Teacher Tool #3

Developing an Internal Locus of Control

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Locus of Control Defined
Locus of control means where you see your feelings as
coming from, what you see as the cause of them. Most people,
including most teachers, have an external locus of control.
They wrongly believe that what others say and do, and what
happens, makes them feel the way they do, or causes them to
feel the way they do. Just listen to the way people, including
teachers, talk about how their feelings come about. For
example, you're much more likely to hear a teacher say "These
kids are driving me crazy" or "This job is stressing me out" than
"I'm driving myself crazy" or "I'm stressing myself out".  

It's perfectly understandable to look at things that way for a
number of reasons. Our feelings usually come so quickly after
an event that it's hard to imagine there's is any intervening
variable. Plus, we usually grow up surrounded by people who
look at things that way.  
Having an external locus of control, and looking at things this
way, puts us at the seeming mercy of what others say and do.
Doing that usually results in us feeling worse than we need to,
for longer than necessary. More importantly, we end up
missing opportunities to feel better. By looking at things this
way, we set things up in our mind so that others have to
change for us to feel better. What if they never do. What is
some kids never start behaving better, or never start working
harder? Does that mean we are stuck feeling the way we do?

When we have an external locus of control, we also give
others, and our life events power and control over how we feel
that they really don't have. We give away power and control
we do have over our emotional destiny, probably without
realizing it.
How feelings really come about
There's a formula for feelings.  We get taught all kinds of
formulas for how life works while we are in schools, but few of
us have ever been taught this formula that governs every
moment of our lives.


What this formula tells us is that anything that happens, or that
others say or do is just an EVENT in our lives. Events can be
real, remembered or imagined. However, it's what we choose to
think about those events that really determines how we feel.
Thoughts cause feelings, not events. Attitudes are always the
father of behavior. And behavior will always follow someone's
emotions toward his/her life events.

You see evidence of this everywhere in everyday life, including
in schools. One teacher will sternly reprimand a student for a
behavior, and another will wink and smile at the same behavior.
In their book "Changing Problem Behavior in Schools", Dr. Alex
Molnar and Barbara Lindquist say:
"There can be no question as to what the student did, but the
teachers response will be determined by the meaning he/she
attaches to the behavior".

Dr. Albert Ellis developed the ABC Theory of Emotions over a
half-century ago. The A stands for Activating Event. The B
stands for someone's Beliefs about the event, themselves,
others and life. C stands for Consequences, or what someone
feels or does as a consequence of what he/she believes
about the activating event, him/herself, others and life.  

Activating Event + Beliefs = Consequences (Feeling,

It's like that formula we all learn in math class, a + b = c.
Where a is a constant, and b is a variable. If a stays the same,
and you change b, c changes. Likewise, if you the event stays
the same, and you change what you think or believe about it,
you're feeling changes, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the
Cognitive Choices
We all have a host of cognitive choices. Those choices include:

How we LOOK AT things
MEANING we attach to what happens
What we
REMEMBER about the past
What we
IMAGINE will happen in the future
What we
What we
COMPARE things to
What we
EXPECT of ourselves, others and life
How much
IMPORTANCE we attach to what happens

We make these choices constantly, usually without realizing
that we are. The reason is that we've practiced and rehearsed
the way we make such choices so much in the past that the
way we make them automatically. That makes us unaware that
we are making them, or that we even have such choices. the
way people make such choices often cause them to needlessly
feel worse than they need to, for longer than necessary, and to
say or do things that make life worse for them and others.  

Abraham Maslow calls that being Unconsciously Incompetent.
When people start to realize they have such choices, and they
make them in unhealthy, self-defeating ways, they become
Consciously Incompetent. When they start to deliberately make
their choices in healthier ways, he calls that being Consciously
Competent. With practice and rehearsal, people eventually
become Unconsciously Competent. This would
equate with having he "mindset" Dr. Marzano talks about.

In order to make this transition, we have to constantly remind
ourselves of what our choices are. For example:

It's my choice how I LOOK AT things
It's my choice what
MEANING I attach to what happens
It's my choice what I
REMEMBER about the past
It's my choice what I
IMAGINE will happen in the future
It's my choice what I
It's my choice what I
COMPARE things to
It's my choice what I
EXPECT of myself, others, and life
It's my choice how much
IMPORTANCE I attach to things

If the way we make these choices really determines how we
feel, then logically, it's also true that:

It's my choice how I want to FEEL

Some other helpful ways to look at things, and to remind
ourselves of are:

No one upsets me, I upset myself
I'm responsible for how I feel, not others
It's not their problem if I feel bad, it's mine
It's not their job to make me feel better, it's mine
Common Misunderstandings
The first time my friend told me "It's your choice how you want
to feel", I didn't take it very well. Most people don't, especially if
they are upset at the time. It sounded like he was saying:

"You shouldn't feel the way you do"
"It's your fault you feel the way you do"
"There's something wrong with you for feeling that way"
"You're making a big deal out of nothing"
"It's okay those kids said and did what they did"

Some interpret it as "blaming the victim". But what my friend
was really trying to do was teach me to not be a victim, to not
put myself at the mercy of my students. He knew that if I did,
they would be more likely to continue misbehaving, regardless
of what consequences they might suffer.

What he was really saying is that there is always more than
one way to look at anything. That's a fact of life. Whatever way
we do is understandable given that we're human, and what's
happened to us. But some of those ways we might choose will
make us feel better, and others will make us feel worse. Some
will make it easier to deal with things we don't like, others will
make it harder. And we do have a choice. We always do.

I like to picture one of those old fashioned doctor's scale
where a nurse slides a weight left or right to get the scale to
balance. On the left side is the view that
"Anything I think, feel,
say or do is understandable"
. On the right side is the view "It's
my choice how I look at things, how I feel, and what I say and
. The trick is to find the right balance between these two
seemingly opposing points of view. Sometimes it makes sense
to slide to the left, but if we ever want to feel better, we have
to slide to the right,  We have to recognize and remind
ourselves that "It's my choice how I LOOK AT things, and how
I FEEL".  
Semantic Precision and Correctness
It's important that we start speaking about how our feelings
come about in semantically, and scientifically more precise or
correct ways. If we keep misspeaking, we continue to feel
worse than we need to, for longer than necessary, and keep
missing opportunities to feel better. We also keep needlessly
giving away power and control we have over our emotional
destiny, and giving others and events power and control they
really don't have.

Others don't make us angry. We make ourselves angry by the
way we choose to look at things. Our jobs and kids don't stress
us out, We stress ourselves out by the way we choose to look
at things. No one can put pressure on us. We put pressure on
ourselves because of the way we choose to look at things. No
one can hurt our feelings. Sometimes we end up feeling hurt
because of the way we choose to look at other people, and
what they say or do. As
Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

"No one can make you feel bad about yourself without your   

No one can makes us happy, and we can't make them happy
either. They just simply give us events that we can choose to
be happy about, or choose not to. As
Abraham Lincoln said,

"A man is about as happy as he makes up his mind to be"

Anger, stress, pressure, hurt, low self-esteem, or happiness,
all come from inside us, not outside us. Anything others say or
do, or that happens is just an event. How we end up feeling is
a product of the choices we make, choices that no one else
can make for us, unless we let them. People let others do that
all the time. But with practice, we can learn to stop doing that.
Dr. Victor Frankl famously said,

"Everything can be taken away from us but the last of human
freedoms. To choose one's own attitude in any given set of
circumstances - to choose one's own way"

There's an old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
So is everything else. It all depends on how we choose to look
at things.  As Dr. Chris Eisenbarth says,

                  "Life is mind made"
How should you look at things
When my friend explained to me that it was my choice how I
wanted to look at things, I asked him

"How am I supposed to look at things?"  

He said,

"You can look at things anyway you want to. Right now you're
looking at having those kids in your class as being a problem.
Why not look at it as being a challenge, or opportunity to
prove you're as good a teacher as you and I both think you

From that day forward, if you had a student no one knew how
to deal with, give him/her to me. That's just one of a number of
ways of looking at things that helped the second half of my
career be better than the first. Another was:

"Whatever they say or do is just an event. It's what I get paid
to deal with. And I'm supposed to know how to do that better
than people walking the streets."
Then I would take pride in being able to deal with kids,
especially the most troubled and troublesome, better than
other teachers, and better than I did before.

In everyday life, my attitude was:

"It's just an event. It's just something I have to deal with, just
like others do, just like I have before, and just like I'll  
probably have to in the future".

Anxiety is a figment of imagination. It's about things that
haven't happened yet. Things that could, but often never do.
One way to deal with anxiety is to tell yourself,

"That might happen, but it hasn't happened yet. And if it
does, I'll deal with it, just like others do, just like I have other
things before".

This technique is called "Staying in the now". One way to
define an anxiety disorder is that you spend too much time in
your imagination. Repeating this out loud short circuits that.
Frozen Perceptions
In the book "Changing Problem Behavior in Schools", Alex
Molnar and Barbara Lindquist talk about
"frozen perceptions"
that develop in teachers about students. They suggest that
when teachers have chronic problems with students, these
"frozen perceptions" are usually part of the problem. Their
suggestion, try choosing to look at things differently, behave in
ways according to that, and see what happens.

Teachers come to the profession with many cognitive "ruts"
about how to deal with kids from their own upbringing. Some of
those make some teachers "naturals" at dealing with kids.
Other thoughts, beliefs or attitudes will cause teachers to make
a lot of mistakes with students, especially the most troubled
and troublesome ones. Those don't always become apparent
until teachers are in classrooms. Some never realize the
dysfunctional nature of their ways of looking at kids and what
they do because anger gives them a false sense of power,
righteousness, permission and protection.

There are some simple questions we can and often need to
ask ourselves:

1)  What do you really want?  How do you want to feel?

Sometimes people struggle at first to answer these two
questions. However, it's important that people do, and keep
their answers in mind at all times. The next questions are:
2)  How's it working for you to think or look at things the way
you do now? Does it make it easier or harder to get what
you really want, and to feel the way you'd like to feel?
3)  If you keep thinking or looking at things that way, will it be
easier or harder to get what you want, and feel the way
you'd like to feel in the future?

The answers to questions 2 and 3 are usually obvious once
you answer question 1. They just need to be asked.

One of those old time comedians used to do a skit that went
like this:

"I went to my doctor and said, 'Doc, it hurts when I do this'.
He said, 'So stop doing that'"

If it's not working for you to think or look at things the way
you do now, then stop doing it.

JFK once said,
"The problems of man are man-made. They
can be solved by man"

The vast majority of problems people have start with the way
they or others choose to look at things.  

Albert Einstein said,
"You can't solve a problem with the
same mind that created it"
Troubled and troublesome students
I've already shared one way I look at troubled and troublesome

They're not a problem. There a challenge or opportunity to
prove how good a teacher you are"

Another way I view dealing with them comes from a now
cancelled TV drama series called "The Golden Boy". A burly
veteran detective tells the rookie:

"Inside every person are two dogs fighting, one good, one bad.
The one that wins is the one you feed the most"

Too often, we end up feeding the wrong dog in classrooms and
schools. We've got to start feeding that other dog.

The last day I met with the three oldest of my "Tool Time" kids
was just before they graduated on time, instead of having
dropped out. One named Kyle said, "We were asses when you
first started group, but you never gave up on us. Why?"
I told him something I truly believe. It's a way of looking at
troubled and troublesome students that I think can be very
helpful in dealing with them.

"Because I believed that inside each one of you was a kid
who just wanted the same kind of life he saw other kids
have, and just never knew how to get that for himself, and
probably had given up hope. That's the kid I went looking
for every time we met. That's the kid I wanted to talk to and
teach everything I know"

I think that's always going to be our best hope with any
troubled and troublesome student, or even juvenile and adult

Remember, "mindset" is always key to everything. No way
we choose to look at things will ever change what's already
happened. It just affects how we end up feeling, and how
easy or hard it is to move forward. You always want to
choose a way that makes going forward easier, not harder.
The Miracle Cure
One amazingly effective strategy for dealing with chronic
conflict or problem situations with student is call The Miracle
Cure. You imagine that a troublesome student goes home, and
overnight takes a pill that turns him/her into the student you
would like them to be. Then you imagine how you would think,
feel, say and do things differently if they turned into the student
you always  wanted him/her to be overnight. Then, the next
day in class, try doing those  things with the student and  see
what happens.
One of my mentors used to say that too often we expect
those who are least able to change, to change first and
change the most. We need to be willing to change first, and
change the most. The Miracle Cure strategy is an example of
doing so. It's amazing how well it works. I once suggested a
young math teacher try that with one of my "Tool Time" kids
she was struggling to get along with. The next day I got an
email from her saying he was a model student that day.