Adult Books for Adults: “Switch”

    Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

by Chip and Dan Heath

This title was recommended to me by a colleague as a good book for thinking about changes in education. It may be very interesting to adults; though teens might benefit from the ideas, it’s probably not one you’d get into. So—I’m writing this in case teachers are looking for guidance in effecting change in schools.

The authors argue that the old saw “nobody likes change” just isn’t true and the evidence is that people willingly and happily make enormous changes in their lives like getting married and having kids. They also make smaller change like buying cool new stuff (e.g., iPads).

So why do people resist some change, even if it is good for them or their students or their clients? It’s because they have two systems of motivation: the rational mind and the emotional mind. For anyone who’s ever been on a diet, this truth is so self-evident that it’s hard to believe someone wrote a book about it. Except.

Except that the Heaths discuss how to get the rational and emotional minds on the same path. Often the way to do so is not the way we’ve been trying. The book is broken down into sub-chapters named ‘shrink the change,’ ‘tweak the environment,’ and ‘rally the herd.’ Examples abound. People sometimes resist change because they don’t understand what sort of change is being asked of them—they need better directions. (Not ‘eat healthier,’ but rather ‘drink nonfat milk.’) 

Many of the methods for effecting change could prove useful for school employees—teachers and administrators. In ‘Find the Bright Spots,’ an example of a disruptive student is detailed. His life outside of school is pretty rotten, so his counselor uses solutions-focused therapy and targets the one teacher whom Bobby thinks is OK. He uses what that teacher does in suggestions for other teachers. (Some of the suggestions are counterintuitive or would make teachers feel that they were coddling a bad kid.) Bobby’s major infractions of the school rules decreased by 80%.

There’s an interesting discussion of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely) Goals, something teachers are asked to create. The authors state that “SMART Goals are better for steady-state situations than for change situations, because the assumptions underlying them are that the goals are worthwhile.” An aspect of the SMART Goal discussion that makes this section very worthwhile is the ‘destination postcards’—“pictures of a future that hard work can make possible.” Without destination postcards, an uninspired team that is resistant (openly or secretly) to the vision will rationalize not cooperating. So—people have to have an emotional buy-in (not just a rational one, apparently) to the destination (that could be quickly jotted on a postcard). They also have to be given a script of steps to the destination. (‘Eat healthy food’ is not a script. ‘Drink nonfat milk’ is.)

Each section of the book has a ‘clinic’ at the end showing what the switch is, what’s holding it back, and how to make the switch possible. Ultimately, it shows how a supportive family, community, or workplace makes a difference.

Switch is useful for personal goals as well as workplace goals. It’s short—a quick read—but if you’re pressed for time and want to think about changes in education, check it out from the library and peruse Chapters 4, 8 and 10.


About Victoria Waddle

I'm a high school librarian, formerly an English teacher. I love to read and my mission is to connect people with the right books. To that end, I read widely--from the hi-lo for reluctant high school readers to the literary adult novel for the bibliophile.
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