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Reality training is a technique for dealing with affective behavior by teaching students actively to change their overt behaviors. Through teacher-directed questioning, students learn how to describe and evaluate their own behavior and how to develop a plan for changing that behavior into a more responsible and socially acceptable one. Through class meetings, students are given opportunities to express their concerns about the class, their home, and other areas, as teachers listen. Discipline and a warm student-teacher relationship are necessary components to supplement questioning and class meeting procedures. Subjective interpretations of feelings and thoughts are ignored, and the students are led to face the ‘reality’ of their behavioral responses.


All students can learn to be responsible for and to make conscious decisions regarding their own behavior. The responsible behavior benefits not only the student but others in the environment and earns the admiration of adults and peers. In turn, this admiration produces a good self-concept in the student. Furthermore, if students are assigned active roles in decision making, they feel more a part of the school; and this feeling results in fewer problem behaviors, as the students now have an ownership role in the class and school. Students will follow school rules if they feel accepted, valued, and a part of the decision-making process. A close student-teacher relationship helps students realize that teachers discipline only because of care and concern.

Implementation Phases

When only a single student is involved, the reality technique is implemented in the following steps:

  1. Establish a good rapport with the student. Although this is important for many of the techniques suggested for working with students with problems, it is especially important in reality techniques because often the commitment and eagerness of the student to discuss the behavior depends on a good teacher-student relationship. It is not suggested that you wait to use this approach until a good relationship has developed, since for many students this takes a great deal of time. However, the quality of the interaction tends to improve as a trusting relationship is built.
  2. When the inappropriate behavior is exhibited, ask what the student is doing or was doing. If the student is hesitant or refuses to describe the inappropriate behavior, lead the student by describing what you saw. For instance: “I saw you ripping your paper into little strips; then what did you do?” If the student continues to refuse to talk or describes the situation in an unrealistic manner, you should describe the entire incident and ask the student if the description is correct, or ask the student to sit down and think about it some more, and return later. It is often best to select the time just before recess, free time, or an activity that the student likes, as this increases the motivation to discuss the problem. Although a great deal of teacher verbalization may be necessary initially, the ultimate goal is for the student to verbalize the entire situation with minimal teacher input. Never ask why the student behaved in that manner, because this allows the student to rationalize the inappropriate behavior and to shift the responsibility to others.
  3. Guide the student to make a value judgment concerning the behavior by asking such questions as “Is it helping you?”, Is it helping the class?”, “Is it helping me?”, or “Is it helping the school?” Be sure the student is honest and realistic in the evaluation of the behavior. If the student answers incorrectly that it did help, ask “How did it help you?”, “the class?”, and so on. The behavior must be judged to be helpful to the student, class, teacher, and school to be evaluated as appropriate and helping. Be careful not to be manipulated by the student into a confrontation. If this appears to be the direction of the discussion, calmly state your conclusions and again tell the student to think about it, and return later. Do not skip this step, as it assists in the development of self-monitoring of socially acceptable behavior.
  4. Ask the student to make a plan by listing alternative behaviors. Offer alternative solutions for any student with a limited repertoire of appropriate behaviors. Try to keep the plan simple and one that can be accomplished over a short time period. The plan must be more than to stop the behavior, which by itself does not help the student learn any new socially acceptable behaviors. The plan must suply replacement behaviors.
  5. Direct the student to make a commitment to one of the alternatives by asking “Which plan will you try?”. Formalize the student’s commitment, for example, by a handshake or with a written contract. The plan may be simple, such as “I won’t stand next to Jimmy in line”, or complex, such as “I’ll leave the room and write down two things that are bothering me”. With this commitment, the student accepts the responsibility for behavior change.
  6. Follow through to determine if the student is keeping to the plan. This can be done by verbally checking with the student, having the student check with you every day at a specific time, or by observing whether the inappropriate behavior is recurring. Praise the student who is successfully following the plan.
  7. If the student fails to follow the plan, no excuses should be accepted, and the student must face the natural consequences of the act, whether it be to fail the test, stay after school, or some other consequence. Do not adjust the consequences; students must learn the realistic outcomes of inappropriate behavior. Remind the student that you are carrying out the consequences because you care and you want to see the student do well and in order to do so, the student must learn to evaluate his/her own behavior and the consequences which result. Act with firmness, but not with a harsh or critical tone.
  8. If the student refuses to participate in any of the steps, isolate the student. Select a comfortable area in the room where the student can stay until deciding to participate in the process. This is not a punitive place like the time-out room but an area where the student stays and does not participate in the class activities. If the student continues to refuse to participate, send the student to an in-school suspension room. Glasser (1965) suggests that the room be non-punitive and be manned by a counselor. The student is not punished for missing schoolwork when in the room as long as the work is eventually finished. Calmly send the student to the room with a comment such as “We don’t seem to be able to work things out. Maybe __________ can help. Please go see.” The student must have a plan or agree to participate in the process before being readmitted to the class. If the student balks, it will most often be at the value judgment, where the student must admit the behavior is wrong, or at creating a satisfactory and appropriate plan.

In a group or classroom situation, reality therapy is implemented in the following steps:

  1. If at all possible seat the students in a circle, with the teacher sitting by a different student at each meeting.
  2. Plan to hold meetings once or twice a week. Glasser (1975) suggests one a day for elementary students and twice a week for adolescents. Make certain the meeting is not longer than 30 minutes; often 10 minutes will be enough time.
  3. Decide on the type of meeting: a) open-ended, b) educational diagnostic, or c) social problem solving.

    The objective of the a) open-ended meeting is to teach the students to think by asking thought provoking questions. These questions do not have any right or wrong answers; they usually deal with general societal issues such as the question of whether or not poor people are lazy.

    The objective of the b) educational-diagnostic meeting is to determine how the students are learning academic information. This is in the form of a non-threatening quiz in which grades are not given.

    Social problem solving meetings are designed for students to arrive at a solution for either an individual or a class problem. Teachers of exceptional students frequently use social problem solving meetings in their classrooms.

  4. Introduce the topic. The teacher may have to do this at first, but the students will eventually raise issues. Try not to let any one individual’s problem dominate the meeting. Solve a problem at a single meeting, and do not bring it up again unless for social praise.
  5. Ask the students to respond to the problem. Either require the students to raise their hands, or begin with one student and progress around the circle for responses. Allow students to pass if they do not wish to talk. Ask shy students if they would like to comment.
  6. In social problem-solving meetings, the following strategies may be used:

    Direct the discussion toward the solving of the problem. Do not allow the students to use the time to blame others or for griping. Often a comment such as “Thank you for your ideas; may we hear from someone else?” is a polite way to redirect the discussion from a very verbal student or from one who is boring or monopolizing the session.

    Direct the students to understand that there are many solutions to a problem. However, the solution should not include punishment or assessment of blame. Support the students’ efforts to reach a solution, do not criticize the alternatives. Some teachers list all the alternatives on the board and then let the students decide which one they think would solve the problem.

    Be certain to enforce the group’s decision. If the plan is not followed, discipline the offenders; this gives credence to the group meetings.

Practical Application

A teacher walked out of his room and was greeted by two boys fighting on the playground. He pulled the boys apart and asked the spectators to disperse. Then he sat the boys down on the bench. Later, after quieting the others, he sat between the two boys. Sometimes students cannot be separated so easily, but this teacher had been working with both students for some time and they had progressed to a short cooling-off period after most aggressive acts. The teacher asked what had happened. One student started to describe the situation and then began to blame and accuse the other boy, The teacher interrupted the student and asked him to think about it some more, but without the accusations. Finally, the boys agreed to a common description of the problem event and admitted that the fight got them into trouble and interrupted the game for all the students. As a solution, the boys suggested that they both play on the same team but sit on the bench if either became angry. They made a commitment to the plan and returned to the game. The next day the boys told the teacher the plan was working.

One intermediate-level teacher incorporated a weekly problem-solving class meeting into her behavioral management strategies. The topic of one meeting dealt with the problem of missing pencils. Students often lost their pencils, or argued over who owned a pencil, which led to frequent disruptions in the classroom schedule. The teacher introduced the problem at the meeting in the following manner: “Lately, there have been many arguments about pencils, which causes much disturbance in the class routine. What do you think, Sam?” Sam agreed that there was a problem and then began accusing Steve of stealing all the pencils. The teacher redirected the discussion by a reminder that Sam was to comment only on the absence or presence of the problem. Soon all the students agreed that a problem existed and that it was creating a class disturbance. The class then suggested some possible solutions, which the teacher wrote on the board. The class selected one solution from these alternatives. The plan was that the students would write their names on self adhesive file folder labels and wrap the labels around their pencils. If anyone found a pencil without a label, the student was to place it in a container on the teacher’s desk. These pencils then belonged to the class and could be used during emergencies (determined by teacher). All the students agreed to the plan and said they would follow it.

After a week of the plan’s operation, some of the students began to peel off the labels and claim ownership of the pencils. This led to more arguments. The teacher reconvened the class meeting, and the group adopted a new plan to add another layer of clear contact around the pencil so that the labels would not peel off. The teacher reminded the students that a commitment meant they would all follow the plan and that violators would be disciplined. The plan successfully decreased class disruptions due to pencil ownership.


The advantages of reality techniques are:

  • Reality techniques function as both a preventive and a remedial program by attempting to change behavior before and after it occurs. The alternative solutions often will apply to other behaviors.
  • Behavior is evaluated in terms of society’s guidelines; excuses are not allowed if the plan is not followed just because the student is exceptional. Allowance does need to be made for the individual during the creation of the plan; but, once the student has made the commitment and the plan is deemed appropriate, the exceptional student need not be allowed any excuses. Often students with problem behaviors use special education ‘labels’ as excuses to avoid tasks. This program does not allow that.
  • The program tends to teach students decision-making skills necessary for adult life.
  • Teachers are made aware that discipline and caring are compatible.


The disadvantages of reality techniques are:

  • Often the effects and procedures of the technique are limited to verbal students.
  • The procedures include no suggestions for systematically monitoring behaviors.
  • Many times it is difficult to initiate the questioning immediately; for example, the inappropriate behavior may occur when the teacher is presenting a group lesson. The time factor thus may cloud the clarity of the description.
  • The technique of the class meeting is unfamiliar to many teachers, since most of them are not trained in counseling types of group interactions.


Teachers may select from the many procedures in applying reality techniques as introduced by Glasser. Class meetings or “what, how, and did you” (evaluation) questions may be used individually or with groups. Teachers are not required to be clinicians, but they must be able to build good relationships with students and to guide them to participate in decisions that affect their school lives. Of all the reality techniques, the procedures of the class meeting probably require the most teacher practice. Reality techniques focus on changing both the inner attitudes and the overt behaviors of students through discipline, a warm teacher-student relationship, and questioning procedures.