A Murray High School Perspective
Recently, I received an email from a teacher who hopes to convince the administration and staff of her school to move in the direction of creating a Glasser Quality School. She was asked the question that is the title of this article and she wanted my help to answer it. Perhaps she sent this to many of the Glasser Quality Schools. I found this a compelling question and I wanted to share my answer here because we have all given a lot of thought to our goal of teaching the world choice theory and we have often wondered why there aren't more Glasser Quality Schools. Below is my answer to her question:
What a great question! Actually, it has only been 20 years since Dr. Glasser put his ideas together into a form that could help people create an entire school. He came out with The Quality School and Quality School Teacher in the mid-90's. Also, this is not a program that can be started in a school at the beginning of a year and then changed a couple of years later. This is an idea that starts up inside of each participant, from the administration to the teachers, the students, and finally going home to the parents, and home to the teachers' families and the principal's family, too.
Choice Theory is not a program. Glasser Quality Schools are not a program. They are a thought system, a way of life, a new way of thinking about the world, about the relationships between students and teachers, administrators, and families. It has taken us 26 years to create our current level of mastery of Dr. Glasser's ideas here at Murray. We still have a long way to go and are involved in making many changes, many improvements. Dr. Glasser always said that 95% of any problem was a system problem and only 5%, if that much, was a people problem. So, the job of creating a Glasser Quality School is to come up with a system that works to create happiness in the school. This is not as easy as it sounds, nor is it as difficult.
For instance, each of us is learning Choice Theory. Each of us has our own level of understanding of these ideas and each of us is wrestling with our own level of resistance to these ideas. We are not all in the same place at the same time, so the system you develop has to have a tolerance and a love for the growth, the individual transformation, that is required. The system has to have a tolerance for the time it takes for each individual to transform him/herself.
I can attest to the idyllic environment that is created when you work hard for 26 years to develop a school based on Dr. Glasser's Choice Theory. We are not all perfect here. Most of our students have been very hurt by life in so many ways, hurt by the education system that has left too many of them feeling like failures. We have conflicts every day, but we have a system to understand the conflicts and to work them out. For instance, when two students became angry at one another on Friday, both of them requested to be able to separate from the other, so no physical conflict would arise. They walked away. This is the result of years of work with these two boys to learn Choice Theory, that they can get in charge of the choices they make when anger hits them. They did not get "in trouble" because they raised their voices at each other and disrupted class. They got time and attention from trained and loving teachers who heralded their decisions not to hit each other and helped them think through what had happened that led to the conflict, what they each could have done differently, and on Monday, will help them mediate with each other until a plan they can both agree with is in place and a solution to their conflict has begun.
There is so much to say about the success of this school. Our test scores soar because our students are happy here and want to do well to help the school, and themselves. But the best of all is the feeling of camaraderie, of friendship between students and teachers. Here, there is trust between us. We work hard at it. We constantly work to improve our relationships because we know kids won't learn well from people they don't love and who don't love them. We use the word love all the time here. We aren't afraid to say we love our kids and they aren't embarrassed to say they love us, too. We think schools should be built on a foundation of love and trust.
So, why aren't there thousands of these schools -- good question. We work all the time to help schools consider adopting these ideas. Our students travel to schools around the world, teaching people how to start up a Glasser Quality School. No one is as great a spokesman about Glasser Quality Schools than the kids who are educated here. Just last week, we hosted a team from a county in North Carolina who had heard about Murray and wanted to see it in action. Afterwards, they were so overwhelmed by the level of love the kids shared about Murray and the level of understanding they had about why they are being educated the way they are. They said they want that for their school. They asked our kids for advice about how to implement these ideas with middle school kids and got lots of suggestions. They are planning to bring a team of Murray kids to North Carolina to talk to their faculty.
I think that it takes a long time and a lot of commitment to help an entire staff come to believe that it's possible to create a school based entirely on love and respect. Next, they need to be willing to transform themselves by learning Choice Theory, Reality Therapy, and Lead Management, in order to bring this about. For instance, teachers may have become set in their ways and it might be tough for them to give up their "teacher look," the one that nails a kid who is disrupting. But that look is a threat. That look has no place in a Glasser Quality School. So to even give up the looks we've come to rely on, that's asking a lot. And it takes YEARS of practice, but like anything worth doing, years of practice pay off hugely! We think our kids deserve an education from a team of professionals who have been practicing for years to treat them respectfully, and to expect great things from them, so they feel inspired to excel. But I think you can see that the individual transformations that will need to take place for this to happen take time, a personal inclination, and especially, belief.
When we first started Murray, we all believed we could change schools so kids and teachers would like them more. At first, however, we brought all our old controlling and punitive behaviors with us and we used them every one of them. This was good because we got to see that they don't really work, if working means helping resistant students come to love us and to therefore love school and education. And because we began the school open to changing education in a serious way, we kept tinkering. We kept developing methods of helping ourselves as staff grow and slough off our old punitive ways and to keep from having a school of chaos with kids running around causing untold trouble. We learned that kids who love their school don't want to cause trouble and are willing to keep working to unlearn their old habits of acting out and hurting others without thinking. They are mostly grateful to be learning the skills they can clearly see will help them in their lives, both in and out of school.
So, if you want to talk more about Glasser Quality Schools, feel free to call me. I LOVE talking about Glasser Quality Schools because I believe that these ideas are so superb that one day all schools will be using them. Educators would be fools not to use these ideas when they work so well at helping people love school and learning.
Charlotte Wellen, NBCT, Murray Choices Teacher, Instructor at the William Glasser Institute -- US
Published with permission.