Ron’s #38: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath

I’m not too much into leadership books. I’ve read Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and How to Win Friends and Influence People a few years ago, so I’m good, right?

Mark read Switch and kept telling me stories from it. I liked the premise of how to get people to switch the way they are currently doing something into a better way. To simplify, this book is about getting people to do things you want them to do when they do not want to. (If Mark gave me this synopsis, I’d have thought it was a book on mentalism or hypnotics). This book is filled with story after story with how change occurs, whether in business, government, or education. As a teacher, I thought I could use a bit of help in motivating students to switch their current ways.

The brothers Chip and Dan Heath use the image of the Rider and an Elephant on a Path as the metaphor of the book. The Rider is our rational side and the Elephant represents our emotional side. Switch is about how to appeals to both to have the Rider guide the Elephant down a designated Path. While I didn’t always understand the distinction between the Rider and the Elephant, I gained a great deal of information and confidence in motivating others, especially in the classroom. Here are some “bright spots” that I learned that I will apply to my teaching:

Follow the Bright Spots: Find out what is working and highlight it. This application is clear for the classroom. Rather than focusing on negative behavior (as teachers are quicker to address), find those moments/behaviors when students are doing excellent work. Also, talk to other teachers to find what others do with a particular problem student (or problem issue such as apathy or low skills).

Script the Critical Moves: Instead of finding the big picture or a major goal, find a small behavior that will get the Rider moving. Rather than telling a non-writer to work on the essay, the critical move may be to write a six-sentence paragraph.  This is manageable.

Find the Feeling: Connect to the emotional side of people rather than merely the intellect. How can I address students so that they hear me with their guts? (Please forgive the mixed metaphor!).

Shrink the Change: This is similar to Scripting the Critical Moves, but it provides the feeling of success in smaller, bite-sized pieces. These small victories provide students with the confidence to move on to the next step. I remember a teacher I worked with at Turnaround School in Portland who would address an angry student yelling about not being able to do the math. Barb would bend down at eye-level and ask, “If you can’t do this, what can you do?” The kid will say that he can do three problems, and Barb would watch and praise. Her technique always stuck with me, even if I don’t always use it.

Tweak the Environment: The Heath boys state that behavior will change when we change the environment. What is the environment of my classroom? Is there something that is in the air that allows kids to give up or not try? Is there an expectation to pass the class? This is an area that I should ask a trusted colleague or even a few sharp students for feedback. There were a few excellent stories in the book about how teachers and principals altered the environment to make gains in student success.

I enjoyed this book, and I think you will as well, no matter your career. I think the authors did a fine job giving examples across a spectrum of careers, so there are stories in here for you. I hope that after I print off the Switch one-page overview (see ) and post near my desk, I’ll be reminded how to help students who are currently resisting change.

And if the principles in this book do not work, I’m dusting off How to Win Friends and Influencing People and giving that a try!

About Ron 173 Articles
I teach English and government in Okinawa, Japan. I love reading theology and fiction, and helps keep me accountable. Reading with three kids under 5 is a bit of a challenge, but I keep trying to find ways to read more. My favorites writers are C. S. Lewis, Flannery O’ Connor, and Raymond Carver.

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