Kelvin and Shawn: Reality Therapy in the classroom

Date: May 18, 2010

Guest blogger: Brian Patterson

Dr. William Glasser’s Choice Theory/Reality Therapy is foundational to Ombudsman’s approach to helping students. Brian Patterson, Ombudsman director in Glendale, Ariz., is certified in Reality Therapy, Choice Theory and Lead Management by the William Glasser Institute.

Reality Therapy is a method of counseling used by Ombudsman teachers in the classroom to help students make better and more satisfying choices.

Whenever a student displays a drastic change of behavior, we are taught to ask the following Reality Therapy questions in some form:

  1. What do you want/What is your goal?
  2. What are (or were) you doing to get what you want or achieve your goal?
  3. Do your actions match your goal – will they get you what you want? (Evaluate)
  4. If not, can I help you make a new plan to achieve your goals?

As the director of an Ombudsman Learning Center, I often have the opportunity to put Reality Therapy into practice.

I would like to tell you about an experience with a student I’ll call Kelvin.

Kelvin was a high school senior in my center. He was more than 6 feet tall, and a boxer.

Kelvin went to the water cooler for a drink, and another student—I’ll call him Shawn—walked up behind Kelvin.  The two students exchanged words, but no one else heard what was said.

Kelvin went back to his seat, but he could not stop staring across the room at Shawn.

Shawn made a comment to another student, and they both laughed. Kelvin saw this exchange and jumped out of his chair, with fists clenched. He began to cross the room toward Shawn. Ms. Sova, one of our teachers, stepped up beside Kelvin and said, “You don’t want to do that!”

Kelvin stopped and looked at her.

Ms. Sova then directed Kelvin to me, and I took him to the front of the building so I could talk to him privately. Another teacher, Mrs. Jagger, immediately took Shawn in the opposite direction.

We had been teaching the basic concepts and components of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy in our center for two years, and Kelvin had responded quite well. This incident was surprising, considering the personal growth he had demonstrated until this day.

I asked Kelvin to explain, in Reality Therapy terms, what his behavior had been. Kelvin said that he felt threatened by comments Shawn made at the water cooler and exhibited anger when he assumed that Shawn and another student were laughing at him. He told me that through his intense behavior that followed, he was probably trying to regain his sense of power and belonging by standing up for himself.

We talked about his Total Behavior, including his physiology. I asked Kelvin if he was aware that his fists were clenched and that his vision narrowed as he approached Shawn. Of course, he was not, and he was surprised at how angry thoughts could affect physical behavior so quickly.

Mrs. Jagger had been having a similar conversation with Shawn at the other end of the building.

After both young men were given a chance to reflect on their behavior, we asked both of them what they expected to happen as a result. They agreed that it was reasonable to be placed on Administrative Review. They also agreed that they needed to apologize to each other and produce a new plan for better performance.

A few days later, we discussed the incident with both young men. They shook hands and apologized. And we had a peaceful center for the rest of the year.

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