Quality School : A beginning... (KM)

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Response to "The Quality School: Managing Students without Coercion" by Kim McDonald

Initially I was introduced to William Glasser through my reading of his book, "Control Theory," in my Classroom Management and Discipline course at Bemidji State University in the late 1980s. I remember reading the book and thinking to myself yes, yes, yes that is what I think! I was elated to see that my teaching style had merit. I was again asked to study Control Theory when I took my first job at Riverside School in Bemidji. Our Principal asked each teacher and teaching assistant to summarize each chapter. We met in groups and discussed our notes. Finally the groups presented their conclusions to the whole team until we had a united summary of the book. What an undertaking!

Orally summarizing the chapters in Control Theory with teachers and teacher assistants that I looked up to was a wonderful, yet painstaking experience due to the ever present factor of time, or the lack of. One of my primary concerns was that of the title of the book. "Control Theory" seemed to go against the very message of teaching without coercion that Glasser was trying to present. As I progressed through my courses in education I again was introduced to Glasser and this time "The Quality School." Again I found connections in Glasser's writing that reflected my values and beliefs about teaching and learning.

Initially when I picked up the book, "Quality School," to read for as part of my Masters program I thought, "Great, I have already read this should be a piece of cake!" The very first item that caught my attention was in the Authors Note the changing the name of his first book from "Control Theory" to "Choice Theory." My interest in Glasser became renewed when I remembered this change. My interest continued to grow as I looked upon this opportunity to reflect upon Glasser's work from a different perspective. Examining the text from the perspective of a professional educator with several years of teaching experience and as a mother of two children beginning their journey through the educational process might prove to be a valuable experience.

Reading "The Quality School," from these new perspectives I decided to ask myself three questions. One, how is my teaching style similar to Glassers choice theory approach? Two, what in my teaching style can I improve to better achieve my own personal goals as an educator? Finally, What worked and did not work for me when I first started out teaching and why?

Boss management or lead management, what is my style? Well, I would like to say that I am a lead-manager. Unfortunately that would definitely not be accurate. I attempt to lead-manage through cooperative activities. I believe that the students are able to satisfy their basic needs: power, freedom, belonging and feeling loved when working within cooperative groups. I have used cooperative groups in a variety of settings, and it has worked quite well for me. Generally the biggest problem I ran into was having enough time to presentthe lesson, complete the activity and actually process the information. I was continually struggling to do a cooperative activity within an hour or 51 minutes. I think that was one of the areas where I needed to branch out more and take some risks. I needed to develop cooperative activities that went beyond a one hour class period. I think I was afraid to get in over my head with a project and be unable to finish.

One of my personal goals is to expand my abilities in the area of cooperative learning to more effectively use cooperative learning in my teaching. I have been successful in one major cooperative unit that I did with a coworker in math. My coworker allowed my class to take over his math class for 3 out of 5 days a week for 5 weeks. My class spent five weeks preparing to and presenting five chapters to a fourth grade math class. Each cooperative group picked one of the five chapters available, reviewed it, wrote lesson plans, presented the plans to me for approval, did a practice teach in our class, were given compliment sandwiches by all their classmates for feedback, and then presented independently to the fourth grade class with only a video tape as observer. The students next critiqued themselves, and the class also gave them feedback upon viewing the videotape. The students were very proud of themselves. Many of the students concluded that better preparation would have made the task easier. This project took tremendous time on my part, and I was uncertain if I would receive negative response from parents or coworkers for trying something out with my students. I felt the project was a success. My coworker also felt both groups of students benefited from the experience and nobody complained.

One of the greatest challenges that kept me from implementing cooperative learning was time. I often found that when in a hurry the boss management style of teaching gets the job done. Less might be learned but at least the task is accomplished. For example, (quite simply shown) as an EBD teacher at the High School I could encourage my students to do their regular course-work and focus my instruction on social skills. Or I could be a boss manager and I could assist and pressure them into completing their course-work for their regular courses. Ultimately eliminating the time for social skills and provide them with the time and help within the EBD setting to get their required course-work done to graduate in a somewhat timely fashion. I struggled with the decision to teach social skills or academics. Sink or swim?

I did utilize cooperative learning to teach thinking skills while working in the EBD classroom. I struggled to do any lengthy, valuable cooperative learning activities due to absences of students, wide age ranges, kids who were continually behind in their mainstream courses, meetings that would interfere with my class and of course time. I did attempt a few projects but they flopped. The kids were not motivated enough. I did try to spark their interest, but they said they would rather read and answer questions!

I found Glassers Quality School to be reinforcing of my current approach to teaching. I value many of his ideas, but continue struggling to successfully implementing them. His book provided me a simple means to continue to strive to be the best teacher I can be. I will continue to refer to this book as a resource while teaching and working on my Masters.

-- Anonymous, February 10, 1999

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