I've had few really close friends in life. Joe was one of them. I met him at a workshop I was giving in 1991, where he became excited by my ideas on discipline in education and on PCT. Up until that time, he was one of many educators who were frustrated by what was happening in their field. Joe became an instant supporter of mine. Joe was a man of very deep religious convictions, and he lived those convictions wherever he was.
His prayer life and devotion to God held the highest priority in his life. Next was his family-his wife, Betsy, and their two children, Joseph and Jaimi. Finally, his students and faculty and, fortunately for me, his devotion to what I was doing and for me personally. We were kindred spirits in many ways: our faith, our families, and our devotion to children. We would spend hours on the phone working through ideas. His parting comment would often be, after discussing some ideas he'd come up with, "I'll fuss with those ideas some more and let you know."
He was one of those rare human beings who thought things through, offering many creative ideas for whatever was on the table. Yet he never asserted himself, always remaining quiet among his peers, thinking and reflecting, and his obvious humility was apparent to all. When he was asked, his deep understanding and well-thought-out ideas would come out of him naturally, in an unassuming way, as if they were so obvious. And he had a delightful sense of humor. He'd always refer to himself as "Ed's Polish connection."
His bright smile and gentle manner hid the powerful thinker that he was. His concern and love for children was unparalleled. Once, a student who frequently found himself in trouble had disrupted one too many times and was sent home. The history of this child revealed rather extreme punishments by his parents, and there was genuine fear for this child. Joe decided that he would be the boy's parent.
From that time, when the child was disrupting to the degree that a call to his father was needed, he would "go home to Joe's office" and talk with this "school Dad." Joe is missed by all of us. He will be on my mind and in my prayers for as long as I live. He was a very special person. As Betsy said to me shortly after his death, "Ed, I've lost a best friend, and you've lost a best friend." She said it all.
Interview with Joe Sierzenga, 8-2-97
Conducted by Caroline Bourbon Young, at the time a special : education teacher with the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent : School District near Houston, Texas.
The following interview was conducted on August 2, 1997, in Ed Ford's backyard.
Joe Sierzenga and I sat down together and had a conversation about PCT, RTP, and life in general. It is still hard for me to believe that one month after this interview, we lost Joe in a tragic automobile accident.
Listening to the tape was a painful process, but I found myself smiling through some tears as I could hear the laughter in Joe's voice. PCT and RTP were so important to Joe, and his passion for the theory and the program are evident in his comments.
Caroline: There are a lot of things in the classroom that are closely aligned. There are other things I think you could really examine and question.
Joe: Going through my graduate classes, there was curriculum, there was administration, there was public relations, there was evaluations. My topic was the same through the whole thing: Applications of PCT in this area, and it went on from there. Why do we look at all of these theories when there is one that has applications. You don't need a thousand, you just need one!
When you are talking about mentoring, what are you doing? You are helping. You are making short adjustments. "It's not this, it's supposed to look like this. With some degrees of freedom built in, you can't have it exactly like this all of the time, but most of the time we want you within these perimeters." This isn't a discipline program anymore, or at least it shouldn't be. I think for anyone implementing this program, it cannot come from the board, it cannot come from an administrator, it has to come from another level. The lowest level, the teachers. It has to come from them, and they have to decide. I don't think we get a good commitment, because I don't think people really understand what they are committing to. It is that way in our district. We did it to be, what's the word I'm looking for, trendy or current. We are a leading edge school, we are doing this. What are you really doing? Well, we really don't know but the administrator knows what we are doing and that's all that matters. That, and it makes for nice conversations at teacher workshops, that we are doing all of this stuff.
Caroline: What kind of things do you think you should talk about as a school before you implement RTP, that relate to PCT but that aren't necessarily specific to the program?Joe: I would be interested in seeing a presentation on PCT, and then to say, how do you think this applies? Instead of having someone instruct the whole concept, allow them to construct it. This is what is says. What do you think it says in the area of staff development or conflict resolution? Does this have any applications there? Because we sit and we present and we expect people to have the same understanding, and it violates what we know about learning. It violates how people learn and process information.
Caroline: How does the way that we present things in the classroom align itself with PCT ideas?Joe: Some of our current practices already do. We do all of these drills on sequencing, and sequencing is a level. Why do we need mastery at this level? To be able to go up a level. There are some things we do that fit. We do these drills for on, over, under relationship levels. Why is it important to have control of that level? To be able to go up! In a classroom, you could explore those levels just by asking questions about up and down, over and under, and using activities.
Caroline: If you went into some schools where the RTP process is in place and did a sampling and asked the question, "What is the process?," you could get pretty close there. If you took that a step further to why, "Why do this, why do you want this process here, what is the basis here?," I'll bet that is where you'll get, "I don't know!"Joe: Well, the idea of how does it fit with the other things we are doing?
Caroline: We have talked about this idea before, of being able to go into a school and ask why something is being done. The response might be, "I don't know, because someone said we had to," or, "Because I heard it was the latest trendy thing." But to actually be able to say, "Because theoretically this is what I believe, and this is what the research shows, so that's why I am doing what I am doing," I don't think we see very much of that in schools. Joe: But see, with PCT, you get on shaky ground when you start talking about the research, and the acceptance of that research.
Caroline: That's true, but to be able to articulate your beliefs, though, and why you are doing what you are doing. Joe: The idea here is this. I am in an elementary that advocates authentic assessment, advocates student portfolios, advocates student-led conferences, now how could you run Lee Canter's Assertive Discipline Program in that same environment? They don't fit. Now, when you say why do we do student portfolios? They'll talk about student centered. Why do we do authentic assessment? They'll talk about student centered. You get into, why are we doing Assertive Discipline? I don't know why we are doing it! Does it fit with the other programs, but nobody asks that question. "Why, because I believe that kids need to be bribed and beaten." Yet we are wording it somehow differently. This component has nothing to do with learning at all. I guess the goal is compliance then, and really not learning. It won't fit. Those are questions we fuss with.
Caroline: Darleen (Martin, RTC teacher at Clarendon Elementary School) and I talked about that, because she said that she'll have teachers come and say, "The students are not learning because they are spending all of this time in the RTC and not in my class." Joe: The other issue there is, "Well, it's their choice to be there." Yes and no, because the teacher chooses the curriculum and the system of delivery, and all of these contingencies change day to day or moment to moment. A child is making choices based on some of the perimeters that have been arbitrarily set by the whim of the teacher so it is not exactly their choice. It may be their choice based on the choices you have made. There are intended and unintended things. There was a school in Michigan where the teachers got together and planned an activity week. They thought it was the next best thing to buttered bread, all of these choices, and it came off and the RTC was filled. There were too many choices, too many variables, and the kids were lost in it. They needed a little bit more structure, front end loading. They allowed the children to pick daily, so kids were changing their minds based on what their friends were doing. You had all of that going on, when all of these choices could have been made in advance and planned out. But yet, people said it was the kids who wrecked that week. Nobody really asked the question, "How did we co-author the problem?" That is a fundamental question! We always co-author things.
Caroline: You have to be reflective and be evaluating and assessing how what you are doing is contributing to what is going on. Because as the teacher, or whatever your role is in the school, you are affecting so much. Just like you said with that previous situation, was there some reflection going on there about, "OK, this is what happened, this is what the kids did, here is what we did, how did that go together?" Joe: Looking at the data, what happened here. Whose fault was it, and to what degree. I use the word fault because "the process isn't working" is what we always get in that situation, and it had nothing to do with the process! I mean, the process was in place, thank goodness. It was funny, though. When you are talking about self reflection, I know that every time I work with a student, I am not really working for the benefit of the student, I'm doing it for me. Because by doing what I do, it makes me fill the role that I perceive I need to be. If I did less, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. Teachers need to know, and all people need to understand, that what they do serves them, I believe, first, and then if there are secondary consequences that other people feel are beneficial, then that is good. If there are secondary consequences that aren't beneficial, they need to be reevaluated or looked at. That is the essence of the problem. I'm talking to Sally, that serves my purpose. But the unintended consequence, or a secondary consequence, is that I disrupt the teacher. I need to look at that. Now how the teacher looks at that, "OK, for me to fill this role of a teacher I need to interact with this child. Not for the benefit of the child, but for me to fill this perception I have of what a teacher is." It's that self-reflection of what I need to do. Therein lies the rub! Because we wear different hats. When the child is disruptive, I need to be the disciplinarian, I am no longer the teacher, therefor I mete out punishment and reward, because that is how I was taught. Teachers do this, to be a teacher this is what you do. In school systems, they evaluated teachers on class management and it had nothing to do with whether they could teach. The system has encouraged this type of thing, and you have to shift from all of that. "I suspended him for three days for his own good!" No, it is for your good, because you did what you thought you had to do as the administrator. If you wouldn't have done that, you wouldn't have been "the administrator." Teachers may have said, "Oh, he didn't do his job," so you did what you thought you had to do, for you! The child was just a part of it.
Caroline: So then, everything that you are doing comes back to your perception of yourself. Joe: Your systems concept of what you are, and I think it goes down that hierarchy. I think I am this, I have principles that reflect this, if I do this, that reflects this. To do anything less would put me in conflict with myself. Or, in conflict with other areas such as how did the teachers perceive me. If I'm more concerned with the teachers thinking I am a good disciplinarian, or a good whatever, I'm going to do this so when I go home at night thinking everybody likes me, if they like it or not that's secondary. I guess Ed talks about that this is the essence of stress, isn't it. That's where I think that schools that want to implement have to get that sense, that pitch. The process is basically secondary to the way of thinking about things.
Caroline: Is a teacher who is having a very hard time with using the questioning process going to have a very different systems concept for herself of what a teacher is, than another teacher who is using the process well? Joe: Your dad (Tom Bourbon) and I had a conversation and we were talking about this issue. Something that needs to be evaluated is, when you implement this program, this program does put teachers in conflict with themselves. They may have an idea that incentives, token economies, all of this other stuff works. It does work, it buys immediate compliance, you can't argue with that. "You're quiet for the next ten minutes, you get five minutes of recess." You've got ten minutes of quiet. So when you are asking teachers to do something different that takes longer and may not work at all, you never know, just like with the other ones that they try it may not work, they are caught. "What do I believe?" "What does the system believe should be done?" I'm struggling, and if I go back to giving the five minutes of recess, I've got people saying I'm not following the process. So you've got your employees in internal conflict, and depending on what action they take, it puts them in conflict with other systems that share their environment. We don't talk about that.
Caroline: What would you say from an administrative role, if you have always been in that position of, "I'm the heavy-handed administrator, and I'm going to be in control and discipline everyone," and then here comes this program like this? Joe: It puts you in a lot of internal conflict. I would like to play around with an assessment to determine if a district or school is even capable of implementing this program, and what I was thinking about is listing components of every discipline program there is, and then having them select twenty-five components that would make up their best discipline program, to them. "If you were to design a discipline program your way, what components out of this menu would you put into it." Then, have the RTP components in there. You could look at what they selected, and have them prioritize the most important, then compare those to the main components of RTP. You can see exactly how much conflict that staff is going to feel. If they think rewards and punishments and suspensions and detentions and all of those things are high priority, and the RTP components you are looking for are at a low priority, implementing is going to be problematic. You are going to put people in conflict with each other. It may be best to say we need to study it, we need to look at the issues, and we need to take more time before we go into it. What we do now is, "Does everybody agree we are going to do this?" "Yes, we agree." "Why? Because I want to get out of this meeting and if we don't agree we are going to be here for a long time so just tell me what I need to do." Or, "Mr. Sierzenga is a good friend of mine, and if I don't do it, he may not like me." So they agree for other reasons. The reason serves their purpose, whatever that is.
Caroline: I think that is an interesting idea because it would help to clarify priorities and goals. Joe: You could go back to a school and say, "No, we are not going to do this now. Why? Because this is what we have. If we go ahead, 80% of your staff will be in conflict with themselves, and with the administration, or with the implementation team, because they don't believe any of this stuff should be in a discipline program." If negotiation doesn't even make it to the list, you have got a serious problem!
Caroline: Also, if you see that there is a school that filled that out and it was close, but there were some big areas there that weren't in the list, then you could see right away, here's what we are probably going to have to work through. Joe: I've presented, and I've done some training, and I fuss around with this idea that you test for the controlled variables. I'll throw things out and look at how much comes back at me, and how intensely it comes back. At the mere mention of, "In our school we don't have any rewards, there are no token economies, we don't do a lot of sticker stuff," they are right on it. "Do we have to give this up?" It is their choice, but I know if they continue with that, they are never going to get there, because they are going to be using all of these other things, and they are going to be increasing the rewards and increasing the punishment before they ever consider using this other process. Then you have got the administrator, who has the responsibility at the board level, to the superintendent, to drive this program. By driving this program, it intensifies the conflict. Then you have rooms that are disruptive. Teachers may say, well if we were only doing things another way, I really don't believe in this. They don't mean to be malicious. They are making these statements to save themselves. We all do that. I don't like it, so I will place blame someplace else, I will give this excuse for why I am not effective, and if the lady buys it, then we are OK. No harm done. But there is harm done, because it goes back to that relationship level.
Caroline: I like the idea of the assessment before implementation. You might prevent a school from jumping in when they may have no understanding, for all of the reasons we have been talking about. Joe: "Well, I didn't know I had to do this," or, "I don't want to negotiate," or "I didn't know that negotiation meant this."
Caroline: So that would put a lot of that up front. Joe: It would allow the administrator to know where the teachers are, individually, not as a collective, but individually. You would be able to identify people that just need evaluation as opposed to supervision. Someone who needs supervision needs to be helped along. Other people just want to know, "Yeah, I believe all of this, how am I doing?" It is two different things. You can say, here is what you listed, here is this program, how are we going to resolve the conflicts that are inevitable? This is the direction we are deciding to go. Let's negotiate, can we meet you halfway, and when are we going to make the next transition? When are we going to eliminate this conflict? We don't do that yet. Something needs to be done. I think that would be a valuable assessment tool better than what we currently do. "What discipline program are you using, do you think it is good?" Everyone has their own program, and it is all operated under the school's program. We all take liberties within that.
Caroline: I have found through the research I have done with my dad that even if you ask all of the teachers in a school individually which program they are using, they may say, "Assertive Discipline," or "Boystown" and it means nothing. Because what the people who designed that program say it is, and what those teachers' perceptions of what that program is, and what they are actually doing in their classrooms are absolutely different things. Joe: We ran Assertive Discipline in our school, and I didn't run it. I didn't believe in the concept, I did something different. Why? Because I had already been there. It didn't work the last time I tried it, why am I going to go back to it? That is my big concern right now, assessing the schools ability to implement, and having the courage to walk away from the schools that aren't ready. Not to be mean and vindictive, just to say that you're not there yet. You need to do some things before you spend money looking at it, and when you are ready, call. If you find something that fits the profiles of individuals collectively, then do that, because you are probably going to be more successful, to a certain degree, at buying compliance at best, which serves teachers. Compliant students serve teachers, and they serve the idea of a learning environment.
Caroline: And if that's what the goal in your school is, then... Joe: Then don't be afraid to articulate it. To disagree would violate the whole thinking that we can't mandate this program. Then know going in that, we will never be a certified school, we will be an implementing school, and somehow we have to communicate on the web that being an implementing school isn't second class. There are people still not giving up, there is still hope. We don't look at kids in the RTC as second-class, they're not there yet. But anytime you start putting certifications, and this is certified, they're not, you sort of build a class system. We need to identify certified schools, but we need to also identify schools that are still willing to be in the trenches and implementing.
Caroline: What you are saying is that an implementing school is going through the learning process. Maybe you aren't as far along as a certified school, but that is not a bad thing. Joe: Take staff evaluations. What do we know about evaluations? For student evaluations, they should be varied. They should meet the needs of the students. They should be an assessment designed on what the student is expected to know. There is not one standard test we give all students every time they are assessed. We know it is good for kids to do a whole variety of assessments. In Michigan, when you look at teacher assessments, there is one, defined by the contract, to be used by the administrator to evaluate every teacher. So, what we know about kids, we don't apply to ourselves. People buy into the decision-making process we put kids through. Draw the connections between that with the questions. "What are you doing?" is identifying the problem. "What's the rule?" is identifying the social contingencies. "What happens if you don't follow the rule?" Now you are listing alternatives, which is the next thing we bring kids through in peer mediation and conflict resolution. "What are your options?" What do you want to do now, select your best option. If you violate this rule again, at least you know what the consequence is. When you use the questions, explain to your students that when they hear, "What are you doing," you are identifying that to you there is a problem out there. They need to reassess where they are and what they are doing that is causing you this disturbance. I think if they can see it that way, it draws a relationship to something they are already familiar with. It also fits in with some other things that were maybe mandated, and it gives them an idea of better utilization time instead of teaching this decision making. I can integrate, which is a novel idea. I can integrate these two things and get the net effect. I am looking to approach it that way. Start by just acknowledging that this program does put you in conflict in your school, and I understand that because you think it needs to be this way. I'm not saying you are right, you are wrong, just that this is the process we have decided on. And having the courage to say if you don't want to do it, let's pull the pin. You fight, discuss, compromise or consent with everybody else to do it this way, that's OK. That is something I want to fuss with.
Caroline: Could schools that are using the process ask teachers during an interview, "How do you discipline students," then compare the answers with the assessment instrument? Joe: I ask the question, "If you could create your school the way it should be, what are the main components? How would these people function?" You could do the same thing for discipline. "I want you to list the ten most important components to effective classroom management." You could do that. I go more to the point. "What is your psychological theory on learning and student behavior?"
Caroline: When someone is nervous already about being interviewed! Joe: Then they just look at me, and go, "Wow!" You've got to have one, what is it? Is it reinforcement theory, where are we going with this? You have been in a classroom. You've worked with kids, you've motivated kids.
Caroline: How many of them can't tell you anything? Joe: They don't have a clue. I'll say, well, in the area of student motivation. "Oh, we all do this and that." Then I say what theory is it? It is an assumption. They hear a little bit, they take what they like and apply it, and never really look at, "what does this really mean? If I really believe in this practice, what does the theory say behind it?" I do, I challenge them. If they don't want to work for me, that's fine. If they don't list the things that I want to hear, I'll just say, what if these aren't in line with what the school believes, how do we resolve that conflict? There is usually a long pause. Our interviews are very nontraditional. We go all over the board. I do team interviews, and any time I meet with a team there is one thing that is right up front. I have a right to reject any candidate without explanation, or with no rationale at all. Just I don't want this one. If people are willing to work with me in that framework, then that is what we do. But I don't believe I need to defend myself since I am ultimately responsible. I've done it the other way and it doesn't help. Because what I find is we will hire people, or we'll recommend people that we believe align with our own beliefs so they'll just fit in, and they won't make us look any worse, or any better, than we currently are. We'll hire people more like ourselves, instead of saying, I'm going to hire this person because they are going to stretch this program, or they are going to stretch me. I believe that's just the way we are. "If I am going to hire somebody, then I want them like me, so everything goes according to plan, and I don't have to do anything different." That's never discussed either, in the trendy ideas of cooperative hiring. That tendency to look for similarities. There is still a lot of work to be done.
Caroline: Tell me more about the assessment tool. Joe: What I'd like to do is find some ways to incorporate some of Phil Runkel's ideas out of Testing Specimens, and actually find ways to evaluate the program by applying disturbances and looking at what happens. Is the disturbance opposed, OK, fine, it is in there. But we do all traditional evaluations and statistics. Tell a kid he can't go to the RTC room. "Why can't I go?" There's something he is controlling for. It is in there. "I want to go there." I don't know how we can do that in assessment. I looked at what happened to us just recently with a faction breaking out and trying to eliminate the RTC process. To me that was a test for controlled variables. Applying a disturbance on this program, and looking at how many people are going to fight for it. That was very positive, it was the best evaluation we could have done. Because not only was this opposing the disturbance, there comes commitment now to make it work. You guys fought for this, it is no longer mine, it's yours now. You fought for it, I didn't oppose it. It says something about me, too. There was a disturbance there and there was no opposition. It's something I'm not controlling for. Bill Powers said something about, you control better by controlling less. Maybe sometimes you don't have to really try to control this process, but control less of the process. Let these control systems work through all of this stuff they are working through, that we just assume we can buy compliance with. We violate it, we use the process with kids, but then when we work with adults, they are just bigger kids. Sometimes we violate the whole thing. We set up a timeline. It is like sending a kid down to the RTC and saying you have to stay after school for twenty minutes, or you have to sit in the office for twenty minutes and then come back. How do you know when they are ready? When they are ready, they come back. When the staff is ready, they are going to be ready. We can't say we are going to be ready in a year, how do we know we are going to be ready in a year? Are they still willing to work with the process? If so, you've got a chance. But I think administrators get into this catch, or it brings you into competition. We are all competing to be certified. I am probably the only one who has an administrator certificate, and I'm a trainer and evaluator, in a non-certified school. To me, that's OK. We are still in the game. We are still fussing with this internal conflict within each individual teacher. We really didn't need this program going in. All of these things factor into it, and the longer they are into it, the more they see it fitting in and serving their purpose. The teachers find that as long as they stay within the process, they are protected and supported by the administration. They go outside the perimeters, there is not a lot I can do because publicly we stated this is what we do. Now, I don't believe I am not supporting teachers, but when you are acting outside of this publicly stated process, you're wrong. There are some issued of ethics there. You can't lie to the public that we serve. They know that this doesn't fit, because you have trained them. You talked to them, they have read the books. We think the process is just all too simple. At times it does sound all too simple. It is only until you start to look at the PCT part of it that you figure, it is never simple. I believe, my opinion only, that when you sign a contract to work for somebody, for compensation, you are voluntarily giving up degrees of freedom when you are there. There seems to be this attitude right now that, I am working for you but I still can do anything I want to do. We sort of missed that issue, in that we are all part of the same organization, so you can't have all of these independent players. You have got to have people willing to give up the same things for the benefit of the students. Somehow we moved away from that, somehow it isn't acceptable to do those things because we have educational freedom rights. Somehow we are gifted with this knowledge that our way is the best way. I think maybe some would argue the point that we violate our theory. I'm just saying that in the trenches, in the day-to-day, you don't have all people understanding. They don't do it intentionally, but, if they want to please, or have people come in to look at their school, my big fear is that this program will become exactly that. A fad that was used for individual ego, and that is my biggest fear.
Caroline: We are talking now about having classes and training in PCT because we are seeing that there were some people who jumped in to the program without a real understanding of the theory. Joe: I met Ed, it was either in 1991 or 1992. It was in a trainer-of-trainer workshop. At that time it was control theory i.e. Glasser/Ed Ford/PCT/Bill Powers. It was a 14 day training session, and in that 14 days we learned nothing but theory, role playing, and asking questions. Out of 28 people that were trained for 14 days, there is only one person actively doing something. That was an intensive training. At the time, the thinking was that people aren't interested in theory, just give them the "Do this, do that." I think Ed is looking at the fact that there are people interested in the theory. Tim Carey in Australia is a living example, and Mark Hamel in Texas. There are still a lot of nuts and bolts questions on how this process happens, what do you do with this child, but there are theoretical questions. There are more theoretical questions. I think it is mandatory. It has to be, and it has to be from this general framework of, "This is what it is, what does this mean to you?" Nobody else knows, there is no program, how do you see it in your life. If this theory is the way it is, give some examples. Give some examples in your life of you looking at a situation and processing it from this point of view. Try to identify the variables. Once again, drawing back on their own experiences. Maybe it is a constructivist point of view, but I think that is the way it should be. Because it is through experiential levels that we get a concept. What do we need a concept of? Of PCT. How do we get there? We have got to get people to experience it, and not just sit there passively listening, but processing experiences they have to fit in with PCT. We do that all of the time. For example, my wife wants me to do something, she reminds me. Well, that fits stimulus-response. You ask me to do something, this happens. But there could be a whole other set of dynamics there. I went and did it, not because she reminded me, but because I don't want the conflict to escalate. A prime example of this was the last time your dad and Ed were at our house. I came in and picked up Ed's stuff and put it in the car, then came in and picked up your dad's stuff and put it in the car. Now, it was Ed being a smart-aleck, he said, "That was nice of you to pick up our suitcases and put them in the car." I said, "Ed, you're assuming I did that for you. I did that because when I got home, I didn't want to hear my wife saying, why didn't you carry their luggage, you know that's how we treat a guest. You perceived it as doing this nice, kind act for you. So you have to start looking at other possibilities of what you see. The motive may not be there at all. I wasn't trying to be nice to the primary participants because they were rude to me at breakfast, and I figured hey, let them carry their own stuff. But seriously, that is when we have to start thinking about other possibilities, that it is not just what we see, but there could be other things happening that may not be the intent at all.
Caroline: Going back to developing some training specifically about PCT, I think you do have to bring it to the experiential level for the participants. Joe: It doesn't have to get as deep as Tim (Carey) has brought it, because you don't have to get that deep. Just to have a sense of it, and be able to apply it in your own life. To say, OK, this is the way it is, now let me fuss with it and see what happens. Not that your life is going to be harmonious, but that you understand what happened. When it is all done, you go back and think, Oh, now I understand it. It doesn't mean I still agree with it, and I still have my own things I am dealing with, but I have a better sense of what went on. You learn to assume less and ask more.
Caroline: Tell me about the webbing you do with your students. Joe: It is a two-sided web. On one, it lists the intended consequences, what you did and what are the intended consequences. There are a lot of lines there, usually you don't fill them up. On the other side, it asks what the unintended consequences are of whatever it is you were doing. Then I have what are the unintended consequences from the perspective of the teacher. In this discussion, they are possible unintended consequences. They are just our best guess at why this person had a problem with what I was doing. It goes down into, what do you think the unintended consequences were from the perceptions of your classmates. Now these are just all possibilities. We don't know, they are just guesses, that is all we have. How do we figure out, from the student's point of view, how do we know we are accurate on any of these? How do we find that information out? "We probably should ask the teacher." Fine, go negotiate with the teacher and ask her. "This is what I was doing. Did I unintentionally do some of these things?" If your purpose was to disrupt the teacher, just write it down, I just wanted to disrupt, or get to, or bug, the teacher. This process still goes on the same way. But it gets into the idea that, maybe when you do those things, she doesn't see herself as being a good teacher. It's not necessarily what you are doing, but now it is how she perceives herself and you in relation to the other kids. It is a whole other discussion. It gives teachers more to talk about, and it takes this narrow discussion and allows it to flex. More degrees in there. There are a whole bunch of things that you can talk about.
Caroline: You are helping kids, and teachers, develop an understanding of unintended consequences. Do you do that as part of the planning process, or is it something you are still looking at? Joe: I've discussed it with Ed. I've just been experimenting. I put the ideas together, I run it through Ed. He says, fuss with it in your school. So I look at what we do as planning and development. We are sort of a research branch, we just fuss with things. That is where the student planning came from. It was just an idea, we ran with it, it worked, teachers didn't get out of control with it, and Ed said fine, we could use the rooms for that. It keeps them full, keeps people employed, and it serves kids. But it (webbing) does have some possibilities. Kids don't think in those terms. "I don't know what her problem is." Let's think about it, let's make some guesses, and then let's go check it out. Sometimes, you will hear, "I didn't realize she didn't feel that she was a good teacher when I did those things." Some kids will say, "Hell, I don't care." Wow, well we still need to talk about that. It moves that whole negotiation and discussion off of what's the rule, what are you going to do, promise to be good. That kind of stuff. You have to be a secure teacher to go on that level, but it just seems more human to me. That all came out of a discussion of trying to brainstorm some of the unintended stuff. This little girl had no idea that there were unintended consequences. "I just thought it was obvious to everybody, and I broke a rule." Well, yeah, you broke a rule, but why is this particular configuration of words and the concept it has for that teacher, so important to that teacher. It has to be more there than just that. Let's get to where you know what this means in relationship to you and the relationship to this class. Maybe kids can't process information that high. I think they can.
Caroline: That discussion takes it up a level. It is past the whole level about a rule, and what is the rule. Joe: It gets beyond what I call just program level. We are running a program, this is a program, these are the steps, if I say these words I get here. If you can take it up, maybe you are more effective. I don't think kids realize that teachers may go home and cry at night because they don't think they are very good at what they do. I don't think kids understand that. "Oh, it's just their job. They get paid to do that. They don't really care about being good." I don't think they know that. It is not because they don't want to, it is because nobody sat down and taught them that. I was teaching P.E. once, and the word "suck" came from a student. "This sucks." It was really popular, it was a problem in the school, and we had several staff meetings on what we were going to do to solve this problem. I was in my P.E. class, and I just stopped the class, and I sat everybody down, and I said, "Look, for me to have a relationship with my God on Sunday, I can't have this word used here. I am asking you, just respect that. I am not saying it is right or wrong, good or bad, but for me to go and talk to my God on Sunday, I can't have it this way." "Oh, gee, Mr. Sierzenga, we didn't realize." All of the sudden, I was dealing with God here. I said, "Can we just figure out another word to use?" One kid said stinks. I said, "I can live with my God with this word." So we go back to playing, and this kid made a mistake, and I hear, "This sucks." I just stopped, and I didn't even turn around. "Sorry, Mr. 'Zienga, it stinks." We never had a problem again. But all of the sudden, now it isn't the rule, it isn't the word, in fact this word to me means something other than suck. For me to pray, I can't have it. It is incompatible for me. They didn't have any problem with that. It made sense to them. Now, people said I was crazy for bringing up God in school. I wasn't teaching any religion, I wasn't talking about any particular God, just my God. You just bring those kids up there to that level.
Caroline: Tell me more about unintended consequences, from the teachers and the staff. The big buzz down where I am is about being a reflective teacher. That really goes along with examining, "this is what I perceived, and what I was doing, but what were the unintended consequences, as the teacher." Joe: What does it mean to be reflective? That whole process of reflecting, I look at it as evaluating, how conflicted am I at the time? Right now, how much conflict do I have within myself. If I have no conflict, then I will say, this was great. These are really nice experiences. If I have some conflict, then I might say, oh, that didn't go very well, maybe I need to do something. I think reflection is good for, sort of a cleansing. It allows you to systematically evaluate how you feel at that particular moment. It does more for you than it does for the kids, I think. I always find that when I write things, I feel better. A lot of these ideas go in my drawer, but I know they are written down somewhere. I still feel better about it. They have no impact on the rest of the world, but I was able to come to terms with some of the things that just weren't compatible with what I thought needed to happen. You are right, it is a buzzword that nobody really explains. "Oh, reflection, I sit here and think." I could sit here and reflect what a jerk this kid was all day long. OK, fine, I wrote ten pages about what a jerk he was, and I missed the whole point. I still feel terrible. Or maybe I reflect that this place stinks. No, the place is a good as I will it to be. This is just the way I think now. Not that it is all that I think about, it is just the way I think.
Caroline: Is certification what you are struggling with at your school? Joe: Well, any time you have competition, you have the haves and the have-nots. You have created a peered system, and they tend not to work very well with each other. It is nice to acknowledge that people are going to reach that temporary level. The question is, can you sustain it? Or do you set new expectations? The other thing that concerns me is, it is crucial that people are honest about what is going on in their school, and how well the program is doing. I know when your dad and Ed came to evaluate our school, I said, "Tom, I know exactly where all of the problems are." He said, "Well, do you want to look at my list when we are done, or do you want to tell me now." I said, "I'll tell you now. I'll be up-front. Then you go see if you can verify those." He came in, and he said, "Yes, it is just about the way you described it." I think people should know. They shouldn't need someone to come in to find out what is not going on. They should be able to say, "This isn't happening, this is happening, this is what I sense happening here." But it is that quest for certification. I know that I could have Ed and Tom come tomorrow to our school, and I could orchestrate a certification. I could, without a doubt. I could manipulate it, it is not that hard to do. There are some schools that aren't doing as well as they say they are. It has to do with honesty and integrity. The idea is that somehow I am less than what I am if I am not doing what you think I should be doing. I don't think this is all about making people feel less than who they are. Because you (the certification team) are going to leave and our life is going to go on anyway.
Caroline: Hopefully, if you are willing to admit you are struggling, you can change. If you are not willing to be honest about it, then how can the situation improve, because you are not going to be willing to ask for guidance. Joe: I think any school, or any administrator, or any teacher, once they stop perceiving themselves as a learner in this process and consider themselves a teacher of the process, there is a danger there. You are going to go backwards. I made this statement to the lady who worked our RTC room. I would make suggestions, and she would come back to discuss. I would say, "Two months ago you perceived me as a teacher. You were willing to take my suggestions and act on them. Now you perceive yourself as an employee and no longer a learner, and we are going to have problems. I have been at this for eight years, and I still don't know squat about what it is I am talking about. I may know a little bit more than you, but I am not there yet. So how can you all of the sudden stop perceiving me as a teacher." I think we have that. We have gone through the training and the inservices. We listen to everything. We have the program so I am no longer a learner. Then we want to impress other people be explaining how knowledgeable we are. There is a school, Brooklyn Elementary, in Michigan. Judy Horning, she is working her tail off on this. She always calls, never once has she talked about being knowing. I say, "Judy, why don't you have a school come in?" "I don't know enough about this to have a school come in," she says. Here is a lady whose school is making progress. Then I see all of these other schools and they are not even there yet. The idea here is that I sat for the required number of minutes in a chair, and I listened, so now I know, and now I become an expert. There isn't anything you need to know or learn. Then if I do this program, I will have other people come in and look at this program because it is new and it is different, and we get recognition for not doing very much work. I think people should be able to, when they have schools visiting, they should right up front point out the weaknesses, because the strengths should be apparent. They should not have to point out the strengths of the program, that should be noticed. But you should be able to say to them, "Now look, when you go out there, this is what you are going to see, and this is what you are not going to see, and this is what we need to do more work on." We don't do that.