Friday, September 17, 2010

Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip Heath & Dan Heath

It's good to read a nonfiction book aimed at adults every now and then. It breaks up all the supernatural romances, which I think I need to take a break from for a while.

In Switch, Chip and Dan Heath take a look at how to change when you really don't have a lot to work with. How can you change things when you aren't in a position of power, don't have a lot of people, and no money? While this book is really more aimed for business, the techniques looked at can work for anyone, and since reading it I've been trying to apply these strategies to my teaching.

In order to motivate people to change, you have to meet them in several different places. The Heath brothers frame it as a person riding an elephant down a path. The rider is the logical self, who wants to be in control, the elephant is the emotional self, who can charge ahead without thinking, or refuse to move. And then there is the path the elephant and the rider are on. The smoother the path, the easier it is for both rider and elephant.

The suggestions made seemed so simple, it was amazing how well they worked. To motivate the rider, they suggested finding the "bright spots." Look around for what's working well, figure out why it's working well, and then clone that. Probably my favorite example in the whole book was for this situation. Jerry Sternin, who was working for Save the Children, was assigned to Vietnam to alleviate malnutrition in children. And he had six months to do it. And he did. Rather than despairing because all the large problems in Vietnam that caused malnutrition he had no power to change (lack of sanitation, poverty, little clean water), he found the families who had children who weren't malnourished to see if they were doing something different, which they were. They were feeding their children smaller portions four times a day (the same amount of food that other children ate, but they were eating it twice a day), and adding shrimp, crabs, and sweet-potato greens they'd found while working, which was adding much need protein. Sweet-potato greens! So simple! And it didn't fix everything, there was still poverty and little clean water, but it changed things.

The rider also needs to have specific behaviors to follow. It isn't helpful to say, "eat healthy." What does that mean? It's much more effective to have a small, specific change that the rider can understand and focus on. No big picture.

Chip and Dan Heath go on to suggest more ways to motivate the rider, elephant, and how to smooth the path. There are lots of inspiring examples for each one, and they make it feel like you really can create change, even when you don't have a lot of power or money, or even influence.

Being a teacher can be very frustrating sometimes, in the classroom and in the school community. There are so many things we wish we could do, that we know would be beneficial to the students if we could only make it happen. Switch has given me a different way to think about things. I've already begun to apply some strategies to my classroom. Thanks guys!

1 comment:

  1. Yay! I'm glad you read this. The inspiration has *almost* carried me through the first month of school...


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