the way that they want them to behave?

What is addiction?
Is smoking a form of self-medication?
Why would a person voluntarily choose to be addicted to cigarettes?
A guy by the name of William Glasser helped us understand the difference between pleasure and happiness. Can you explain the difference?
Is it possible for a teenager to choose to become unaddicted to cigarettes?
What would a teenager have to do to break the smoking habit?
What makes it hard to break a habit?

Total Behavior
What is the physiological impact of smoking on the body?
To what extent does the smoking habit have to do with a person’s thinking and to what extent does it have to do with a person’s feelings?
If we have direct control over our actions, as the concept of total behavior states, why is it so hard to quit smoking?
Describe each of the four parts of a total behavior – thinking, acting, feeling, and physiology – for a teenager contemplating their first cigarette? For their 50th cigarette?
To what extent do laws keep people from making hurting themselves? To what extent should laws keep people from hurting themselves?


These are examples of questions and topics that could be included in a Smoking and Teenagers learning unit. Some of the questions require research. All of them invite discussion. The important thing is that the class would be looking at a relevant current issue through the lens of choice theory. In the process they would more fully understand the way that they themselves are internally guided, rather than externally controlled – be it by money-driven tobacco companies or the pressure of a friend next door. (Any help you can give me toward refining any or all of these questions would be appreciated.)

Keep on the lookout for other topics that will invite interest, lure into learning, and invite discussion.



Coming next on The Better Plan – A recent study reveals that women are willing to trade years off of their lives for an ideal body. Trading Life for Looks will explore this all too common destructive mindset. Choice theory can help turn this mindset around. (And men, so can we.)

Choosing One Thought Over Another


One of choice theory’s strongest and most important concepts is that we have direct control of our thinking and our actions. This is one of the keys of the internal control model.

Megan Milholland-Brooks, English teacher at PUC Prep (the Seventh-day Adventist 9-12 school here in Angwin) recently saw the following slide in a PowerPoint presentation and said that she thought of The Better Plan blog. I have seen this somewhere in my past, however I am glad that she shared it with me, and glad, too, that I can pass it on to you.


This could be made into a great classroom poster, which would remind students about the importance of their thinking.

Since we are on the topic I will share an insight from the book Education that seems to fit here.

Screenshot 2015-02-04 12.59.57

The implications of this element of our human design are huge! For the most part, what we wrestle with or fret over or seek to overcome has everything to do with our thoughts. We really do create the weather in our lives.

I recently saw a powerful description in the little book, Jesus Calling, a meditational book that I have been opening in the morning for several years now. (My iPad version allows me to make notes in the margins and I have started dating my comments from year to year, which helps me see the steps I am taking along the way.) The thought for January 29 begins (remember, this is written as if God is talking to you personally) “I have gifted you with amazing freedom, including the ability to choose the focal point of your mind. Only the crown of My creation has such remarkable capability; this is a sign of being made in My image.”

“I have gifted you with amazing freedom,
including the ability to choose the focal point of your mind.”

As teachers and parents, let’s pass this gift on to our children. In a world filled with so much external control, let’s model and teach our students about internal control. It may require a significant shift in our own lives, but it will be worth it, for us personally and for our students.



Coming soon on The Better Plan — The California legislature will soon be considering a measure to raise the legal cigarette smoking age to 21, up from 18 years of age. How might this be an excellent current issue from which to consider the concepts of choice theory?


Get the eBook version of William Glasser: Champion of Choice, by clicking HERE.

Now priced at $18.51 on Amazon.

Now priced at $18.51 on Amazon.

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