I taught in a Glasser-driven school that became a Quality School in the years after I left the classroom. It’s a great place and the lessons I learned there about life, living, happiness, truth, passion, faith, love, and choices have served me well. One of the fundamental purposes of Murray High School is to help its students navigate the waters of life by equipping them with the skills necessary to make deliberate and informed choices.
One of the points of confusion with choice theory is around the potential choices. Students do not have the ability to create choices from thin air. If the cafeteria only offers chocolate and white milk, you cannot choose orange juice IF you are buying lunch. If you want orange juice with your lunch, you must make the commitment to bring it to school with you. Makes sense, doesn’t it?
One of the key outcomes of practicing choice theory is a shift in language. Students learn “I have to” and “he made me” don’t go very far and will change over time to “I chose to.” “I have to go to lunch detention” is very different from “I chose to go to lunch detention.” Ok, so nobody chooses lunch detention DIRECTLY but they may make other choices that result in lunch detention and connecting these choices leads to ownership of the choices.
What if the adults in your school were held accountable for the choices they make just as the kids in a Quality School are? What if we were ALL reminded we don’t have to teach Johnny to read, we choose to teach Johnny to read OR NOT? What if we had to PUBLICLY case study some of our “bad” choices, much like kids in a Quality School do when they are working things out (in “time out”)?
I used centers in my high school math classroom roughly 30% of the time. Some kids got to choose which centers they went to and some kids did not based on specific learning needs I inferred from multiple sources of performance data. Regardless, kids were to self-monitor and self-adjust for the number of people at any given center at any given time and the likelihood that the mix of people would result in learning taking place. My reminder phrase to the kids as we moved in to center work was, “Make good choices, or I will make them for you.” What if adults in your school were held accountable to this as well?
“You cannot choose to give a 150 item multiple choice test. So, here’s the performance task you have to give next week…oh, your kids don’t know how to do these things? Then, you better do some serious work between now and next Thursday. By the way, I will help you score the performances!” What if your administrators and teacher leaders chose to take this sort of position with your “reluctant” or “resistant” teachers?
As I reflect on another year gone by and look forward to a new year with new work, I am realizing that most everything I know about setting kids up to achieve more than they ever thought they could, more than likely applies to adults as well. The most powerful strategies I know are encompassed in the practicing of choice theory.