Book Review: “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath

Switch book review.

I was intrigued from cover to cover by Chip and Dan Heath’s book. It is fantastic! The book identifies two parts of every individual. That is the logical, analytical “Rider” and the emotional “Elephant”. You must speak to both parts of the individual if you want to bring change. The Rider brings direction and focus. Without the Rider the Elephant will just run in circles. However, the Elephant provides much needed strength and gives the Rider the persistence it needs to carry on to the end. The Heath brothers further break down tips on how to create change by explaining 3 ways to direct the Rider and motivate the Elephant.

Book Every School Leader Should Read

Direct the Rider

Often times the Rider gets overwhelmed if there are too many options or goals. Chip and Dan suggest scripting the critical moves so that the Rider knows exactly what you want him to do. They wrote, “What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity”. How often do we look back and realize that was the case?! You told a group of students or teachers to do something and they didn’t do it. You thought maybe they were being rebellious or disrespectful but in actuality they didn’t have a clear understanding of what you wanted from them.

Motivate the Elephant

The Elephant is the powerhouse behind the change. But the Elephant is big, clumsy and easily distracted. In order to engage the individual’s Elephant you need to engage their emotions and shrink the change into something small and manageable. Example: 5-minute a day workouts! These small workouts won’t dramatically change anyone’s health but it will get them started. After a while doing 5-minute workouts will get the person excited to do 10-minute workouts and then 30-minute workouts. Often the Elephant just needs help is taking the first step to change.

Shape the Path

“What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem”. The biggest take away I had from this book was that often times we can tweak the environment and “force” change to occur as a natural result.Chip and Dan gave an example of a company which had been known for terrible customer service because none of the employees ever answered the phone. The company had a recording where customers could leave voicemails but no one ever answered them. The new CEO came in and decided that instead of trying to convince the employees that they needed to get better at customer service, he removed the recorded voicemail system all together. After that, every phone call went directly to employee’s phones and kept ringing and ringing until they picked it up. “Forced change” occurred because the environment/path was changed. I am a firm believer in shaping the environment for the students in my classroom so as to limit the opportunities they have for disruption. It works well in a classroom so why not a school as a whole? Before you try to get people to change, see if there is a part of the path/environment that you could remove or add which would automatically bring change.

This book is filled with numerous case studies that show how change has been made in organizations, large companies and even entire countries using these principles. It is very inspiring and I highly recommend you read it. 

I just got back from a three week trip to Uganda. I’d gone there to check in on some leaders I’d trained last year to implement a new teacher training program. From last year when I’d trained them until now not much has gone on. I wasn’t sure why.

I met with the leaders the first day and asked what they remembered from the training I gave them last time and what was something they had applied in their classroom. I was pleased to hear that they did remember many of the core principles I had taught on. A few had started considering the kinesthetic learner and had identified a few in their classes. They had become more understanding when they saw these children constantly moving about. Others, had made changes in their discipline style or started getting parents more involved with what was happening in the school. I thought all of these were excellent applications. So why had they not moved forward in the teacher training program as a group?

After my whirlwind training last year,  I had left the leaders with many questions about the details and logistics of running this training program. I had given them some manuals and told them the page numbers they could read for answers but that clearly was not enough direction to make the Rider confident. So when I returned this year, I went over, in detail, the means of assessing and keeping records throughout the course. I also, appealed to the Elephant. I asked the teachers to imagine they received a letter/card from a previous student. I had them write down what they would want to read in the letter.  I was trying to help them remember why there were teachers, what hopes they had for their students. In almost every school and every country around the world teachers have the same basic goal. They want their students to achieve and be successful in the future. I told these teachers that I was going to share with them the “best practices” currently being used in education around the world. Research-based practices that would increase student learning and prepare students for the future.

I am happy to report that the leaders I trained in Uganda plan to have their first teacher training workshop at the end of August. I’m hoping the principles I learned in “Switch” will help me continue to guide the Riders and Elephants of this group so that we can see lasting change in the education system of Uganda.

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