Ryan was one of “those” students. He seemed to think he was in charge of the classroom. He was the one who decided when the whole class would laugh, when students should be talking, how long it would take for me to get the class’ attention, and whether or not I would have a good day.
I pulled my hair out in my battle with Ryan for control of the class. I even wondered if teaching was the profession for me. I liked Ryan and we had great conversations one-on-one. He was smart and funny. He knew the right things to say to make me think that he knew why he needed to change and was going to change. Then, the same behavior continued the next day. This was not a battle I could win.
Ryan had this amazingly funny “granny dance” that he would do every chance he had. It could be during an important lesson, while I was giving directions, during a fire drill, anytime. At the same time I was exasperated with Ryan’s dancing, I was learning about Choice Theory, which was developed by William Glasser. Dr. Glasser said that everyone has five basic needs–freedom, power, belonging, fun and survival. All behavior is our best attempt to meet one or more of our basic needs.
As I was learning this, I was thinking about Ryan. I could see that he was meeting his needs for power and fun through doing things to get his classmates to laugh. I was trying to meet my need for power by trying to control him through punishment. I began to see that this was an ineffective cycle that needed to be turned in a different direction. Ryan has these needs and will always behave to meet them and I wondered how he could meet his needs within the functions of the classroom rather than against our rules and expectations.
We began to have “disco lunches” where we would turn on fun music during lunch and students could get up and dance in the middle of the room. Low and behold, Ryan got up every day and made his peers laugh with his funny dances. What’s more–I was laughing too. There was incredible positive power when Ryan and I would catch each other’s eyes as we were laughing about his silliness. That was the start of a whole new relationship for the two of us.
I got to know Ryan better and we found shared interests and connected through our passions. Actually, I started thinking about all my students and how to make the classroom more need-satisfying for all of them. I wanted them to feel comfortable, to build strong and positive relationships with each other and me, and to meet all of their needs while learning.
Freedom and power are two needs that seem to be the most difficult for students to meet within the functions of the classroom. In a different post, I shared a short list of things to include in your classroom to make it need-satisfying and to avoid power struggles. CRAFT your classroom into a great learning environment for all students by including:
Choice: small or big
Relationships: so everyone feels like they belong
Ask, don’t tell: they know so much more than we think they know
Fun: everyday! Student-prompted and teacher-prompted
Turn it around: when you find yourself in a power struggle, back it up
You can read more about CRAFT here
When we punish students for talking in class, for making each other laugh, etc. are we really trying to meet our own need for power? What does is say about us when we punish a class for the behavior of a few–who benefits from that?
I learned that if I was really trying to help my students succeed, I needed to focus on creating a need-satisfying environment, plan empowering and meaningful learning opportunities, and guide them to develop their own character.
What pros and cons have you found with punishments? How have you innovated to create a positive learning environment for students?
Please note: This blog post is based on my experiences and the teachings of Dr. William Glasser and Choice Theory. I learned about Choice Theory and Reality Therapy through training with The William Glasser Institute and reading many books written by Dr. Glasser. If you are interested in learning more about the work of Dr. Glasser, I recommend reading Choice Theory (Glasser, William. Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom. , 1998. Print.) or visiting http://www.wglasser.com for training opportunities.