And some healthy, functional alternatives

Similarities between schools and dysfunctional families are reflected in the beliefs or rules that can compromise the emotional climate of any system. Included for each category are alternatives which, when chosen, can have a positive impact on this climate, as well as on the relationships and performance of individuals functioning in this environment.

Impression Management

Examples: People pleasing, the need to look good, being “fine;” fear of being judged; denial, damage control; ignoring, excusing, dismissing, enabling; blame, needing to fix (or be fixed); dependence, codependence; loyalty/disloyalty, dishonesty; disregard for others, inconsideration; protecting the “system,” lack of communications, poor communications, triangulation.

Healthy alternative: Authenticity

Examples: Honesty; being oneself (safety to be self); tolerance of disapproval from others; accountability; conscientiousness, awareness; admitting, confronting, courage, awareness, clarity; responsibility, support of others (within boundaries); interdependence; integrity, trust, honesty; concern, respect for others; advocating for the individual; healthy communications


Examples: Black and white thinking; dualism (win-lose); need for simplicity; misunderstanding, misrepresenting; reducing a concept to its most simplistic (if incorrect) dimension; focusing on the irrelevant (missing the point); impatience, despair, quick fix; surface changes, tunnel vision, attention to extremes (trouble makers, gifted kids, popular kids); one set of values (assumptions)

Healthy alternative: Complexity and Paradox

Examples: Willingness to live with conflict and paradox; ability to view and grasp multiple dimensions of a concept; focusing on the relevant (getting the point); persistence, patience; long-term, deep changes; context; attention to everyone; diversity of values (appreciation, acceptance)


Examples: Crisis orientation, “getting tough;” fear, pressure (“War on…”); hierarchies, power-down, control; commanding, ordering; punitive orientation; dependence on subordinates’ fear of punishment, penalty, or other negative outcomes; controlling; reliance on rules and punishment; complaining; blaming, “fixing;” threats (focus on negative consequences); incongruence, mismatched goals and behaviors

Healthy alternative: Proactivity

Examples: Prevention orientation, “getting connected;” love, respect, encouragement; networks, relationships, shared power; “selling,” securing buy-in; encouragement, reward orientation; respect for subordinates’ need for autonomy, dignity, satisfaction, other positive outcomes; asking, asserting what you want; relies on commitment; creating opportunities, making things better; promises (focus on positive consequences); congruence, behaviors and policies support goals.

Scarcity Thinking

Examples: Negativity; pessimism; despair; competitiveness; resistance to change; attachment to tradition for tradition’s sake (whether it makes sense or is good or not); judgments, discrimination; uniformity; suppressing; victim thinking; lack of resources, withholding resources; conditionality; double standards.

Healthy alternative: Abundance/Prosperity Thinking

Examples: Positivity; optimism; cooperation, synergy; openness to possibilities; acceptance, tolerance; tolerance of diversity, variety; expressing, tolerance for intensity; empowerment; creative uses of resources, availability of resources; unconditionality; absence of double standards.

Product Orientation

Examples: Learning to know, facts, procedures; fragmentation (linear); telling (arrogance, “I know what’s best”); expectations; linear; hypocrisy (incongruence between goals and behaviors); teaching according to curriculum; past/future orientation; fixing, knowing what’s best; blocked awareness (to control); focus on eliminating problems (problem students)

Healthy alternative: Process Orientation

Examples: Learning to learn, thinking; cohesiveness (multidimensional, holographic); asking (trusting, may not know what’s best); goals; complex, multidimensional; congruence (modeling, consistency); teaching according to student needs; present orientation (in context of goals, eye to future); guiding, trusting; communications (to build commitment); correcting, focus on solving problems.

Exercise: Think about a system with which you are familiar. This could be a workplace system (school or no), a family system, or any organization to which you belong, perhaps one in which you previously worked. In what ways does this organization reflect the examples of “healthy alternatives” listed above. Identify an example of dysfunction and consider a more positive, functional alternative or approach.

Excerpted and adapted from Creating Emotionally Safe Schools, by Dr. Jane Bluestein © 2001, Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL.

© 2001, 2012, Dr. Jane Bluestein

Related links:

What people are saying about this book.
Survey: Is Your School (or Classroom) an Emotionally Safe Place?
Industrial Age Classrooms vs. Information Age Classrooms
Examples of Some New Ways of Thinking

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