The root cause of all school problems

Schools have a habit of enacting “single issue” programs – targeting one problem at a time. I understand the reasoning behind this approach, but my approach has always been to try to “kill all the birds with one stone”, so to speak. 

I've relied on the work of Dr. Albert Ellis to make sense of, and do something about the many problems school have to deal with. Ellis reduced all human problems down to their most basic causes, what I call their "least common denominators". Those include: 

1) Reacting to life instead of responding in the best possible ways 
2) Having "mistaken" goals – getting off-course, even lost 
3) Engaging in self-defeating behavior 
4) "Beating up" on themselves and each other 
5) Using YOU Messages when talking to each other 

When reacting, they’re less likely to consider consequences before acting, less likely to access and act on helpful advice they’ve been given, and less likely to learn from their experiences, or those of others. People often even will violate their own morals and values when reacting. They lose response-ability – the ability to respond in the best way possible. They’re less response-able. Reacting is what nature intended to deal with real potential threats to us. It's why we have fight or flight. Anxiety and anger are the two halves of this. 

The problem is that both students and teachers too often needlessly plug into it because of how they choose to think and look at what happens to them, or might, before, during and after something does. The way they do think or look at things is ultimately the cause of either anger and/or anxiety, which in turn can cause them to act in ways that are likely to be perceived as threats by others and cause others to plug into their own fight or flight. It's how we get so many preventable conflicts and needless and futile power struggles. 

They do the five things above because: 

6) They generate a dysfunctional amount of emotion in response to their real or imagined life events 

E-motion is energy to move. In truly life threatening situations, a lot of e-motion or energy to move could be helpful, even life-saving. The problem is that people generate more than is helpful or necessary, more than they want to have, more than they know what to do with, more than is healthy for them, and a type and amount that works against them instead of for them - which is why I like the term "dysfunctional". 

But as I noted above, people needlessly plug into fight or flight too often. Fight or flight is like the yin of emotions; shame, guilt and depression the yang. Anger and anxiety are excitatory; shame, guilt and depression inhibitory. The first two can ultimately lead to homicide; the other three to suicide. 

People generate a dysfunctional amount of emotion because: 

7) They have an external or outer locus of control - they wrongly perceive others as the cause of how they feel, and blame them for it 
8) They engage in four basic types of irrational thought (at least according to Ellis' model, there are others that have been identified) 

And they keep thinking, feeling, saying and doing the same things, even when it’s not working, because: 

9) They develop cognitive, emotional and behavioral ruts from practice and rehearsal that make thoughts, feelings and actions automatic 

Coming at this from a different direction, people have to be able to get into the right mental and emotional place to make the best choices for themselves and others, to problem solve effectively, to consider consequences, to access and act on advice and information, to learn from experience, to act in accordance with morals and values, and function at levels they are capable of, and want to.

Too many struggle to get there. Give them the tools to do so, and EVERYTHING gets much easier. It’s why I’ve always advocated for giving them a Mental and Emotional Tool Kit. 

You can read about the ten "tools" I believe we should give every student, and every new and current teacher at:

There is an article on this blog about how to construct a THINK-FEEL-DO thermostat. It can be a very helpful visual for students and teachers. It can help both see where they are emotionally at any given moment, and how that impacts their behavior. They can also see how their thoughs cause them to be where they are. More importantly, it can show both where they might want to be instead emotionally and behaviorally, and how they'd have to change their thinking to get there. If you'd like a copy of the thermostat, email me at: