“Choice Giving” and Choice Theory

Even though it is done with the best of intentions, the way in which some teachers  use the word “choice” may do more harm than good.  This post  explains why some schools’ versions of “choice-giving” has limited value, and how the therapeutic use of choice-giving can be introduced to empower, rather than control,  children.

Purpose of choice-giving is often misunderstood

Teachers are starting to pick up and use choice giving as a way of controlling their children. I hear them saying such things as “You need to remember to make good choices”, “You chose to misbehave and so you are going to miss break time”, “You need to make better choices next time”, “You can either choose to apologise now, or stay behind at lunch time”….and so on.

Children do not naturally understand why they behave the way they do and they need to be taught that they can choose their behaviour rather than being told after the event that they hav made a “good” or “bad” choice. Choice Theory is the explanation of how and why we behave the way we do. The more children learn about Choice Theory, the more they realise that they choose all their behaviour. The trouble with some of us adults is that we don’t understand that the only behaviour we can control is our own, and we try to use this choice-giving thing as a way of controlling rather than empowering children.

This, controlling, use of apparent choice-giving does not relate to the therapeutic meaning of choice.

In counselling with Choice Theory, we use choice-giving as a means of increasing their empowerment and responsibility.

Empowerment can be described as the act of providing decision-making power to a child, often associated with redistributing responsibility from parent or teacher to their children. Empowerment helps children to accept authority and responsibility and take initiative.

The problem with using terms like “Good choice” “Better choice” “Bad choice” is that these are the adult’s evaluation of the child’s choice, and so the therapeutic aspect of choice-giving is bypassed.

Using Choice Theory, where we acknowledge that it is important to help the child to learn to make their own connections between a choice and the outcome, a child might be offered the following choices:

“John, I know that you find it hard to stay at the table for the whole of dinner time, but you have some choices here: either you could help me to serve the food, so that you don’t have to sit down until everyone is finished, or you could ask to be excusd for 5 minutes when you have finished your first course. Which of these would help you?”

(introducing the idea of natural consequences) “When you have completed your homework, we can go swimming. If you choose to do this by 5 we can go today, if you have not finished your homework by 5 we will have to wait until Saturday to go swimming.”

If you are unsure whether your choice-giving is based on the right sort of psychology, try thinking about whether your approach helps the child to feel competent, respected, free and energized, or whether they feel trapped, blamed, criticised and nagged by your choice-giving. Or you could even ask them!

Brain Research and Choice-Giving

According to brain research, choice changes the chemistry of the brain. When we are given – and take- choices about what to do and the way to do it the brain ends up in a far better chemical state than when we are told what to do. Choice and control (or even the perception that you are in control) lead to lower stress levels and encourage the release of endorphins which consist of, among other things, the “pleasure” neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.

However, take the control away and instead the brain will generate a different neurotransmitter – noradrenalin – which closes down our thinking, leading to low morale, poor learning and reduced motivation.

If we are to have the BEST SCHOOLS IN THE WORLD which chemistry would you choose for our children and teachers?

Which kind of brain-chemistry are we getting in our classrooms?  There are some good examples of classrooms that encourage choice and responsibility out there and we need to encourage this.

As technology in the classroom develops at an ever increasing rate, we need to ensure that we invest at least as much in the development of the right psychology for quality in teaching and learning to make our schools the “Place-to-Be” for our children and teachers.

There is a great thirst for an alternative to the external control that is currently limiting the success of our schools. If any readers have examples of schools in the UK where Choice Psychology, or other approaches based on internal control are applied, I should be pleased to hear about them. Any colleagues out there who are working in a school or educational setting who would be interested in joining a discussion group to share ideas and support each others’ work, please contact me.

Now read: The Beautiful School Rules

Police Rethink Punishment

7 Deadly Habits

Image Credits: v1nz`

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