The instinctive human reaction to an unpleasant stimulus is to make it cease as soon as possible. This is something imbedded in our genetics and bound tightly to our emotions. Occasionally, when presented with an emotional or physical outside stimulus, we feel the need to respond quickly, and our reaction comes across as improper, overly abrupt, and not well thought out. In turn, this can create an onslaught of other unpleasant stimuli, which defeats our instinctive attempts at protecting ourselves. Often when reacting to an unpleasant stimulus, we feel pressured into that reaction because we need to let others know how we feel immediately. We don’t take enough time to consider the long-range effects of our reactions, or how others perceive us because of them.
As classroom teachers, it is especially important to consider how our actions and reactions affect our students. Our job goes beyond delivering content area instruction to our students. We are responsible for so much more than that. Often, we are responsible for character and moral education, counseling of students, mediating disputes, health and sexual education, and ensuring the overall well-being of our learners. We are also expected by parents, the students themselves, and our employers to be positive role models, worthy of imitation. If we are constantly short tempered or ill at ease with our students, it certainly shows in our teaching.
In order to fully understand the logic behind the way we react to stimuli, we must understand Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory. The social learning theory of Bandura emphasizes the importance of observing and modeling the behaviors, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others, and adjusting our responses to these stimuli accordingly.
A full understanding requires an integrated causal perspective in which social influences operate through self-processes that produce the actions. The self system is not merely a conduit for external influences, as structural reductionists (behaviorists) might claim […] Moreover, human agency operates generatively and proactively rather than just reactively (McCormick 2001)With this theory in mind, knowing that human beings do have the ability to adjust their reactions to stimuli, another educational theorist takes these ideas one step further.
William Glasser is a fairly modern philosopher of education, who built upon and expanded the theories of his predecessors. Glasser played an essential role in teaching about the intrinsic motivation of learning through the development of what he calls control theory. The control theory emphasizes the idea that everything people think, do, and feel is generated by what mentally happens inside of them. Glasser believes that motivation to perform well should be an intrinsic action, meaning that the student should carry out the task because they want to, not because they have to. (Bucher, Manning 2001). By adopting this intrinsic attitude, students will feel a great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in learning for themselves. From experience, we know that it is always more satisfying to do something on our own, without instruction or reprimand, than it is if these demands were made upon us. Why? Because we want to do them. Our desire for accomplishing something for our own happiness, instead of the happiness or satisfaction of others is much greater. Glasser’s basic belief is that all humans unknowingly participate in something called stimulus/response psychology. This means that people will almost automatically react to a stimulus, which is perceived to be negative, with a response, which is also negative. “SR is completely wrongheaded and, when put into practice, is totally destructive to the warm, supportive human relationships that students need to succeed in school and that couples need to succeed in marriage.” (Glasser 1997)
The thought process that Glasser believes should replace SR is called choice theory. Choice theory gives the power to respond to the individual, rather than simply responding as normal. If SR is merely a reaction to an outside stimulus, choice theory teaches that instead of simply reacting to this stimulus, the person may choose the best response to it. It’s interesting that Glasser does not apply his theory to the classroom teacher and his or her students only. He believes that his ideas, when put into practice, can help maintain healthy relationships in a very important facet of adult life as well; marriage. In fact, Glasser claims that when his ideas and methodology are used properly, the function ability of any relationship can be improved.
In order for choice theory to be effective, we need to understand how it functions. This rationale is similar to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, in that there are important aspects of life that we as humans need to fulfill for our survival and happiness. There are four psychological needs that we are individually driven to satisfy: the need to belong (sense of community), the need for power (control over ourselves and our environment), the need for freedom (lack of restrictions), and the need for fun (pleasure and enjoyment). These are things that we need in our lives almost as badly as food and shelter. Some say that these are aspects of humans that are imbedded in our genetic structure. Others say that the modern society in which we live perpetuates these needs for us, so that we cannot ignore the importance of these psychological desires to each of us.
So how do we as classroom teachers implement these strategies? Glasser claims that making the transition from stimulus/response behavior to choice theory behavior is relatively simple. He claims that by merely changing the way something is presented, the outcome of our efforts can change significantly for the better. Glasser maintains that we must offer students an education that they can see will satisfy both their immediate and future needs. Students can only learn if they view their schools as a place that is at least potentially need satisfying. (Boffer, Boffer 1993) If students do not perceive what we are offering in school to be related to one or more of their four basic needs, they struggle against and or withdraw from any or all of a curriculum that is not satisfying. Discipline program after program fails, while educators blame, complain and search desperately for new Stimulus-Response program.(Glasser 1997) He adds that the temptation is always to increase the students’ pain by using more detentions, suspensions, and maybe even corporal punishment. The only thing that educators are teaching students is that working hard and following rules will get them what they want.
Students need to learn to work for themselves and accomplish goals that are satisfying. The only way to assist them in becoming productive, self-sufficient members of society, is to teach them to take responsibility of their own choices.
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