The Responsible Thinking Process(R) (RTP) model Created By Ed Ford

Wiki created by Tracy Sterling, Naomi Woodhouse, Mable Wong, Liese Croll, Julien Coci, Kadir Mastan, Peter Tresise


Ford opposes the principles of reward and punishment
Not possible to control other human beings

“Because of the aversive consequences of being controlled, the individual who undertakes to control other people is likely to be counter controlled by other people” (Skinner 1953, p. 321 cited in Bourbon 1997)

Intention of DP:
How to think of ways to reach goals without affecting others
Aim of RTP:
Teach students that they are responsible for their own behaviour

Theoretical basis of the RTP model
Based on perceptual control theory (PCT)
The process of meaning- making occur through levels namely :

  • Systems Concept model
At this level:
Establish ourselves and the image of the person we want to be
We select the values and beliefs that we believe will bring us happiness
When change occurs, must be compatible with our existing mental pictures or internal conflict will result

  • Principles level
At this level:
Our priorities are selected and
We choose standards, criteria and guidelines that establish boundaries for our behaviour
Able to learn about other people’s beliefs and values by the priorities and standards that they set themselves
To test whether our beliefs are compatible with our principles our personal satisfaction measure is utilised

  • Program level
Based on criteria we have set:
Must have effective programs/ strategies for accomplishing our goals
Each person uses their own strategies to organise their thinking by creating structured programs
Teachers need to assist them to compare their goals with the schools expectations

Matthew had two goals
Mrs Kuhn was willing to work with Matthew to support him in solving the problem
Is the teacher perceived as a help or hindrance????
  • Reorganisation and the RTP
During reorganisation student may have feeling of stress, anger, tension, depression
This is where the RTP comes in to help the student
The RTP helps identify where they are in relation to what they want and what they are doing to get it

Principles of the Responsible Thinking Process Model

The RTP Model poses the question: how do you teach children to be responsible? Is it through punishment, or self-reflection?
Remember, children are human, just like adults, and they have their own wants and goals. Like us, they have their own unique perceptions of the world. The Responsible Thinking Process teacher helps students solve their own difficulties and problems through self-reflection. The alternative of lecturing or forcing only results in frustrating children or inviting negative counter-reactions.

There are four principles underpinning the RTP model:
  • Principle 1: Asking Questions
With the aim to create ideal learning conditions, teachers ask students questions to develop responsible thinking.
Ford's vision is of a school where everybody acts responsibly and safely and possesses the necessary social skills to interact positively. Responsible Thinking Process questioning helps students to develop responsible thinking. This is important so that children can develop an understanding of what kind of person they want to be , and so that they can develop a respect for the rights of their teachers/ peers and others.
  • Principle 2: Assisting Reorganisation
Students resolve inner conflicts through talking. Responsible thinking is a long term process – like learning a new culture.
Teachers help students reorganise their thinking through questioning and talking. This discussion helps teachers, and the student themselves, find out what their goals and perceptions are. Reorganisation is a long term process and should be considered much like teaching reading or writing - some students will learn social skills faster than others. These days, with a trend towards 'protecting' and isolating children, there is less opportunity for children to play outside freely and learn social skills in a natural context. Because of this, some social skills education need to be explicit.

Learning social skills, such as cooperation and respect sets the foundations for life. Punishment hinders this learning process and is likely to lead to retaliation and counter-control. It doesn't matter if control is negative or positive (such as giving rewards), children resent being controlled in any form. The teacher also needs to consider where the control spiral will end. If children enjoy the effects of their countercontrol, then further controlling measures simply provides more opportunity for countercontrol. Consider two examples of spiralling control: In the USA, under the zero tolerance policy, an eight year old was held in custody for threatening to kill everyone in a game of cops and robbers with a paper gun. In the UK, under the ASBO a 14 year old was banned from saying the word 'grass' until 2010. So where does the cycle of control and counter control end? Would it be better for children, adults and society generally if children could be guided to think responsibly about their actions?
  • Principle 3: Adopting Rules
In the RTP model a link is made between a rule violation and the unintended consequences. This produces responsible thinking through choice.
Having rules provides a reference point for discussions under the Responsible Thinking Process. Rules express people's rights and reflects the need for rules in society in general. In the RTP model, a link is made between a rule violation and the unintended consequences. For example, if a child is calling out in class, a link is made between the child's behaviour, the intended consequences (getting a say) and the unintended consequences (breaking the 'no calling out' rule and disrupting the class). The child can then decide how best to meet their needs within the confines of the classroom rules. Regular classroom discussion of the rules is important under this model so that children understand the reasons for, and can respond to, the rules rather than become unthinkingly 'rule bound'.

All rules adopted in this model are based on the simple premise: You can not violate the rights of others.
  • Principle 4: Taking responsibility for the learning environment
A positive learning environment can be maintained through building relationships with students. Where misbehaviour is continual, the teacher should be taken out of the loop.
Teachers have a responsibity to maintain a disruption-free learning environment so that they can teach and children can learn. When children who are continually disruptive are punished by expulsion, they simply move from school to school with the same problems without ever having been taught to think responsibly. The RTP supports these students. Teachers form personal relationships with students and plans are made so that students can succeed. The teacher believes in them, which builds confidence and self esteem. If a student disrupts, then the student goes to the Responsible Thinking Classroom to work on the problem and a learning environment is maintained.

Ed Ford, Responsible Thinking Process: Corrective Strategies

The most important thing to remember when dealing with children is that they are just like their teachers. They have their own wants and goals, they have created their own way of perceiving the world, they plan and structure their ways of living so that their lives are the way they want them to be, and they have their own specific priorities.

Students that are having difficulty learning the appropriate ways to behave must be treated in the same way as those having difficulty with subject matter, that is, in a non-punitive manner and by using understanding, respect and patience, (Ford, 2002). Students that are having trouble with maths are given extra time to catch up. Similarly, students should be given extra time to master the skill of Responsible Thinking Process and conflict resolution through negotiation.

How to Use the RTP

Teachers should show that they care about students and have confidence in them. They should convey respect, calmness, and genuine interest in students’ perspectives rather than authority, control or punishment. Children can succeed in controlling their behaviour if they believe you care about them and have confidence in their ability to solve problems. Do not be judgmental as children see this as an attempt to control them. The stronger the relationship before the issue the more likely it will be resolved more successfully. If the questions are asked in a respectful way then this will actually build the relationship between student and teacher. Never yell, lecture, or tell; always ask.
Excuses are not accepted as they do not promote the development of self-responsibility.
For that reason, we do not ask the student ‘why’ they did something.
When disruption occurs, a series of questions are asked to promote self reflection:
  • What are you doing?
  • What are the rules?
  • What happens when you break the rules??
  • Is that what you want to happen?
  • What do you want to do now?
  • What will happen if you disrupt again?
The questions allow the student to reflect on their behaviour and the class rules. (It does not just have to be in the classroom, can also be in playground, on the bus etc). If the student refuses to answer the question or evades answering then ask them again. If they continue to refuse ask: ‘Do you want to work this out or not?’ If they are still unwilling and disruptive then say ‘You need to go to the RTC’
If a student disrupts again after going through the initial questions, then ask
  1. What are you doing?
  2. What did you say would happen next time you disrupted?
  3. Where do you need to go now?
These questions allow the child to reflect on their own behaviour and how the system works.
The teacher then fills out the RTP Classroom Referral Form, which requires the teacher to describe:
  1. the first disruption following which the student was asked to think about his or her behaviour in relation to the rules of the context,
  2. the second disruption that resulted in the student going to the RTC; and
  3. any additional notes or rule violations after the second disruption
Once the RTP is implemented then there is no backing down.
Negotiate conflict resolution
Once students have taken responsibility for their own behaviour then they can apply this responsibility to interpersonal conflicts between students. These conflicts are not formally recorded but informal records are usually made

Supportive (Preventative) Strategies

“Prevention is better than Cure”!! Focus is on supporting student choices rather than preventing undesirable choices
Building a support system
Quality time
Establish caring relationships

“According to Ed Ford Spending quality time with student builds their sense of worth and improves relationships, resulting in a decreased number of disagreements, differences and disruptions”.
  • Quality Time
Quality time is the essential building block of successful relationships
Regular and sufficient
Create a calm, relaxed and joyful atmosphere
Students will be more willing to work with the teacher when conflict arises
Remember the final decision is still within the student’s control
  • School setting
Creative v passive activities?
Construct outdoor and indoor activities
Eat and talk together at recess
Walk with them whilst on play ground duty
Establish loving and caring relationships
Teachers role is to breed an environment of respect
Ensure that all opinions are valued
All students have equal opportunity to participate
No put downs and criticism of ideas
Supportive (Preventative) Strategies
Focus is on supporting student choices rather than preventing undesirable choices
Quality time
Establish caring relationships
Builds their sense of worth and improves relationships, decreasing the number of disagreements, differences and disruptions.

School Wide Strategies

4 main strategies
Negotiation; for class re-entry after planning in the RTC
Student Support teams
‘Chill out’ passes
Responsible Thinking Classroom
1. Student shows referral form to the supervisor
2. Sits at an assigned desk
3. Forms are available for referred students to complete a RESPONSIBLE THINKING PLAN
4. What is required to complete the PLAN?

  • The Responsible Thinking PLAN
1. Describe what happened
2. Identify the rule they broke
3. Describe the consequence of breaking that particular rule
4. Demonstrate how they PLAN to set goals to be successful in the situation
  • Making the plan
Students will need to be explicitly taught how to make such a PLAN. It needs to be detailed and outline how the student will negotiate with the teacher to get back into the classroom.
As students will sometimes tell a different story to what the initial referral described. The RTC supervisor will discuss the problem with the student, using questions, and conference the plan.
  • PLAN consolidation
The teacher prompts the student to think of ways the plan can be improved through questioning techniques.
This type of questioning also enables to the RTC supervisor to determine if the student is commited to the plan and fully understands why initially breaking the rule has lead to the referral.
  • Negotiation
Once the plan is completed students negotiate with their teacher re-entry to the class
The goal of the plan is to demonstrate to this teacher how he/she plans to be successful in class
If the teacher does not agree with any aspect of the plan it becomes the teachers responsibility to renegotiate that part of the plan, without refusing or ignoring the original plan by the student.
The idea of the plan is to get the student actively committed to the plan.
  • More detailed look at the negotiation
Students take their new/revised plan to the teacher of the class from which they came. If the teacher is busy the student needs to proceed to the designated desk in the room where they can hear what is going on. They remain there until the lesson is at a juncture that allows for the teacher to talk with the student about their plan on a one to one basis.
At this point the student explains the plan to the teacher and the teacher can suggest some changes if some elements of the plan are not compatible with the pre-existing class environment.
When the teacher and student both agree with the plan, it is signed by the student and the teacher and then it is sent to the RTC to be filed.
If a student has been suspended or excluded from the school, the principal will employ the same process of negotiation before re-entry is decided upon.
In case of illegal acts that have lead to exclusion, the student is sent to the RTC until the RTP administrator is available.
If they are ready to re-enter their school, parents will accompany them to the negotiation session with the principal.
NOTE: teachers/principals need to take the students decision to negotiate seriously or they run the risk of jeopordising the entire process.

What if breach occurs?
The teacher can ask the students the following questions;
What are you doing?
Are you following your plan?
Are you still committed to your plan?
Is the plan working for you?
Do you want to change the plan?
  • Student Support Teams
Is designed for the “frequent” fliers, that is those 2-4% of the school population that are chronically disruptive students.
They may be from dysfunctional families or have not had many close relationships with adults, or there may be an ongoing problem that needs to be addressed, such as bullying.
When these “frequent fliers” are identified the student support team is called upon.
Who will form the student support team?
It needs to be people that have spent significant amount of time with the student
The main role of the student support team is to aid the RTP and help the student determine ways that he/she can manage their behaviour without unnecessary interruption to others.
The help needs to be meaningful to the student otherwise the support will need to be either modified or discontinued.

  • Student support worksheet
Is designed to collect the data concerning the student
Such as the frequency of the behaviour and plans implemented previously.
The worksheet also identifies the areas of school where the student is succeeding; the areas of school they are having trouble with as well as;
What has the student come up with in relation to the problem; does the student hold another responsible for the issue; does the student want help with the problem?
Does someone at school spend quality time with the student?
Identifies 3 or 4 things that are important to the student in order of importance.

  • Roles of the support team
Need to be clearly defined and include;
RTP administrator;
RTC Supervisor;
RTP classroom teacher;
RTP counsellor

This ensures consistency on the RTP all over the school!
Summary of the student support team
They are there to help the student become both academically and socially successful
This can be done by focussing on;
Questioning techniques, listening, referrals to the RTC, assisting with planning, role plays, self referrals, calling parents, negotiating, conflict resolution, monitoring sheets, modification of the school environment, quality time & classroom discussions.

  • Chill-Out passes
This is part of a plan for students that are dealing with the following;
Anger; emotional problems or violent behaviour.
The student presents the pass to the teacher who will then allow this student to go to the RTC.
They present their pass to the RTC teacher and they are granted time to sit and think about what they are angry/violent about. They can calm down and when they feel they are ready they can return to their classroom. This is part of their plan so they do not need to create an additional plan or renegotiate entry to their classroom.
  • CORE team
The team responsible for implementing the RTP in the school
To ensure cohesivity align thoughts of this group with that of theory.
Have regular meetings to ensure theory is what the program is based on

RTP Issues

  • Student issues
· Students are able to understand the process in a short period of time

  • Teacher issues

Used to Control-based methods
Many teachers who have attempted to use the responsible thinking process (RTP) tend to perceive its questioning protocol as just another means for controlling students. Nothing could be further from the truth. This mistake is possible only without an understanding of perceptual control theory (PCT), upon which RTP is based. Children are autonomous human beings who should be treated with respect. Those who believe that they can control children, either by conditioning them with rewards and punishments or by meeting all of their "needs," will not find this school discipline process helpful. If the RTP questions are asked in a quiet, curious, respectful tone, and if the student is willing to deal with the questions, then the questions act as a teaching guide by which the student learns how to look within themselves and decide how they want to be. (Edward E. Ford 2002)

Teachers may refuse to engage in the Responsible Thinking Process
The person who is responsible for administering the process needs more than just an understanding that children are autonomous. This administrator must be willing to make the necessary efforts to deal with those who are critical of the process, to protect its funding, to deal with political issues, and to deal with a district office, parents, and faculty members who lack commitment or understanding of what the process is all about. (Edward E. Ford 2002)

Some teachers may try and sabotage the RTC and use it as a detention centre.
Not only must they deal with those teachers who refuse to use the process by holding them accountable for student disruption, but also they must never permit those teachers to corrupt the use of the responsible thinking classroom (RTC) by using it as a detention centre. They should never be permitted to send students to the RTC unless they use the process. Finally, the administrator should also deal quickly and decisively with those students who continue to disrupt in the RTC. ( Edward E. Ford 2002)

Financial benefits of RTC
· Employing a full time RTC teacher means
Classrooms are less disruptive, therefore more learning takes place. It frees up Deputy Principal (who is normally responsible for disciplining students). Schools using this have found higher attendance rates and lower suspension rates.

RTP Overview

Principles of RTP
· Asking Questions
  • Ford believes that children ask questions in order for them to develop more responsible thinking
  • In such cases as a classroom or home, teachers and parents ask students questions that help them to develop this concept of responsible thinking as they need to be taught how to act safely and treat others with respect
· Assisting Reorganisation
  • When students experience inner conflicts, they must be assisted to resolve it through the questioning process so they can reorganise their thinking
  • Students may need extra time to learn social skills as they are not necessarily taught such skills in the same way students get taught academic skills
  • These students tend to also require more assistance from teachers when dealing with conflicts during reorganisation
· Adopting Rules is Essential
  • In the RTP model, it is most important that rules exist in order to act as a reference point for comparison in discussions with students
  • Secondly, rules need to exist in all set so rules that the rights of others must be respected at all times and must never be violated
  • The RTP model takes the perspective that a link is made between rule violation and unintended consequences ie. ‘I want o to hit Alan, but if I do, I will be choosing to go to the RTC and write a plan and have not miss recess. I want to go to recess more than I want to hit Alan’
· This means that the student decides that the unintended consequences of hitting Alan are in conflict with higher level priorities – therefore, considering the priority of consequences produces responsible thinking through choice
· Taking Responsibility for the Learning Environment
  • Teachers are responsible for protecting the integrity of the learning environment so that teachers can teach and students can learn

Supportive (Preventative) Strategies
  • Supportive strategies are vital in the RT model - spending quality time with the students and building relationships that model love and caring
  • Share Quality Time – common interactive experiences that people share together build their perception of each other; perceptions are strengthened by amount of time the parties engage in these interactive experiences
  • Establish Loving and Caring Relationships – parents or guardians are able to spend individual quality time with students in developing mutually satisfying relationships

Corrective Strategies
  • RTP – designed to deal with disruptions to teaching and learning in the classroom or disruptions to other students’ rights in other school areas
  • Using this strategy, it is important that teachers convey through verbal and non-verbal means that the teacher cares about the students and that they have the confidence in the student’s abilities to solve their own problems as they arise
  • Negotiate Conflict Resolution – in a traditional classroom where students usually rely on the teacher to solve conflicts between students, students who master concepts of conflict resolution and RT will use their skills to resolve conflict amongst themselves

School-wide Strategies
  • Responsible Thinking Classroom (RTC) – students who are sent to the RTC passes the referral form to the RTC supervisor and proceeds to the assigned desk; in completing a plan, the student is to describe what happened, identify the rule that was breached, the consequences of the rule violation and their plan for rectifying the situation; students may need to be taught how to create a detailed plan and how to use this plan to negotiate with the teacher in charge of the context in which they were disrupting.
  • Engage the Student Support Team Process – the student support team is called to deal with chronic offenders sent to RTC; their role is not to punish the student, but to determine what is so important to the student that disruption is how they deal with it; SST is there to help extend the RT process and help the student ‘manage his own life in a way that does not violate the rights of others’ (Ford, 2003b)
  • Provide a Chill-out Pass – students who have difficulty managing their anger and/or avoidant behaviour may be allowed to present this chill-out pass to the person in charge of where they are trying to deal with their anger and then go to the RTC; on arrival, they present their pass and use the RTC to take some time to reorient their thinking and calm down; they can then return when they’re ready
  • Negotiate re-entry to class and School – students take their new plan to the class teacher; the teacher may suggest modifications to the plan if some elements are not compatible with their classroom environment or strategies; when the plan has been agreed upon, it is signed then takes the plan to be filed at the RTC
  • Refer to the Core Team – made up of teachers, parents and principals who work together to solve the problems that arise in the school in relation to the administration of the RTP model

The Responsible Thinking Process is based on perceptual Control Theory. A basic understanding of PCT is essential to making this process work. see and

The program is copyright and trademarked. All permissions to use material, including the above, should be addressed to Mr Edward E. Ford, at the Responsible Thinking website.