RET, or Rational-Emotive Thinking is a popular model of behavior modification that teaches how we can get along better with ourselves by means of disciplining our thoughts and emotions; with self-disciplined and balanced thoughts and emotions our behavior has no other choice but to fall in line. According to this school of thought, our mental state, either positive (e.g. feeling enthusiastic and hopeful) or negative (e.g. feelings of frustration and mortification) do not directly link with the factual event or what happened (e.g. class was unruly), but they link directly with how we think about what happened (e.g. “I cannot control my class”). For instance, thinking that we do not have the skills to control an unruly class can easily lead to feelings of discouragement and giving up on students. Conversely, believing that although we had a rough day, we do have the skills and endurance to get better behavior from children takes us primarily to feeling both excited and challenged (e.g. “What a lousy day I had today! Okay, what did I miss? What do I need to do differently tomorrow morning so that I can deliver more motivating and engaging lessons?”). RET is both empowering (i.e. we are in charge of our thoughts, feelings, and emotions) and action-oriented. About the latter, RET teaches us that, if we do not like how we are feeling about our class, the first thing we need to do is to change the way we think about the class, for example, perceptually shifting from “unruly class” to “unmotivated class.” Simply put, RET helps us focus on alternative ways of perceiving and interpreting old problems, reminding us that we are the ones responsible not only for what we think, but for how we feel and what we do in response to what we think. Even when we feel dissatisfied with our unruly class, we do not need to feel distraught or discouraged by the situation. Dissatisfaction should lead to changes (e.g. in teaching style, strategies, and/or planning), not to emotional turmoil and low self-confidence.
Wrapping up, according to RET, we achieve emotional health by learning to think more the way we want to feel and think less the way that we do not want to feel. Consistent with rational-emotive principles, here are some guidelines to help us feel vibrant and energized from Monday mornings to Friday evenings:
1. Stop blaming yourself for errors and mistakes. Tackle errors and mistakes by using more self-correction (i.e. corrective thoughts) and less self-blame and self-condemnation.
2. Consistently monitor your thoughts, so that you can catch distraught or irrational thinking (i.e. thoughts that cannot be supported by evidence), switching it into better-adjusted rational thinking (i.e. thoughts that can be supported by evidence). Honestly but fairly, examine your thought processes so that you clarify your beliefs about difficult situations such as an unruly class or a habitually disruptive student. Mentally dispute any self-defeating belief that is putting you down. For example, ask yourself, “Where is the proof that I’m such a failure as a teacher? How can this belief be disproven? Where does it say that teaching needs to be hassle-free?” Sensitivity to our feelings, both positive and negative, through self-awareness of those specific thoughts that trigger the feelings is considered a preventive tool in avoiding troubling emotions.
3. When we believe something, we act as if it true. The old saying, “Whether we believe we can or we cannot do something, we are right!” fits perfectly into the rational-emotive model. Changing our thoughts and beliefs allows our behavior to change, and our behavior will change much quicker if we give ourselves a strategy or a plan to reach our goal.
4. When a disruptive student or a difficult class troubles us, our first choice is to decide how we will react. For instance, we can treat the child either as a threat or as a challenge; perceiving the child as a threat generates mostly feelings of inadequacy and frustration. On the other hand, perceiving the child’s behavior as a challenging puzzle to solve will revitalize and motivate us. Reframe the situation with the student or class so that you shift perceptually from “What a pain in the shoulder this child is!” to “I’m amazed at how challenging this child is!”
To conclude, we can increase our sense of self-control and self-confidence by checkingour feelings periodically and analyzing our reactions (behavior) in response to those feelings. Do our feelings and behaviors align with self-empowering thinking or with self-defeating thoughts? When feeling down, go deeper, answering, “Am I expecting the worst of this situation?” or “Am I predicting a disaster?” Debate any pessimistic thinking early (e.g. “Where is the evidence for my belief?”); the sooner we recognize and debate irrational thinking and beliefs, the better we feel later on. Think both of alternative ways of interpreting the situation and of as many solutions as possible for the situation. You can answer, “How else could I think about this?” or “What other points of view are there?” Most importantly, always, and I do mean always, hold yourself, not the situation or student, fully responsible for any kinds of feelings that you may have. Your greatest power is the power to choose how you are going to feel and to react to the situation: threatened or challenged; burned down or re-energized. So, choose wisely; choose to feel challenged and re-energized.
Essentials of Emotional Communication for Reaching the Unreachable Student: Where Do I Start? What Do I Say? How Do I Do It? To preview this book on Amazon, click here.
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