This is an example of how to have a student change attitude and behavior.
While working with a middle school for three days, I was asked by the counselor to conduct a discipline counseling session. The request was to work with a student who was a major challenge to the school.
The counselor sat in the session and observed how I used noncoercion and collaboration to prompt a change in the student’s attitude and behavior.
I started the meeting by asking the student, “What was the situation that brought you to the office?” Alicia (not her real name) replied that she had called someone a bad name.
I mentioned that it seemed to me that the impulse of being unkind to a fellow student controlled her behavior. I explained that if a person cannot control an impulse then the person becomes a victim of the impulse. I asked her if she would like to be in control of her life, rather than being a victim of her impulses. She answered in the affirmative. I then asked I her if she would be interested in learning how to control herself so she wouldn’t repeat the same kind of behavior. She said, “Yes.”
I asked what options or choices she could have chosen when she had the urge to call another student a bad name. She said that (1) she could do nothing, (2) say something nice, (3) tap a toe, or (4) draw something.
After this discussion of possible choices, I asked her to stand and take a deep gasp. I gave her an impulse card that looks like a traffic signal with three colored lights. I explained that the red refers to taking a deep gasp of breath in order to stop and take a moment to reflect. The yellow represents thinking about options, and choosing one is indicated by the green for “go” with your choice.
I explained that the only way she could avoid being a victim of her thoughts or her feelings would be to redirect her thinking. After she practiced this procedure of gasping, thinking of options, and then choosing one, Alicia asked if she could keep the little impulse card. “It’s my gift to you,” I told her.
(I had previously visited a math class where Alicia was sitting in the back of the room drawing cartoons. Also, an administrator had told me that she had hacked into a computer account, which indicated to me that she was academically capable.)
I wanted to assess her reading, so I gave her something to read, which she read very well. I complimented her on her reading skill. Since the incident happened during her math class, I asked her if she liked math. She said that she did not. She also mentioned that she did not like the “advisory class” that she had to attend because she preferred to be with her friends during this time. (The “advisory class” is a flexible program taken by all students in the early part of the year but devoted to remedial work with students as the year progresses.)
I asked her what she would like and, of course, she wanted to get out of the “advisory class” because she wanted to be with her friends. I asked her that—if this could be arranged—would she be willing to be tutored for two weeks in math? I also asked her if she would practice impulse control during these two weeks. She said that she would.
I asked her to again demonstrate how the impulse control procedure works. After she had practiced the procedure, I turned to the counselor and asked him if math tutoring could be arranged. He said that since he is in charge of the “advisory class” he could, and he would arrange for Alicia to be tutored in math.
That concluded the discipline counseling session.
Later in the day, the counselor told me that Alicia told him that she not only liked me but far more importantly that she had changed her attitude.
In summary, the session was totally noncoercive. Nothing was imposed. The session was collaborative. I worked with the errant student—sharing and asking, rather than telling. Finally, the student left with a specific procedure to control future impulses.