empowerment in the classroom

This post explains how the therapeutic use of choice-giving can be introduced to empower, rather than control, children.

Purpose of choice-giving is often misunderstood

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 have 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.

With Choice Theory, we use choice-giving as a means of increasing an individual’s empowerment and responsibility.

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 ready to eat, or you could ask to be excused 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 energised, 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 other’s work, please get in touch.

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