Application of Choice Theory in Teaching and Parenting

By Victor E. Dike

There are certain things everyone involved in education and leadership should know to better perform the duties in the position. After applying the lessons learned from Choice theory this writer has discovered how effective it is as a tool in the art and craft of teaching-in classroom management and dealing with challenging students. The lessons learned from Choice theory could also help a family or community to get closer and take care of one another.

Choice theory is based on the principles that the only behavior we can control is our own; that we can't change the past, but can only satisfy our present needs. It also posits that external control, which is widespread at home, work and school, causes people to revolt or resist when they are forced to behave in a way outside their personality. According to Choice Theory all unhappy persons have similar problems: "they are unable to get along well with the people they want to get along with" (p.5), because human beings tend to control others. Thus ‘to achieve and maintain the relationships we need we' it is recommended that we ‘must stop choosing to coerce, force, compel, punish, reward, manipulate, boss, motivate, criticize, blame, complain, nag, badger, rank, rate, and withdraw' (p.21). Put differently, one must listen, respect, and care about other people's feelings and opinion, instead of applying external control mechanism because we cannot control anyone else, but ourselves.

However, laissez faire is not an option. Parents, teachers and employers must set standards because partial learning, careless work and poor behavior often result from classrooms, homes and workplaces without well-defined and enforceable standards. Choice Theory notes that human behavior is made up of four components: acting, thinking, feeling, and physiology (p.72).

William Glasser blends theory with practice and choice theory with reality therapy and uses the lessons to help his patients deal realistically with their personal problems. According to him, if each party in a sour relationship would stop the blame game they could get along better. As noted earlier, Choice Theory could help teachers and parents to effectively control disruptive students at school or change a child's misbehavior at home. Thus instead of using the ‘boss-management' method that would not be effective in solving problems, William Glasser recommends the application of ‘lead-management' that is grounded on Choice Theory. He notes that bosses (and political leaders) often fail to lead effectively because they apply force and punishment in correcting people's infractions. For him leaders could succeed without using force and punishment. Thus non-bossing approach could allow students and workers achieve quality work through self-evaluation rather than through external control.

William Glasser tells a story about a man whose wife abandoned and observed that his only choices would be to change what he wants her to do and thus the way he is dealing with her. He, however, warned that doing these things might not bring his wife back, but it would help the man to feel better. "When we actually begin to realize that we can control only our own behavior, we immediately start to redefine our personal freedom and find, in many instances, that we have much more freedom than we realize."

William Glasser sees conscious or unconscious desire for external control as the main problem in major personal relations: husband-wife, parent-child, teacher-student, and manager-worker. Ordinarily one would have the feeling or believe that "it is right …moral obligation, to ridicule, threaten, or punish those who don't do" what we ‘tell them to do.' Again, one of the lessons is that a complete absence of effort to control or judge others in any relationship (home, work or school) could make human relationship better. On education, William Glasser has noted that failing students is inherently "abusive.'' He argues that a student who can't understand a particular reading assignment, for example ‘Shakespeare' (p.240), could be assigned another book, because the main purpose of education should be to nurture a love for lifelong learning in all students, not to kill it.

But this writer does not align with the prescription of not ‘failing' a student. However, teachers, in an ideal situation, don't give out grades, but record grades earned by students. A teacher guides students in their course of learning and evaluates them to collect data, information or feedback to determine the effectiveness or quality of teaching and learning. And to effectively determine the problems students are facing or their rate of achieving the set educational objectives, such appraisal (oral test, a project or in-class examination) should be continuous. And the tools of evaluation must be valid and reliable. Also, good parents often appraise the behavior of their children. In fact, evaluation does not end until a score is awarded.

In summary, Choice theory could enable teachers, to some extent, tackle classroom challenges, build better student-teacher relationships and develop a better learning community. It could also help teachers deal with parents who are unable to discipline their children at home (some children, particularly American children, abuse their freedom), but expect the teachers to assume additional responsibility of parenting their children. It is not easy for human beings to change their actions, but it could be done. Without equivocation this writer recommends Choice Theory to parents, teachers, students and managers.


William Glasser (1998) Choice Theory, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 352 pages. A renowned psychiatrist who has worked with choice theory for over 40 years, Glasser is the president of the William Glasser Institute, Los Angeles. His other books include Reality Therapy, The Quality School, and Getting Together and Staying Together.

Victor E. Dike, author of Leadership without a Moral Purpose: A Critical Analysis of Nigerian Politics and Administration (with emphasis on the Obasanjo Administration, 2003-2007), North Charleston: South Carolina, BookSurge Publishing, 2009. See also and