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Choose, Decide, Pick

By Judy Wagner
Belle Valley Elementary School
Erie, PA
ddwagner@velocity.net

One of my students has what I would call a power problem. His sense of personal power is diminished and that lack shows up several ways in the classroom. He tries to take power and control through aggression and/or withdrawal. He blurts out answers, purposefully depriving others of a turn. He blames others, acts in a defiant manner when he doesn't know the answer, and creates distractions. One of his favorite phrases is, "This is so easy," but often he is unable to do what he termed as easy.

After reading your Teacher Talk book, I decided to use the words choose, decide and pick on a regular basis with him in an effort to help him choose more helpful behaviors. I wanted him to see that all behavior equals a choice and to stay conscious of the choices he was making.

As part of my plan, I listed some of his behaviors and my possible responses so that I would be prepared and ready when I encountered him the next day. My verbal responses to his actions would hopefully be similar to what I had anticipated. I wrote:

"If you choose to speak out when someone else is talking, you'll be making a decision to lose your turn."

"You have shown me by your behavior that you have chosen not to follow the directions."

"I see you chose to speak out instead of allowing ____________ a turn."

"You are disturbing our group. Please pick a different behavior."

"I see you choose to work ahead."

"I notice you decided to do the listening role today."

"When you choose that behavior, it helps all of us."

The next morning I felt prepared and ready for him to come to class. I always say, "Good morning," to each student, calling them by name as they enter the classroom. This child's usual procedure is to come in, put his head down, and cover his face with his hands. This morning I deliberately skipped him when he activated his usual routine. "Hey, you skipped me," he remarked. Equipped with my new choice language I replied, "When you choose to put your head down, you choose not to be included." His head immediately came up and I told him, "Good morning."

As I gave instructions that morning on completing an unfinished story, he announced, "I'm not going to color mine." When I passed out the crayons, he grabbed for one. I informed him, "When you made the decision not to color yours, you made the decision to sit quietly while others do."

That incident and my response led to his decision to begin making distracting noises. I remarked, "You are distracting others around you. Please make a different choice." "I'm not being bad," he countered. "No, you're not bad and you are choosing to be a distraction. Please make a different choice that allows others to do their work," I said again. He got out a book and remained quiet for the duration of the work period.

The choose, decide, pick Teacher Talk helped me stay centered. I felt empowered. Instead of becoming riled by his behavior, my tone was quiet, but direct. So often he controls the class. This time, by pointing out his choices, I felt in control.

I invested alot of time in this child this particular day, but I felt it was less than I normally spend on him. With each incident, I simply made a statement about his choice and went on. No arguing, no escalating, no confrontation, no long discipline processes. I expect my class will run smoother now. And I expect he will be taking increasing amounts of responsibility for the choices he makes concerning his behavior.