Freedom (choices) is one of our basic needs. Changing from a teacher controlled classroom to one where students are given more freedom is difficult for many teachers. In fact, I think it is in our “teacher DNA” to control everything in our class. Why? For many, that’s how we experienced school. My teachers controlled everything and I assumed that is how I was supposed to teach. Indeed, the biggest obstacle to school change is our memories.
When I learned about William Glasser's Control Theory about basic needs three years ago from Diane Gossen and Joel Shimoji, I discovered that a classroom could look and feel different. I learned that if I could meet the basic needs of students, I would have a happier class. Indeed, a happier class leads to more learning.
Meeting the basic needs of students, however, meant I would have to abandon the “total control” mindset. One of the things I would have to do was meet the freedom need of my students. It was not as easy as I thought. So, how did I begin the transition to a more student centred class? Diane Gossen recommended I ask myself one simple question: Is it important?
What does “Is it important” mean? If a student asked me a question, for example, if he or she can sit on the floor to complete a project, the old me would have said, "no." I used to think that the only place for students was in his or her chair. Now I ask, "Is it important if the student does not sit at his or her chair?" Of course not. Another student may ask, "May I listen to my ipod?" My immediate reply before would have been, "No!" Now I just say, "yes, if you are working alone and we can't hear your music.
There are instances, however, when it IS important to you. For example, if not eating in class is important to you, then you will say no if a student asks to eat. Moreover, listening to ipods in class may be something that you just won’t accept. I think about it this way: If a request is made that interferes with the learning of others, that student has to think of a different way to meet the freedom need.
A teacher receives many requests from students. Each time you get a question ask yourself, is it important? This simple question is the first step to transition from a teacher controlled environment to one with more freedom for students. Indeed, challenge your memories all the way to a happy class where students can flourish.