Volume 7 Number 2
IN THIS ISSUE:
2. Promoting Responsibility
3. Increasing Effectiveness
4. Improving Relationships
5. Promoting Learning
6. Discipline without Stress
7. Testimonials and Research – A Letter from Australia
MONTHLY RESPONSIBILITY AND LEARNING QUOTE:
I began teaching the hierarchy in my classes last week and
the kids are really into it! They are doing a lot of self
monitoring–asking each other, “What level are you on?” and
telling each other not to be anarchists!
Vicki Salim, Santa Barbara, California
I am distributing this month’s newsletter from New Zealand
where I am on a speaking tour sponsored by Karen Boyes of
Spectrum Education, Ltd. http://www.SpectrumEducation.com.
Karen’s company promotes accelerated learning,
brain-compatible techniques, and educational approaches of
the 21st century.
New Zealand has 4 million inhabitants with around 750,000
students. The school year runs from February – December and
begins for each child the day the child turns five,
regardless of the month and continues until 17 or 18 year of
age. Anyone who has earned the necessary qualifications can
attend one of the universities–all of which are public.
The country’s educational assessment is on a four-year
rotational System. ALL subject areas are included: Year 1 –
science, visual arts, and information skills (working with
graphs, tables, maps, charts, and diagrams); Year 2 –
language (reading and speaking), technology, and music; Year
3 – mathematics, social studies, and information skills
(library research); Year 4 – language (writing, listening,
and viewing) and health/physical education. Literacy skills
comprise not only reading skills but speaking, writing,
listening, viewing, and presenting as well. All are
The Maori are the native early settlers of New Zealand. They
arrived from other South Pacific Islands. Europeans
(primarily from England, Scotland, and Ireland) immigrated
after Captain Cook “discovered” the islands. The Maori and
Europeans entered into peace treaties around 1840. The
country is bilingual; however, English is the language
spoken by all.
The Maori root word, “ako,” connotes both teaching and
learning so that even independent learning implies some form
of self-teaching. It is natural, therefore, that the
assessment approach in the country is formative (used for
growth and improvement) rather than normative (used as a
standard against which to judge.) Assessment results are,
therefore, used for learning–rather than for comparing or
for accountability purposes. The assessment is designed to
share detailed diagnostic information that teachers can use
to guide instruction and improve learning of all students.
New Zealand has an increasing number of private schools for
the same reason private schools are growing in the USA: (1)
There is an emphasis on state mandated curriculum that has
little application after formal schooling (however, there is
an increasing flexibility to allow schools more latitude
regarding content); (2) Teaching is increasingly curriculum
centered in contrast to being student centered, (3) More
emphasis is on what to learn with little emphasis on how to
learn; (4) little emphasis is given to skills preparing for
success after school, such as preparing for personal
financial responsibility and other life skills.
The country is rather sophisticated regarding motivation.
For example, rather than highway signs stating, “Slow Down”
and “Speed Kills – Drive Safely, ” one views signs reading,
“High Speed – Low IQ,” “Fast Driver – Slow Thinker,” “The
quick are the dead ahead,” and “Zero deaths this month at
As I have heard and have now experienced, this beautiful
nation is populated by extremely friendly and optimistic
people who go out of their way to assist and who demonstrate
love and pride in their country.
2. PROMOTING RESPONSIBILITY
Implementing the three practices of positivity, choice, and
reflection may feel awkward at first. This is natural.
Unlike youth, who find little risk in attempting new
activities, adults have established patterns and often feel
anxious and uncomfortable when attempting something
different from what they have already been doing. Realizing
this at the outset will make it easier to attempt something
new. Doing something new or different requires making new
habits, new neural connections. Practice makes permanent,
and you will soon find that practicing the simple
suggestions will become easier.
Think of a rocket or a space mission. Most of the energy,
most of the thrust, has to do with breaking away–to surge
past the gravitational pull.
Once you get past the pull of your habitual approach, you
will steadily become more effective in implementing the new
approach. You will enjoy the satisfaction of your new
Trust the process. As you continue to use positivity,
empower with choice, and hone the skill of asking reflective
questions, you will grow. And so will the people with whom
3. INCREASING EFFECTIVENESS
In addition to asking reflective questions to improve one’s
effectiveness, listening also helps.
Specifically, in order to understand the other person’s
problem, you not only need to ask the right questions, you
need to listen to the response.
Such was the case with a farmer and his horse, dog, and
wagon full of grain traveling along the highway. They were
struck head-on by a car. The incident caused the farmer
When the case came to court, the lawyer defending the man
driving the car asked the farmer, “Isn’t it true that
immediately after the accident a passer-by came over to you
and asked how you felt?”
“Yes, I remember that,” replied the farmer.
“And didn’t you tell him that you never felt better in your
life?” asked the lawyer.
The farmer said, “I guess I did.” The defense lawyer said,
“No further questions.”
On cross-examination, the farmer’s attorney asked, “Will you
please tell the jury the circumstances in which you made
The farmer said, “Immediately after the accident, my horse
had two broken legs and was neighing and kicking. The
passer-by who came along was the deputy sheriff. He put his
revolver to my horse’s ear and shot him dead. Then he went
over to my dog who had a broken back and was yelping. He put
his gun to my dog’s ear and shot him dead. Then he came over
to me and asked, ‘How do you feel?’ I said I never felt
better in my life.”
Until the lawyers and the jurors listened to the farmer’s
personal plight, until they understood his perception of the
entire situation, they wouldn’t be able make an appropriate
Too often, complete understanding is never achieved because
we have not listened to the other person’s entire story.
4. IMPROVING RELATIONSHIPS
When anyone is sharing a
problem, praise acts as a
roadblock. Try this experiment: Next time you are with
someone who starts sharing a personal problem with you, send
some strong, positive evaluations to the person. Then
observe how your praise blocks communication. And listen
particularly to the defensive responses you will undoubtedly
get. You will see that praise often stops people in their
People who are unhappy or disappointed with themselves or
the way things are going in their lives respond to any kind
of positive evaluation as a denial of their true feelings of
the moment–which, of course, are far from positive. This
explains why praise often provokes such responses as:
“You don’t really understand.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew how I feel.”
“That’s easy for you to say.”
“I wish I could be as optimistic as you.”
Acknowledgments don’t create this problem.
More details of the differences between praise and
acknowledgments are in the book.
5. PROMOTING LEARNING
In last month’s section on “Promoting Learning,” I advocated
collaboration–rather than public competition–to increase
student learning. A prime reason is that the number of
winners in competition is severely restricted–usually to
one. This means that competition produces more losers than
A case in point is last month’s celebration in the U.S.A. of
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday and legacy that
featured middle schoolers in a Martin Luther King, Jr. essay
writing contest. Where is the wisdom in turning children
into essay writing losers in the name of Dr. King?
When did Dr. King ever stand to make anybody a loser? I
suggest he never did. An essay writing collaboration in
which students correct the various drafts of each other’s
papers would help contribute to every student’s success and
joy in writing would have been a far more fitting
celebration of Dr. King’s legacy.
A major advancement in learning would be to desist from the
nearly imperceptible yet continual demoralization of K-12
students by fostering competition between students as a way
to increase learning. (As I noted last month, competition is
a marvelous motivator to increase performance but is
devastating to young people who feel that they never stand
in the winner’s circle.) This very significant yet
unintended consequence of academic competition contributes
to the reduction of intrinsic motivation for learning of
many students. To protect themselves, they will drop
out–rather than submit to the lower status of losing.
Motivation is a fundamental factor in learning. Every action
taken to increase learning should be considered in terms of
“motivation for what?” If the desired answer is to improve
learning so that no child will be left behind, then one
approach to accomplish this goal is to replace competition
6. Discipline without
The last two newsletters contained articles published in the
mailring about a program that is finding increasing use
throughout the U.S.A. It is referred to as Positive
Behavior(al) Interventions and Supports (PBIS) or just
Positive Behavior Support (PBS). It was established by the
Office of Special Education Programs in the U.S. Department
of Education. The approach is behaviorally based in that it
is a classic use of B.F. Skinner’s positive reinforcement of
operant conditioning. The program was developed as an
alternative to aversive interventions that were used with
students with severe disabilities who engaged in extreme
forms of self-injury and aggression.
Positive Behavior Support treats the acquisition and use of
social-behavioral skills in much the same way we would
academic skills. However, academic skills deal with the
cognitive domain, whereas behavior has to do with the
affective domain–those factors which pertain to feelings
A basic rationale of PBS is that it is necessary to
understand the “why” of a behavioral problem in order to
“fix’ the behavior. However, it is nearly impossible to
articulate with certainty the underlying reasons for
behavior. And even more important, although finding the
rationale or reason for a behavior may be interesting, it
has no effect on changing the behavior.
My personal life attests to this little acknowledged fact. I
attended speech classes all the way through elementary,
junior high, and high school. When I graduated high school,
I still had a severe stutter. Although much research and
study gave me great insight into the cause of my behavior,
it had absolutely nothing to do with “fixing my problem.” In
order to change my behavior, it was necessary for my brain
to establish new neural patterns. Although at the time I did
not know how the brain operates, I did know that in order to
change behavior, it would be necessary to participate and
experience new behavior patterns in order to replace my
current pattern. In college, therefore, I decided to
participate in new experiences such as impromptu and
extemporaneous speaking, debating, and radio broadcasting.
The major point here is that when you focus on attempting to
understand the reason that prompted the behavior, you are
focusing on the past and simply revisiting memories. The
more you stay in the past, the more you avoid working in the
present. The past cannot be changed. It is useless to water
last year’s crops. Dr. William Glasser put it succinctly:
“We do not need to find the pothole that ambushed the car in
order to align the front end.”
The ground on which PBS rests is faulty–and sooner or later
the structure will topple.
According to the developers of PBS, the most impressive
gains in reducing challenging behavior have occurred with
students who have severe intellectual disabilities. It seems
to me that this is another case of both the tail wagging the
dog and of tunnel vision. When I was working in the dean of
boys’ office in a large urban high school, I dealt solely
with behavioral problems. The position could easily give one
a policeman’s viewpoint. Are ALL students sent to the office
for disciplinary purposes? Hardly! But that was the only
type of student I dealt with. In contrast, when I moved to
an even larger high school (3,200 students) in a different
district as assistant principal of supervision and control,
I dealt with the student government leaders, athletes, as
well as with students whose behaviors needed attention. I,
therefore, had a more realistic perception of the entire
For the advocates of PBS to impose a system on an entire
school–which they are trying to do–in order to help a few
seems to me hardly justifiable.
Success with special education students and students of
lower intellectual abilities has more to do with motivation
to learn and using procedures in a structured environment
than giving rewards for desired behavior.
An integral part of the PBS is based on schools’ developing
rules. But rules are meant to control, not to teach.
Establishing rules to have teachers reward students is
counterproductive to the goals of the system–a critical
factor the developers of the approach do not realize.
Rewards aim at obedience. They do not foster values of
character education such as responsibility, integrity,
honesty, empathy, or perseverance.
PBS is based on the “critical importance of consistency
among people.” But people differ in a myriad of ways. A
focus on consistency fosters the factory approach of the
19th and 20th centuries–certainly not one for the 21st
century where success is increasingly based on individual
creativity and personal responsibility.
A major concern is that decision-making is team-based. It is
impractical to the point of being impossible to have a team
respond to every behavior. Most importantly a “one size fits
all” approach is totally unfair. With some students an
askance look stops inappropriate behavior; others need to
feel the heat before they see the light. One could hire a
layman to enforce rules. The future of this approach is
destined to be short-lived if for no other reason that it is
imposed top-down and, thereby, deprives professionals of
their professional judgments.
PBS is based on “empirical support” or evidence of
effectiveness. The aphorism is appropriate here. “Those
things that count can’t be counted, and those things that
can be counted don’t count.” How can one quantify
perseverance, honesty, integrity, caring, desire, positive
self-talk, self-esteem and other factors that make for a
responsible and successful citizenry?
The developers of PBS state that it may take a school 3 – 5
years to fully implement. A person wonders, with the
turnover of so many principals in so many schools these
days, how practical this approach is–especially when an
approach exists which can find immediate results and have
long-lasting changes. See
WHAT SHOULD A SCHOOL DO IF PBS IS MANDATED? The first step
would be to present a better approach and ask for a waiver.
The case would be presented by asking whether the district
is willing to allow the school to try something different
that the school believes will reach the objectives of PBS
without using the PBS approach.
FOR AN INDIVIDUAL TEACHER WHO HAS THE APPROACH MANDATED,
have a class meeting. Put the problem on the table and let
the students determine the criteria to be used for the
reward, and then have the students choose on a rotating
basis which students will do the rewarding. In all of my
studies of PBS, I have not seen anything that mandates the
TEACHER to do the rewarding.
Two final thoughts: (1) Experience shows that rewards punish
those who believe they have deserved the reward but were not
rewarded. (2) Rewards change motivation so that students
soon start competing to see who receives the most number of
PBS is another case of using a misguided approach based on
external agents to promote responsible behavior–which is
always an internal decision.
For those interested in a personal experience and a quicker,
more effective approach to promote responsible behavior and
learning, download the following article to read at your
I have been following your program for the past 5 years. I
find it is excellent and really works. After 24 years of
teaching, it is nice to find something that does work, that
parents love and that doesn’t cost me a fortune.