C. M. Charles writes about RTP
The following article about the Responsible Thinking Process (RTP) appears in a recently published book by C. M. Charles, entitled Today's Best Classroom Management Strategies: Paths to Positive Discipline and has been published by Allyn & Bacon, Boston, MA.
Ed Ford is president of Responsible Thinking Process®, Inc. His organization trains educators and parents in using the Responsible Thinking Process (RTP) to assist the young in conducting themselves more effectively, relating better with others, and becoming more responsible people.
The Responsible Thinking Process is based on Perceptual Control Theory (PCT), developed by William T. Powers, which holds that our behavior is best understood in terms of how we control our perceptions.
That means we are always comparing our current perceptions to how we want them to be, and we are continually attempting to act so as to have the perceptions we want. Ford does not view behavior as being 'caused' by environmental forces, nor does he believe it is possible for one person to control another.
He feels it is unfair to expect teachers to change those things over which they have no control. Instead, he believes teachers should teach students how to understand what they want for themselves in life and how to develop plans for getting what they want while not infringing on the rights of others.
Mr. Ford served in the U.S. Navy, was a newspaper reporter, and later worked in the industrial relations department of a large steel factory. He taught high school for six years, then earned a master's degree in social work and went into private counseling. Not long afterward, he joined the faculty of the Institute for Reality Therapy and began teaching Reality Therapy and consulting in schools and other institutions in Ohio.
For the past 30 years, he has taught and consulted in alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers, in mental heath centers for residential and outpatients, in approximately 70 school districts, and on the faculty of Arizona State University's School of Social Work.
Mr. Ford, a founding member and past president of the Control Systems Group that researches and promotes perceptual control theory, has authored 13 books, including Discipline for Home and School, Book One (3rd edition, 2003) and Book Two (revised edition, 1999).
He recommends his most recently published book be read first: Discipline for Home and School, Fundamentals (2004).
Currently, he consults and trains extensively with school districts that want to use the Responsible Thinking Process. His website is www.responsiblethinking.com and he can be contacted at email@example.com
Nature of the Responsible Thinking Process
The Responsible Thinking Process is designed to help students develop a sense of responsibility for their own lives and respect for everyone around them. Ford describes it as a school discipline process that is radically different from traditional classroom discipline programs and school behavior management programs. It does not involve coercion, punishment, or rewards. When students have difficulties getting along with others in school, or when they disrupt in class or other school settings, they are taught how to plan ways to get what they want without infringing on the rights of others. This is rarely seen in education, Ford says.
Ford's approach to discipline is based on Perceptual Control Theory, which teaches how we are designed to learn to deal with our environment in ways that bring a satisfying life. Each of us tries to understand our environment and uses that understanding to find contentment in life. Each of us, ultimately, wants to stand as our own person-to be, as Ford says, "Captain of our own ship." We create our understanding of the world through the three highest levels of perception, which we use to help us determine who we are and what we do. Those levels, defined by Powers in PCT, are called the systems concepts level, the principles level, and the program level.
At the Systems Concepts Level, we establish our beliefs and values, creating for ourselves how we each want to be as a person. We progressively clarify how we want to see ourselves as persons, as well as the values and beliefs we believe will bring us happiness. Usually we do these things more or less without much thought. The beliefs and values we establish guide how we treat others while trying to achieve our goals.
At the Principles Level, we set our priorities, standards, criteria, and other guidelines for how we want to live our values and beliefs. In school, these include rules and procedures to help us function more efficiently.
At the Program Level, we structure our lives by organizing what we do through plan making. This, we believe, will lead to satisfaction. Experience teaches us that if we are to live in harmony, our plans must not violate the rights of others, meaning we must not disturb their legitimate attempts to get what they want. The structures that guide our behavior must work for us and not work against others, respecting others' attempts to do the same thing.
In the classroom, students can behave in many ways for personal benefit that infringe on the rights of others. Such infringements often lead to conflict and disruptions, which teachers see as 'discipline problems.' Traditionally, teachers then take steps to deal with these 'problems' by focusing on what they see the students 'do', their 'behavior.'
When students settle down and resume work, teachers feel they are successful in managing behavior. But all they have done, in most cases, is temporarily squelch the disturbance, without helping the students become conscious of how their behavior was interfering with the rights of others.
Ford insists that 'misbehavior' is never truly corrected by reprimands or punishment. It is only corrected when students connect their actions to get what they want with the effects of those actions on others. Students who don't understand this process and think through its ramifications continue to behave inappropriately: their behavior is a disturbance to others.
When students behave, they are trying to achieve particular goals. Examples of such goals might be getting to class on time, finding out if a friend wants to play basketball after school, or hurting another student who was rude. Students can directly experience their own goals, but teachers and other students are exposed only indirectly to those goals, by way of the students' actions (which for the above examples could be running in the hallway, talking in class, or punching a student in the nose).
Disturbances or conflicts can be truly resolved only when students realize the adverse effects of their actions on others, commit to resolving the issues, and plan to act in ways that will get them what they want without violating the rights of others. As we will see, the teacher can play a strong role by opening up alternative views and possibilities for the student involved.
Ford strongly emphasizes that the Responsible Thinking Process is not designed to control behavior. Its purpose is not to 'change' students, to keep students 'in line,' or to maintain an 'orderly' class. Rather, it is to cultivate respect for oneself and others, combined with a pervasive sense of responsibility for one's actions. When these results occur, classrooms acquire a climate of respect, discipline problems decline, and academic learning and positive human relations improve.
The Teacher's Role in the Responsible Thinking Process
Teachers want students to learn to think for themselves and deal effectively with their own problems. They typically feel they must tell students what to do and 'correct' them when they fail or do the wrong thing. But that effort does not produce the results teachers want. The Responsible Thinking Process, on the other hand, leads to desirable outcomes because it relies not on threatening, directing, and correcting, but on asking key questions that help students learn (when they are willing) to look within themselves and decide how they want to be. This, in turn, helps them learn how to make more effective plans that will, in the future, provide for them the necessary understanding of how to deal with getting what they want without violating the rights of others.
To illustrate this point, Ford provides the following scenario, which has been edited and abridged from the website www.responsiblethinking.com:
Mathew, late for class, is running in the hallway. Mrs. Kuhn, a teacher adept in using the RTP questioning process, calls to Mathew in a non-threatening tone, "Mathew, what are you doing?" She does not scold him or tell him to stop. Mathew looks at her, stops running, and replies, "I'm trying not to be late to class." (Notice Mathew explained his goal-what he wanted to accomplish.) Mrs. Kuhn might then ask, "What were you doing to try to get there?" Mathew would probably answer, "I was running." Mrs. Kuhn would then tie the action to the rule by asking, "What's the rule about running in the halls?"
Again, the key to RTP is to teach students to think about how they are going to accomplish getting what they want without in any way violating the rights of others. Punishment, rewards, criticism, yelling, constantly correcting-none of these things teach students to think for themselves.
Later, Mrs. Kuhn might ask Mathew if he has managed to figure out a way of getting to his classes on time. If he says "no," then she might ask him if he is interested in learning a way of getting to class on time without violating any rules. If instead he were to say "yes," then she might take an interest in what he has figured out.
Ford points out that Mrs. Kuhn's approach is non-manipulative and non-punitive. Her questions and comments lead to Mathew's thinking through what he is doing in relation to the rules. Further, it predisposes him toward an action plan that respects the rights of others and gives him personal accountability for his actions. Mrs. Kuhn knows that when she discusses behavior with students, she is far more effective when asking questions than when telling students what to do. She knows that when you tell students what to do, you are doing the thinking for them.
When you ask questions (especially "What you are doing?"), and they have to connect their actions to the rules of wherever they are, then the students are encouraged to reflect on their own accountability and think things through. They are doing the thinking. Asking questions that encourage students to think and plan is the best way to help them learn responsibility.
Ford reiterates that RTP does not deal with behavior, although it sounds as though it does. The first question in RTP is "What are you doing?" But it is always asked in concert with the second RTP question: "What are the rules?" The questions don't merely ask students to pay attention to their actions. They go beyond that by prompting students to think about whether their actions are disturbing others, as defined by school or class rules. Rules act as guidelines to help us avoid interfering with others around us who are trying to satisfy their own goals, and by following established rules, we show responsibility for our behavior while respecting the rights of others.
The fundamental rule of every school, Ford says, should be this: "We do not violate the rights of others." When students are asked the first two RTP questions ("What are you doing?" "What's the rule?"), they must consult their values concerning how others ought to be treated. Ford says that people only begin to change their behavior when they seriously examine their belief systems, assess their own values and standards, and set priorities and standards. Ford says teachers must ask the RTP questions in a calm, respectful, curious tone. When they do so, students usually spend a moment in quiet introspection. It is then that real, permanent change can occur.
Ford's RTP teaches students how to satisfy their goals without "stepping on other people's toes." Ford asks, "What is it that enables students to believe they can make things better for themselves? What promotes change in any person, and what makes that change possible?" He answers these questions by pinpointing two enabling factors: The first is the belief that someone cares, that someone really respects you and is willing to work with you until you can succeed. The second is the belief that somehow it is possible to succeed, to make things better, and to resolve one's internal conflicts.
Ford maintains that when the Responsible Thinking Process is used as he suggests, classroom discipline problems decline at all levels, from minor disruptions to violence. When disruptions do occur, as they occasionally will, RTP provides a means for resolving issues calmly and respectfully, with a minimum of anger or frustration.
How Respect is Taught in the Responsible Thinking Process
Ed Ford and George Venetis provide an article entitled "Teaching Respect using RTP," which is posted on the website www. responsiblethinking.com. In this article, they explain how respect is developed in conjunction with the Responsible Thinking Process. They say when you use RTP, you are modeling respect for students in three ways:
First, by listening to what they say, without trying to control their answers or being critical of what they say.
Second, by helping students focus on how their actions are breaking rules or disturbing others.
Third, by accepting what students say, by asking questions that will help them resolve problems when they are ready, and by showing your willingness to struggle through dealing with their actions in the meantime, without showing anger or being upset toward them.
You display no anger, because students see anger as an attempt to control them. You do not try to control them, because doing so implies you do not believe they can resolve their problems or deal with conflict. You show respect by allowing students to live with consequences even when you disagree with their decisions concerning behavior.
That realization takes us back to Perceptual Control Theory, which teaches that human beings are capable of controlling their perceptions of the world and organizing their own plans of action. When we try to control the perceptions of others, we are doing so from the basis of our own perception of the world. We must not do that, if we are to be fully effective. Instead, we must show and teach respect for people and the way they are designed. Doing so helps them learn what respect looks like, feels like, and sounds like.
The Questioning Sequence in the Responsible Thinking Approach
Below is the sequence of questions Ford recommends for the Responsible Thinking Process. Please understand that the descriptions presented here are highly condensed. For more complete explanations, refer to the RTP website postings or to Ford's books for teachers.
Question 1. "What are you doing?"
Most always, this question should be asked first, but always in conjunction with question #2. When students hear this question, they look within themselves and identify their behavior. Telling them what they are doing wrong not only doesn't teach them to develop the skill of self-reflection either now or in the future, but, more importantly, it keeps you in the loop. By that Ford means the students are dealing with you, the teacher, and not within themselves.
Teaching self-reflection takes you out of the loop, and the students are left to deal with only with themselves. Furthermore, there is always the inclination to look for excuses to defend what one is doing. That's why you don't ask, "Why?" It gets you on the slippery road to the excuse battle.
Question 2. "What are the rules?"
As was said earlier, when asked this question, students quickly tie the rules to what they are current doing and assess their actions in terms of the rights of others. Questions 3, 4, and 5 are used at first, but as students grow in their understanding of the process, they are no longer needed.
Question 3. "What happens when you break the rules?"
This simply gets students to reflect on the consequences that follow when they break rules, especially how what they are doing affects others.
Question 4. "Is this what you want to happen?"
Now you are asking students to look within themselves and decide how they want to see themselves as persons and how they want to live their lives.
Question 5. "Where do you want to be?" or "What do you want to do now?"
These questions help students come to closure concerning a plan of action that will resolve the conflict between their behavior and the rights of others.
Question 6. "What will happen if you disrupt again?"
This question should always be asked, even if students have already reflected and decided to change how they want to be. The reason for being asked this question is for them to show a clear understanding of school procedures for those who continually disrupt, namely, to be sent to the Responsible Thinking Classroom, where they are taught to make effective plans for resolving their problems.
The foregoing questions should never sound like warnings to students. Warnings imply possible punishment. All they should do is lead students to think about what they are doing in relation to the rules wherever they are and consider, without being prompted, whether there might be a better course of action available to them.
About the Author C.M. Charles
C. M. Charles
The book, to be used by university students preparing to become teachers as well as teachers already in service, will be available from Allyn & Bacon Publishers and major book sellers in August, 2007.
Charles is author or originating author of more than 25 books, including The Synergetic Classroom (2000), Building Classroom Discipline 9th edition (2008), and Introduction to Educational Research 6th edition (2008, with Craig Mertler).
Now professor emeritus at San Diego State University, Charles earlier directed innovative programs in teacher education and five times received outstanding professor and distinguished teaching awards. He also served on many occasions as advisor in teacher education and curriculum to the governments of Peru and Brazil.