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Articles #1-7 in this section are excerpted from correspondence between Jane, a teacher in an alternative public school program for potential high school drop-outs, and Capt. Betsy of the Floating Neutrinos. Most of the material deals with the triad of Participate/Redirect/Leave.

#8 was written by a teacher who was introduced to the triads through discussions with Capt. Betsy and Poppa Neutrino when their raft, Son of Town Hall, visited Wells, Maine, her summer home. When she returned to teaching in the fall, she took the concept into the classroom with her.

#9 tells the story of a student teacher in New Haven, CT, and his experiences using the triad of Participate/ Redirect/ Leave with his students.

 To comment on an article, or to ask a question      

        1.  Comments on the Neutrino Ideas

        2.  Participate/Redirect/Leave

        3.  How our school is organized

        4.  More about Participate/Redirect/Leave

        5.  Crisis Mode

        6. Violence and Participate/Redirect/Leave

       7. Re: Violence and Participate/Redirect/Leave

    8. Using Triads in an Elementary Classroom

    9. Participate/Redirect/Leave in a New Haven HS classroom


1. Comments on the Neutrino Ideas

From: Jane
Date: 6 Jan. 1999
I think that for me personally in the classroom there is nothing more essential or more basic than Participate/Redirect/Leave--especially in classrooms such as mine, where so much of a successful teaching environment has to do with whether or not you have basic "control" of the classroom. I can see where it would be very easy to phrase choices for students based on this triad. Usually I give students that are acting out only two choices--you can participate or you can leave. This is after I have already tried to redirect them myself. Rarely can a student that I work with find the maturity in herself to self-redirect, but it would be a good goal to work on, even to talk about in group discussions on classroom expectations as the new semester starts--only about a week away. On a personal level, the two other triads you mentioned, Give/Take/Share and Assist/Block/Be neutral, are very appealing. I tend to give or share (feeling guilty about taking) and assist or be neutral (blocking is not as "natural"), so it would be good to explore these possibilities. I don't remember ever seeing a triad for timing before. My students generally use existential timing, which becomes labeled "irresponsible". The circular timing sounds pretty amazing. Would like to think more about that.

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2. Participate/ Redirect/ Leave

From: Captain Betsy
Date: 13 Jan 1999

Thanks for the feedback. I need to wax a bit about the Participate/Redirect/Leave triad, and I hope that you will bear with me, because what usually happens is that as soon as people begin to realize the truly revolutionary nature of this triad, they block it out. One teacher I gave it to translated it into Participate Observe Leave, and when I corrected him he permanently dropped the subject. Anyway, you do understand it in terms of your OWN use, in the sense that you try to redirect the students who are not participating as you would like them to, and probably can force a leave if you need to.

The problem is really more from the student's side. In a sense, they do not have the full right to Participate/ Redirect/ or Leave within the school setting, and this is one of the ways that society uses its power to control dependent individuals, whether they are children, minorities, or women. They are not informed about the basic right to Participate/ Redirect/ or Leave, nor are they taught how to use it or advocated for on those choices. In the case of the classroom setting, the question becomes, how can the student be given the maximum use of all three of those options with the minimum disruption of the group dynamic and also (hopefully) obtain the objectives for being there in the first place. With teenagers, (what age group are your students, anyway? Beyond compulsory ed age or still within it?), there should ideally be a great deal of freedom to exercise this triad. In practical terms, however, each situation is different. How much choice do your students have in terms of being there or not being there at all, for example? Are there ways they can leave temporarily without permanently damaging their program or disrupting the rest of the dynamics going on in the room? Maybe to the library? Or a separate part of the room, if the situation is temporarily something they cannot or do not want to deal with? And is there any room for their attempts to redirect what is going on? Disruptive behavior is often an unconscious method of redirecting. Do they have clear, individual goals for what they are trying to do there? You can see I actually have no idea what kind of situation you are in, but are you starting to get what I am driving at, at all?

As for Give Take Share, Block Assist Neutral, if the kids have definite goals they are trying to achieve, and then become recalcitrant when you are trying to help, these triads can bring that to consciousness. i.e. ask, do they think that you are trying to Give, Take or Share; hopefully they will see you are trying to Give them something, but if they say another answer, it is certainly worth a discussion. Then, how are they responding to your attempt? Are they Blocking, Assisting or Being Neutral? If you, through questions, can lead them to see that you are trying to Give something that is related to what they want, or what their goal is, and that they are Blocking you, for example, that recognition alone is often enough to at least motivate them to try to change their behavior. I know, you probably think this is way too intellectual for the type of kids you are probably working with, but if you approach it very simply through a question and answer process, even very intellectually backwards kids catch on to and feel the power of these basic triads. Well, I've said more than an earful here, let me know what you think, what makes sense and what doesn't.

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3. How our school is organized

From: Jane
Date: 12 Feb. 1999

Let me tell you a little about the way our school is organized. We are a part of the Madison Metropolitan School District. (in other words I am a public school teacher with a regular math and science teachers' license from the State of Wisconsin, union contract, insurance, etc.) The students in our program range from 7th grade to 10th grade, but about 90 percent of the time I work with 9th and 10th graders. We were designed as a transition program for students who for one reason or another have fallen through the cracks in the system--they are truant, belligerent, in trouble with the law due to drugs or theft or assault, afraid of large groups (most public high schools here are at least 1500 students), etc. In order to be admitted to our program they must come to an interview and must agree at that interview to the following: a. Not coming to school under the influence of alcohol or other drugs (they are allowed to smoke cigarettes in the parking lot). Anyone who comes to school under the influence of any substance is sent home immediately, parents called. If this happens more than once they are required to do a drug assessment and follow the recommendations of the assessment if they want to continue in the program. b. Not fighting with other students, including trash talking or verbal harassment. Any fight that becomes physical results in automatic removal from the program. c. Not skipping school. Students are allowed five absences for any reason in a nine-week period. Students who go over that five absence limit must make up time after school or before school in order to get caught up. Generally, students hate making up time outside of the school day so the attendance is pretty good , which is the whole point of the policy. There is no such thing as an excused absence in this program--you're either here or you're not. (of course, if a student is hospitalized we do make exceptions, but the point is we're trying to break truancy habits; we can't work with a student who isn't there).

We are basically looking for students who realize that they are on the road to becoming a high school drop out and that they want to change their behavior. In exchange for all these rules, we offer a small (15 students or less per class; 60 students total in the program), caring atmosphere where teachers will negotiate ways to learn and where there is a community feeling and a sense of open discussion within the classroom.

Students in Wisconsin are required to go to school until age 18. My students are generally 14 to 17 years old.

After leaving our program they can return to a traditional high school or go to another public alternative high school program for graduation--a work/study program or a "free" type hippie school, or the local technical college.

If a student is having an "off" day in the classroom, he or she can go to the library to calm down and get back on track. Students can also choose to leave for the day , but we discourage this because of the attendance policy. If a teacher feels a student is out of line, he/she may be asked to leave and go to a supervised, quiet "time out" room for up to 45 minutes. Because the students have in their interview agreed to participate in a school program and to try to turn their life around we can usually work to redirect them (or to have them redirect their own behavior) simply by reminding them that our school is a voluntary program and that if they don't like it they are free to return to the traditional high school from which they came. Most of the time this works to get rid of moody adolescent behavior. Also, since there is a community feeling to the program, student peers will work to redirect a student if they sense one of their friends is in danger of getting kicked out of the classroom and/or the school.

This is just a little of the school philosophy that has evolved so far in the five years I've been a teacher in this program.

Give me some feedback; ask me some questions; let me know what you think and if this is at all clear. We are definitely still evolving as a program.

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4. More about Participate/Redirect/Leave

From: Captain Betsy
Date: 12 Feb 1999

Your description of the school you are working in sounds like the kids do have some flexibility within the limits of their basic agreement, but bottom line it is still pretty much a participate/leave dichotomy. The kids get redirected by teachers and each other, but there doesn't seem to be any space for them to exercise a redirect on their environment. For example, within the limits of agreed upon goals, can they change how they go about meeting those goals? or in an even more immediate sense, can they introduce a different way of going about a classroom interaction? It's hard for me to come up with an example, when I don't really know your teaching style or classroom routine. The underlyling point I am driving at is that most kids who are in trouble are in that mess because they haven't been able to redirect or leave situations in their life which are distressful, disagreeable, even downright dangerous to them personally. And somewhere along the line they need to know on a conscious level that they have the RIGHT to Participate, Redirect or Leave, in order to get what they want in this life, every day. Naturally, along with this there needs to be the developing of responsiblilty and follow through on commitments, etc. The catch 22 is that the kids have to be in school until age 18 no matter what, so bottom line they are not yet in a position to exercise the triad to its fullest, but still can be taught to use it within the limits that exist. Are you following me at all? This may take a number of back and forths to come to an understanding. OK, enough for now, hope all's well, and not too many crises this week.

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5. Crisis Mode

From: Jane
Date: 12 Feb 1999

Here is some of what I meant by being in a kind of "crisis mode" this week.

On Friday, January 22, while I was still at school, a 12-year-old boy stole two loaded guns from the taxidermy place in the neighborhood where I live and work. He walked about a block and shot a 14-year-old girl, Shaina, supposedly because she refused to have sex with him. By all accounts, the girl is now braindead, just living on a respirator at University Hospital. The boy was found in Chicago and both guns were recovered. He just turned 13 yesterday and may be the youngest child in the State of Wisconsin ever to be waived to adult court.

One of our former students, Ashley, a sixteen-year-old girl, was on her way to confront Shaina for having sex with Ashley's 15-year-old on-again, off-again "boyfriend" named Ryan. Ashley pretty much runs her own life, having convinced her mother to give her a car, a cell phone, and a pager, as well as money, no house rules or responsibility, etc. Ashley also came to our school to confront a current student, Raechel, 15, who apparently slept with Ryan recently. On Wednesday, January 27, Ashley threatened Raechel at school and followed Raechel after school (both girls were in cars with various friends/allies). The police ended up getting involved when the cars collided and Raechel and her group ran hysterical into the police station. And, oh yes, apparently Ryan owns a gun.

Are you following this soap-opera?

The result of all this chaos was that Wanda, my teaching partner, and I decided to spend all Thursday morning and part of Friday discussing violence with our students. Nearly all of them have had to deal with violence on one level or another in their lives, and none of them wants to be a victim. So, I am wondering if the participate/redirect/leave triad would be a good one to add to our continuing discussion on violence with these kids. They may not realistically get full freedom to use this triad in school right now, but once they are out of school many of them are pretty much free to do whatever they want. What do you think?

By the way, there will be a neighborhood meeting at the local middle school here (located one block from the shooting--my school is about 6 blocks from the shooting) on Thursday night. I am going to try to go and at least listen to what is said.

So far we have had the kids write about whether violence is ever justified, whether violence is a problem in their lives, and what they define as violent.

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6. Violence and Participate/Redirect/Leave

From: Captain Betsy
Date: 12 Feb 1999
I admire you incredibly for your stamina and persistence and compassion to stay in that kind of an environment and keep on trying to make a difference, it is a world I only read about in the newspapers . I pray about it, and I want very much for all these poor, lost souls to get what they need to get out of the shit, but you are actually there in the trenches with them. How do you manage to keep going on? Yes, I feel that Participate Redirect Leave is super vital for these kids to know about. And to understand that Redirect takes brains and creativity and cooperation. Violence is many times (I wonder if always?) bottom line traceable to a loss of, violation of , or lack of realization of this triad. For example, the 12 year old has essentially killed the girl because she would not Participate with him in the form he chose. His act denies her the right to Redirect their interaction or to Leave. Maybe someday it will be built into everyone's unconscious that everybody has those three options, and those rights cannot be violated. Ah, for a perfect world. But sometimes violence comes from the person not knowing they have those three options, in which case just knowing COULD make a difference. I think the most important thing is first to get them to understand that they do have those three options, and then to help them understand how to use them creatively, that there are many different ways to Redirect the situation, that a Leave can be short term, just to cool down or get a new perspective, it's not necessarily a permanent thing. And to get them to recognize that if they have the right to those three options, so does everyone else they come in contact with. Not easy I know, but just getting the concept of the triad in there would be a first step, I think. I am very interested to know how these dialogues develop, please keep me posted, and also if you have an opportunity to introduce anything at the meeting on Thursday. Well, once again, let me just say how much I admire your efforts, I only hope that I can be an assist, with new angles or information, in your efforts.

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7. Re: Violence and Participate/Redirect/Leave

From: Jane
Date: 13 Feb 1999
Thank you for your words of support. This last week has been better. I find that as long as I keep my cool I am still able to enjoy my work very much, in spite of all the challenges. It often helps to sit around and laugh about the ridiculous episodes at the end of the day. I introduced the idea of participate/redirect/leave on Friday to a group of about 10 students. They readily understood the concept and were able to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the different possibilities. Tomorrow I want to talk with them about the built-in "rules" of conduct for young people today which relate to whether or not they can effectively keep their options open in a violent setting. For example, it is not always possible for a minor to truly leave--especially if a parent is violent. One of my students wrote about how his parents were in an argument and both got into cars with the kids and drove around the city at 120 mph in some sort of high speed chasebefore totaling both cars. Fortunately no one was hurt, but it was pretty terrifying for the kids. Life is complicated.

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8. Using triads in an Elementary Classroom

From: Betty Mott
Date: 9/22/99

Note: This teacher was introduced to the triads through discussions with Capt. Betsy and Poppa Neutrino when the raft Son of Town Hall visited Wells, Maine, her summer home. When she returned to teaching in the fall, she took the concept into the classroom with her. She has since retired from teaching.

I used the triads when teaching 5th graders (10 and 11 year olds) in a public elementary school in a suburban area of Cleveland, Ohio. I had a heterogeneous classroom with tested IQ's ranging from 92 to over 160. There were 28 children in the class, both boys and girls. It was a self-contained classroom and I taught all subjects. The community was made up primarily of professional people with college level education. We had many families where both parents were working, but the children were taken care of in day care or by neighbors, rather than latchkey. Many parents volunteered in the schools and came to all school functions when their children were involved. There were about 4000 students in the system, K-12th. grade. I started out in the business world, and decided to teach.  I got my Master of Arts degree from Western Reserve University in Cleveland, and got my teaching certification.  I decided on elementary because I wanted to teach all subjects. It was totally rewarding and I loved every bit of the many years I taught.

Our school system would not let us introduce a new program into our curriculum and our schedules were so filled with requirements that we could not set up a real program. The whole triad idea is marvelous and a fantastic way to think about situations we find ourselves in. I found that I could present my students with a triad when discussing all kinds of daily activities, problems, solutions, and general conversations. Some of the most useful were: Participate/ Redirect/ Leave; Helpful/ Indifferent/Harmful; Give/ Share/Take; Assist/Be neutral/ Block; Closer to my goal/Same/Farther from my goal; Better/ Same/Worse; Friend/Stranger/ Enemy.  

Friendships are always a big problem for students. It really helped to think about and discuss a goal and desire involving the person they were having a controversy or emotional problem with. The triads of Closer to my goal/Same/Farther from my goal; and Friend/Stranger/ Enemy were very useful and understandable to the students. Sports situations were an ideal place to use triads in helping students to determine the behaviors they wanted to apply to a situation. Helpful/ Indifferent/Harmful; Participate/ Redirect/ Leave; Give/ Share/Take  gave the students much to think about, and the ability to see they could control their behavior to achieve the results they wanted.   It was interesting to try to think up new triads in real situations and as an intellectual exercise.

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9. Particpate/Redirect/Leave in a New Haven High School Classroom

From: Andrew Swan
Date: 2/18/00

Note: Andy was exposed to the concept of triads originally by being a High School classmate and friend of one of the Neutrino kids. As a History major at Yale, also going for his teaching credentials, he was faced with the daunting task of student teaching in a public High School in New Haven, Conn.  His term was nearly over, when desperation forced him to dig deep into his experiential bank, and dredge up a triad he had heard and probably forgotten for years.


My classroom episode with triads wasn't a lot of fun at the time, though it did feel immediately empowering and important. I felt for much of it as if I were channeling some other power -- my voice changed, I stood straighter, words flowed with relative ease. If the whole thing weren't on videotape then I might be less certain of the details...

It all happened in the eighth of my ten weeks of student teaching -- the whole experiment was gradually winding to a close. The high school runs on a "block" schedule, which pits students against teacher for an 80 minute period for each class (4 per day); but each class only meets every other day. Eighty minutes can be a long time when you're having a bad day, or when
one or more of your 26 or so students are not into the material. The previous class had been dreadful. The Friday before Halloween. Kids were sugared up on candy corn and chocolate and excited by each other's costumes and pranks. I attempted a ghost story/history lesson that failed miserably. I couldn't sustain their attention, even with the lights off and trying to follow their interests in the discussion. They would yell over each other, mumble about how "stupid" the class was, chat with neighbors, etc. After weeks of conciliation and uneven discipline, I felt virtually no authority in the front of the classroom. The class is a traumatic blur in my memory, but I do remember seriously considering an examination into what else one can do with a bachelor's degree in history. (not much)

Thanks to the weekend, Election Day (when schools are closed to serve as polling sites), and the block schedule, I did not have this class for five days. I used these days to regroup and redesign my approach to history, teaching, and life in general. The Tuesday was when I had my breakthrough... Jen and I had watched the CNBC TV National Geographic Explorer special about the Atlantic crossing of the Son of Town Hall the previous weekend, and its lessons must have been percolating in my mind.

The triadic concept poured in from someplace and dissolved all my questions and concerns and problems and fears like sand castles. The addition of a third choice liberated me from an either-or approach. I could participate in being the stricter, more
consistent teacher that I was encouraged to be, I could quit teaching entirely, or I could try to form some "redirected" compromise between being "the heavy" and a compatriot with my students. With these three general choices before me, I saw that I had been following the Redirect all along, and had never even tried to participate in the full-fledged teacher role. In
parallel, I saw that many of my students had never yet really tried to participate in being a student. They just sailed along, wary for any obstacles but not proactive in their educations. The most important revelation, however, was the power of Choice itself. Both for me, a lowly student teacher who thought he just had to follow a certain path to success, and for my students, many of whom see the world as an enemy and themselves as permanent victims.

Before class, I paraphrased a statement that I could imagine the Neutrinos making,   "In every situation you have three choices. You can Participate, you can Redirect, or you can Leave."At 11:31 on the dot, I corralled the students to their desks more forcefully than I used to. The class provided its own segue to my upcoming speech, as only three of them had done the very short homework assignment I had given five days earlier. "That is pathetic," I told them, which seemed to surprise the group. Then I read the quotation on the board and proceeded to explain it, in my own words and as much as possible in the context of schooling. I mentioned the trip of "Son of Town Hall" to put its philosophy into perspective. I described my own "trilemma" regarding what kind of teacher I would choose to be. My emphasis again was on the power of choice itself, rather than the actual choice made. I made an analogy to the American colonial governments (which we were beginning to study): "I will
claim to you that this country is based on one of the greatest Redirects that was ever attempted. Its founders could have decided to continue participating in England's form of government, or they could have left entirely and used some completely different form of government. Instead they put together certain elements of English government and bits and pieces from
other civilizations to create something completely new..."

The best part came when I drew a triangle on the board and asked the class to present a decision, and I guaranteed I would be able to give three choices along the Participate-Redirect-Leave triad. I heard myself say this, and immediately panicked -- what if I can't think of them?! After a nervous silence, Randall piped up: "Should I shoot or pass?" (The basketball reference may seem stereotypical in a class of predominantly African-American students, so I emphasize that it was student-initiated and
not suggested by myself.) I froze in thought for a second, and then realized, "Well, you've limited yourself there to just two choices. Another would be to say, 'I have the basketball, now what do I do with it?' I could shoot, or pass, or...what?" After another pregnant pause, Leshan said, "Dribble." I was saved. I wrote "Shoot", "Dribble", and "Pass" on the triangle's points, and asked which of the P-R-L elements each of these new choices corresponded to. Half the class volunteered answers, and I think
they were all right (or at least 'right' as I saw it). The goal of basketball is to score baskets, so shooting would be participating in that goal; if you pass then you leave the situation of having the ball (it's out of your hands!); or you can dribble along to another area of the court, where you might have a better shot at the basket. This shift of context relaxed the students somewhat (although my presence was still quite strong and perhaps stifling), and gave them some ownership of the triad.

I ended up using the classic triad more often in the classroom for the remaining three weeks. For instance, when Lateisha stood up suddenly to give a note to someone outside the door, I asked her, "Are you choosing to leave us?" When she didn't respond I kept asking, "Are you choosing to leave?" After four demands, and her continuing to do as she pleased, I hastily wrote up a slip and told her to go to the vice-principal's office. When I re-entered the room, a student remarked, "Looks like she chose to leave." There was some jest in his tone, but I appreciated his use of our common language.

Those last two weeks were fantastic overall, and made me wish the end wouldn't come yet. Perhaps everyone feels a similar ease of movement just as a job is ending, but I seriously considered student teaching again this semester -- but I don't have enough credits. I'll have to hold it in until September, when the classroom is mine for real...

I thank you for whatever serendipity you encouraged or powers you channeled or just for the ideas you have unleashed that helped me through this difficult period.

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Readers' Comments

Thursday, November 14, 2002


in article #7, how do you handle harassment?

Tuesday, December 10, 2002


Sorry it has been awhile since I've been able to get to this website--I've been out of town. I'm not sure about the harassment question, so I'll try to answer it from several angles. First, a lot of our students have a history of negative behavior, even harassing behavior. We have a very strong anti-harassment policy that we try hard to enforce as directly as possible. There is no subtlty about our discipline techniques. We are very likely to tell a student that their behavior is really crappy and that we do not expect him/her to ever say such-and-such or use "that" tone of voice with another student or teacher ever again. Because our program is so small, we can usually catch hallway gossip as well as classroom conflict, but not always. Students can be suspended or even exited from the program if harassment continues to be a problem. Exiting the program means being returned to the traditional high school program. We are most likely to hear about harassment students may be experiencing outside of school through overheard conversations or through journaling, although some students will talk to a staff member about such issues directly. In these cases we usually have a school counselor or social worker handle the situation, sometimes involving community social workers as needed. Hope this answers your question. Jane

Tuesday, December 10, 2002


Hi, this is Jane. I have tried to add comments about harassment, but don't know if I am submitting them correctly. I'll try one more time. We handle student harassment at school with very direct comments--nothing subtle about our discipline. We simply tell students that they are not to use inappropriate language or actions, name the inappropriate behavior, and insist that it be stopped. If the behavior continues, a student may be suspended or even exited from the program to a traditional high school in the district. Students who let us know or who we suspect of being harassed outside of school generally work with the school social worker or the school counselor. Occasionally a county social worker may be called in on the case. Because we are a very small program (60 students) we can take the time to know our students well and are less likely to miss harassing behavior. However, we still do not catch everything


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