Choice Theory, Quality School and Classroom
By Francesco Bazzocchi
Glasser Canada E-Bulletin Volume 4 2017
Dr. William Glasser has made so many wonderful contributions to the world of psychology through Choice Theory and Reality Therapy; however, one of Dr. Glasser’s greatest gifts is the prudent and rich information presented for educators and teachers. The ‘Glasser Quality School’ approach employs lead management as the key to facilitating student learning and deep thinking beyond the classroom. The aim of quality schools is to present education from a different set of lenses. Most schools follow a traditional approach to teaching, whereby the learning is very much teacher centered, focused on the passing on of information and then assessing that information.
Glasser, on the other hand, sets out to challenge the traditional view of education. He suggests that a teacher can challenge students to embrace learning, essentially changing the culture of education by implementing two simple reforms: (i) how teachers lead their class and, (ii) how teachers assign work to the students. Glasser believes that these two simple reforms are crucial in establishing the proper environment for students to succeed. Instead of students being compliant and merely doing what the teacher asks in order to achieve marks (external control psychology) the teacher here makes an attempt to match the internal drive of the students (internal psychology). The teacher leads in a non-coercive manner, leading students by explaining how the work being studied is both useful and meaningful in their lives. Then the work is assigned with the students participating in their learning process.
Glasser was able to make this clear connection from witnessing the work that Dr. W. Edwards Deming accomplished with the Japanese auto industry. Like many of our students, the workers of the auto industry were unsatisfied with their jobs and produced below par results. Glasser saw how Deming was able to present a different approach by introducing lead management to the foremen (Quality World Pictures). The foremen were taught to move away from a boss management style of leading which was very coercive by nature, to a more non-coercive manner of leading known as lead management. The change was remarkable and it allowed for more productivity in the assembly lines of cars being made. The workers, for the first time in a long while, experienced a renewed sense of joy towards their craftsmanship and were finally able to find meaning in their work (Need-Fulfilling Environment).
Training for success that lasts a lifetime The Lead Manager approach is to spend a lot of attention and energy discovering ways of showing the workers that they are valued and that the work they do will add benefit to their lives (Quality Work). This consists of having a clear purpose and vision (Quality World Pictures) and to create a safe and need-satisfying environment (Basic Needs). In addition to this, it is important that the leader convey what “they do” as a team will not only benefit the company but also benefit themselves in the future. The approach is to think ‘win-win’ so that both the workers and the leader are working toward a common goal (Shared Vision). Furthermore, keep in mind that both the leader and the workers focus on the system. Let us consider how this might work within the context of a classroom. The teacher may be unsatisfied with the engagement of the students. They know that a coercive approach will get compliance but does not ensure deep thinking and engagement. In this case, a self-reflective teacher will decide to use a different approach, perhaps even taking a few risks by applying Glasser’s four simple steps: a) collaborate, b) model, c) teach students to self-evaluate, and d) empower students to accept responsibility for their actions.
The teacher engages the students in classroom discussions of the quality work to be done. The teacher explains, shows, elaborates, and provides clear quality world pictures of what they want. In addition, the teacher considers students’ input and makes a constant effort to have students help mould and define the finished outcome. Students are challenged to find connections that make the work meaningful and relevant(Quality World Pictures).
The teacher provides models, or exemplars of the work to be done. This allows students the opportunity to see and ask questions for clarification and to add/subtract to/from the work. The students are able to envision why and how the work is beneficial and how it meets the class core curriculum guidelines (Basic Needs).
The teacher allows students the opportunity to self-evaluate their work before handing it in. Since the students now have a clear understanding of the high quality work that is required, it allows them to improve their final product. This step is crucial in meeting the students’ needs of survival and power. Students, as part of their self-evaluation, can also obtain peer and teacher feedback. The teacher and the students can compare, evaluate and make suggestions on how to improve their work (Re Organizing-Total Behaviour).
The teacher always provides suggestions in a non-coercive, non-adversarial atmosphere in which they can improve their work. The teacher empowers the students with self–evaluation questions and helps the students make a plan to improve their work (Total Behaviour).
The key is to teach topics that are ‘useful’ and ‘meaningful’ to the students’ lives. For Glasser usefulness equates to quality. He points out that, in most traditional schools, teachers fail because they continue to motivate students into doing useless work. Most of the work requires memorizing facts and information that is easily forgotten and meaningless to the students’ lives. Busy work is a turn off for all students. What is important in a quality school is for the teacher to take the time to really explain the usefulness of the work to the students. To provide the foundation why it is important by giving the students the quality vision necessary for them to ‘want’ to do the work. Glasser also makes a clear distinction between skills and information. He asserts that life skills are always useful and information is only useful if students can see the relevance of how the information is to be utilized. In a quality school, Glasser suggests no effort will be made to force students to memorize information. In fact, Glasser believes that asking students to memorize information can be detrimental to learning and can turn students away from school.
In a quality school, information will be delivered only if it falls under the following four categories:
· Information directly related to a life skill,
· Information that students express a desire to learn,
· Information that the teacher believes is especially useful, and
· Lastly, information that is required and essential for college.
Furthermore, the essential skills taught in a quality school are: speaking, listening, reading, writing, calculating, math and problem solving. The best way to determine what should be taught is to ask the question “what is the need-satisfying information?” Therefore, there is no need to ask students to memorize information because in a quality school students learn to use information in a variety of ways. Students are challenged to make connections with the real world and show how it affects them in meaningful ways. Quality depends on leadership and it is the responsibility of the teacher to explain the usefulness of the work to the students.
I would like to conclude this article with a practical application that any school teacher can apply to any subject. I suggest trying this once and evaluating its effectiveness. Select a topic that has to be covered as part of your curriculum regardless of the subject matter. Once you have taught a topic, ask the students to create their own GPAR:
The GPAR will be used as an assessment for learning. The students will be challenged to address a topic of interest to them based on the topic you taught. For instance, if you taught a Poetry Unit in English, you may ask the students to show what they have learned by having them share a poem of their choice instead of you selecting a poem for them. If you ask a student if they think poetry is relevant in their lives, I would bet most would say no – until they do deeper thinking. Once they start to do some digging, they soon discover that poetry is actually more relevant than they first thought. They now see poetry in special greeting cards, in rap songs, in rock songs, and pop lyrics. The ideas behind students creating their own GPAR is that they take ownership of the learning and study something that is relevant to them.
The students get to select a topic of their own and decide if they want to work with another student or alone(Basic need of freedom, love and belonging, power and fun). They get to write out their own goals – what the students wish to share or celebrate about the topic (Quality World Pictures). They write out their plan what needs to be done, how it will be accomplished. Here it is important to let them also select how they will present the information learned. Let them pick their own medium of presentation – for instance, create a movie, present an oral presentation, create a storyboard, design a brochure, make a PowerPoint slide show, spoken word or direct a performance (Total Behaviour). This has the added benefit of having students showcase their learning preferences and allows for students to tap into their multiple intelligences. They act out their plan and stay focused on their goals (Balance).
Lastly, the students are able to self-evaluate their result. They can collect critical and important feedback based on their own self-evaluation, peers, and their teacher’s input before presenting or handing in their work (Basic Needs, Balance, and Total Behaviour). If you try this once, you will be amazed how much you will discover about your students.
“This is at the heart of all good education, where the teacher asks students to think and engages them in encouraging dialogues, constantly checking for understanding and growth.”
William Glasser, M.D. (1998). Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom.