Inner Control

by Thomas Haller and Chick Moorman


Some first graders are not fond of owning their behaviors. They blame, accuse, and become defensive. They give excuses, point to what others did, and bend the truth. They go unconscious and seemingly refuse to see their role in events that involve them.

It was with a class that exhibited many of these attitudes that Raven Wachipi decided to take action. “When I got the note from my principal informing me that my students had been disruptive and disrespectful in the lunchroom again, I decided in was past time,” she said. “I knew I needed to create something that was easy for my first graders to comprehend, but at the same time moved their personal accountability forward.”

Raven read the principal’s comments to her class. Thankfully, his communication was descriptive and included specific behaviors. Behaviors mentioned in the note included:

  • Failure to quiet down when asked to do so.
  • Leaving napkins and straws on the floor.
  • Changing seats.
  • Leaving uneaten food on the table.
  • Giving excuses to the supervisors.

After reading the principal’s comments to her class, Raven had them build two lists. The first list contained all the situations, times, and behaviors over which the students had no control. The second list included all the things over which they did have some control.

“I really had to work hard helping them build the lists,” Raven told us. “At first they responded as if they were getting in trouble. And why wouldn’t they? That’s what often happens to children if they don’t respond they way the adult thinks they should.  I wasn’t getting after them. I just wanted them to take a serious look at the situation.”

Which list would you predict these young students had more difficulty building? If you said the one that included things they had control over, you would be correct. “They just don’t seem to see themselves as in control,” Raven said. “They don’t know where their power is. Many of them think outside forces create their responses.”

Listing control factors is an activity that helps students become conscious of where they do and do not have control in a situation. Will this activity insure that all of Raven’s students take responsibility for their actions and choices from now on? No, not even close. As with learning spelling words, for some students it will require many repetitions before they comprehend this important learning.

Let’s build a list of things we have control over is Teacher Talk that begins to introduce the concept of inner-control to young learners. While it is a beginning, it is only a beginning. Many next steps are necessary here. Put the word control in your Teacher Talk frequently.  Overuse it for awhile.

“Jason, I need you to be in control now.”

“Cheri, I’d like you to find a different way to control your volume.”

“What is something we can do to take control of this situation ourselves?”

“Let’s build a list of all the control decisions we get to make when the guest speaker is here tomorrow.”

“Write in your Responsibility Notebook one thing you intend to be in control of on the bus.”

“Who controls your response, me or you?”

Whether or not you add control to your Teacher Talk is up to you. As with all your language patterns, it is one more thing over which you have control.

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching.They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: and


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