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MAY 2020

Welcome to the World of Taking Charge®

Over 45 years ago, as a new special education teacher for middle school students, I began developing the principles that have led to the creation of the Taking Charge® programs we use today. Rather than trying to change my students’ behaviors, I recognized that my students needed to be able to advocate for themselves and navigate their world no matter how many challenges they faced, from struggles with their own learning problems to struggles within their families. Thus, the fundamental purpose of Taking Charge® is to empower special needs and at-risk children, youth, and adults to take charge of their own learning and lives.


I am often asked “what does empowering individuals to take charge of their own learning and lives” really mean?  In answering that question, two Linguistic Coaches, Erik Quillen and Michael Penafiel, describe how Taking Charge® is strikingly different from other approaches that are taken with special needs and at-risk learners. For example, there is the “compliance approach” used by correction facilities, boot camps, and most behavioral intervention programs. The focus of the compliance approach is on the control of the special needs or at-risk learner in order to change their behavior through stronger discipline; or more structure; or a system of rewards and punishments; or positive and negative reinforcements. An adult sets the parameters (goals and methods) for the special needs or at-risk child, youth, or adult.


On the opposite end, we have the “compassion and understanding” approach. If adults love them enough, the special needs or at-risk learner will change their behavior. This is the story of the dedicated family member, friend, social worker, counselor, or teacher who “saves” the child, youth, or adult. It’s a Hallmark made for TV movie about an adult turning the special needs or at-risk learner’s life around.


Somewhere between compliance and compassion is the “tough love” approach. This approach is a balance between the adult being really strict and the adult caring enough about the child, youth or adult that their behavior changes. The documentary “Scared Straight” was a perfect example of that approach. Sometimes, a parent’s decision to seek a therapeutic or residential treatment program for their child can often be considered an example of the “tough love” approach.


In contrast, Taking Charge® recognizes that the one person missing in all the other approaches is the special needs or at-risk learner themselves. A basic premise of Taking Charge® is that we are all innate learners: teachers; therapists, counselors, administrators, parents, children, youth, and adults. And we are all whole, able and complete, just as we are and just as we are not; able and capable of developing competence to make effective choices and take personal responsibility for our learning breakdowns and learning successes in life.


Thus, in Taking Charge®, we work in partnership to create a learning ecology of mutual trust, mutual respect, and mutual learning leading to coordinated action. Through a system of conversational analysis called Linguistic Coaching®, we examine how our underlying backgrounds of interpretation (i.e. our Self-Narratives) and the underlying commitments in our speaking and listening (i.e. our Speech Acts) can close or open possibilities for learning to occur. We engage in Dialogues for Action with each other, opening possibilities for effective choices and empowering ourselves and others to take personal responsibility for effective, coordinated action.


In the following blogs, I will to delve more deeply into the World of Taking Charge®. What do we mean by “partnership”? What is a “learning ecology”? What is “Linguistic Coaching®? What do we mean by our backgrounds of interpretation?  What are the commitments in our speaking and listening? What is learning? What is choice and personal responsibility? How do we close and open possibilities for learning? What is effective, coordinated action?  Welcome to the World of Taking Charge®.

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