By Charlotte, Whellen, NBCT, Basic Intensive Instructor
Murray High School
I teach at the first Glasser Quality public high school in the world, Murray High School. Not only do I teach English, but I’m in charge of teaching Choice Theory to everyone in the school: staff, students and parents. I work constantly to improve my own skills at making use of Choice Theory in my life, and I can see a steady progression in my ability to connect with those I love and to achieve an inner happiness from successfully meeting my needs without hurting those around me.
That said, I get many opportunities to see where external control is still lingering in my thoughts. For instance, this past Friday, at our weekly Community Meeting, we were introducing some new students who have joined us for the second half of the school year. The staff requested everyone to get up and participate in some icebreakers and some connecting games. Most students leapt up and immediately began to participate. However, there were some resisting students, who just wanted to sit on the sidelines. Our wonderful PE teacher, who had organized the games, gently herded almost everyone into the fray and they got up and got involved. There was a happy excitement in the gym as new and current students intermingled and began to connect.
I was participating, too, when I noticed one boy lying against the wall, propped up on his backpack, with his hoodie pulled down over his face, seemingly asleep. I walked over to see if he was okay. He told me he was having trouble readjusting his sleep schedule since our recent snow days off and that he would be fine if he could just sleep there a few minutes.
At this point, I had a choice to make, but I was not aware of my choices. I just allowed myself to move into “external control mode” and reminded him that he had made a commitment to participate and that everyone else was doing that. I encountered immediate resistance. He began to argue with me that I should be flexible enough to let him do what he wanted to do. I told him that if he didn’t want to do this and didn’t feel well, that was not a problem, but he’d need to go check in with the nurse and see if she’d let him nap for a few minutes on the bed in her office. Not surprisingly, I encountered more resistance. I, also became resistant. I didn’t raise my voice, or get excited (thanks to my practice with Choice Theory), but I didn’t move away from external control.
Luckily, the student did not insist, but he grumbled that this isn’t what Murray was supposed to be about and packed his stuff up and stomped off. I went back to the games and later spoke with our astute principal, Ashby Kindler, about the situation. She, in true Reality Therapy fashion, asked me a question — how much choice does a student have about getting involved in an activity?
Since then, many more questions along those lines have occurred to me: Is there ever any room for someone to just feel like watching? Is watching not participation at some level? How is sending someone out for not participating helping them learn to participate? Did my interaction with the young man bring me closer to him, or push us further apart?
Both the young man and I knew that this situation wasn’t what we wanted. He was blaming me for the problem and I was blaming him. You might argue, in a way, that we were both right — he should have participated and lived up to his commitment to be actively involved in community meetings and I should have avoided external control and trusted that with time and creating as many strong connections with him as possible, he would eventually make the choice to get involved on his own.
However, I have often heard Dr. Glasser, in his inspiring talks, refer to our habit of “shoulding” on each other. I don’t believe he invented that term, but he explained that if we tell someone what we think they should have done, or tell ourselves what we should have done, we are using external control on them (or on ourselves) and damaging our relationships. He asserted that if we could just become aware of whenever we were using that word, we would soon be able to think of new ways to get what we need without the “shoulding,” and without pushing those we love and need away from us.
I have found this to be superb advice for maintaining my own personal happiness and I teach all my students about “shoulding,” which, of course, they love because it sounds very close to another phrase they enjoy, but which isn’t necessarily school appropriate.
I have written an email to the young man today, explaining my thoughts since our interaction and thanking him for his willingness to engage me in a discussion about the principles of our school. I didn’t mention his own commitment to participate in community meetings as a Murray student because I have learned, finally, that his choice in this regard is his own and the happiness of our school community depends upon our each deciding to learn more and more choice theory and choosing to practice using it in our daily lives.