Monday, April 25, 2016

Chapter 11: Keep the Switch Going

The most important quote from this chapter is connected with its most important analogy "Long journeys require lots of mangoes." The idea being that as an agent of change it is imperative that you provide positive reinforcement throughout the process. The book suggests rewarding bright spot behaviors and focusing on any element of what was done that would contribute toward the end that you have in mind. There was even a story about a woman who changed the behavior of her husband using an incremental praise method.

Although the book points out the importance of using positive reinforcement, it also indicates that we (people) generally struggle more with providing praise than we do with punishing or admonishing those who do wrong. The book points out that it is easy to identify and react to problem behaviors, but much more difficult to find those behaviors which contain elements of the ultimate goal. I find myself struggling with this at times as a teacher. A student who completes 50% of his or her homework did -some- of the work. By assigning the 50, am I focusing only on the negative behavior rather than the bright spot? That same child may typically only do 25%, which would make 50% an incremental change. Having said that, the positive reinforcement here isn't to raise the child's grade. In reflecting on that, I have begun to make sure I praise the effort to get some of the work done and encourage the student to do a little more next time.

The one major question that I have been pondering since I read this part is: If an individual is aware that you are trying to encourage change using incremental praise does that make the praise ineffective because it seems contrived? How do you make your praise genuine and appropriate if the individual who you are praising knows that you have a specific goal in mind?

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Chapter 10: Rally the Herd

This chapter talked about the significance of and impact that can be created by looking at the behavior of the majority. People are greatly influenced by the behaviors of others and following their lead. There was one part that discussed a study that involved people in either groups of three or on their own in a room that was slowly filled with smoke and how a person in the trios was less likely to report the smoke because the other two people were not reacting to it. Similar situations happen all the time in classrooms where the behaviors of individual students are greatly dependent on their peers' behaviors or what they deem as the popular thing to do. As teachers, we have to try to make positive learning behaviors be accepted and followed by the majority...not an easy thing to do! This year, I have talked a lot with my class about the process of learning and how overcoming challenges make our brains stronger. It took some "rallying", but as each student bought into this idea, others followed and now my entire class gets really excited when I try to challenge them and they work hard to overcome it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Chapter 8: Tweak the Environment

This chapter was kind of fascinating, looking at it from a psychological perspective. It makes so much sense to me, because I think it's something that we all fall victim to. It's so much easier to automatically jump to conclusions about people's character, than it is to rationally evaluate how the environment is affecting someone's behavior. However, as the authors state in this chapter, "What looks like a person problem is often a situation problem" (180). While it may be easier to jump to the conclusion that there is something inherently wrong with the person, that's usually not the case. As I was reading this section, I kept thinking about those students that I have in my class who continually cause behavior issues. I realized that rather than blaming the student for blurting out an answer or interrupting someone, I should really look at the situation and at the environment that I have created in my classroom; I was simply "attributing people's behavior to the way they are rather than to the situation they are in" (180).

As an educator, it's much easier to place the blame on the student than it is to take responsibility for what I may have helped create. It's a bit overwhelming to try and pin-point what, exactly, it is about certain situations that might cause someone to misbehave. This chapter made me really want to question that and try to "shape the Path" (181). The authors reiterate on page 183 that because it is possible to change the environment then, "no matter what your role is, you've got some control over the situation." This is very important to remember, because often I feel as though I have done everything possible to set my students up for success. So it is very frustrating when a student isn't practicing the "right behaviors." The example that really stuck out to me was the management firm that had employees refusing to use the mandatory electronic time sheets. The executives assumed that the employees weren't using the system because they were lazy or obstinate, when really it was because the paper system was more efficient for the workers. The executives were even about to resort to threats, ultimatums, and punishments: "At that point, the executives felt they'd tried every tool in their toolbox, so they jumped to punishments" (185). Sometimes, it's hard not to feel this way when you're dealing with a student who you have had to continually redirect; the only other option seems to be to resort to those punishments. But, as the authors point out, simply resorting to punishing students every time they act out is not going to get them to really change their behavior (most of the time). It's not going to motivate them to really want to change. Instead, I should take a look at how I can change the situation, rather than trying to punish the student. I'm not sure how to begin this process, or what the answer is, but this chapter has made me realize that I still have some other tools in my tool belt.

Monday, March 14, 2016


I definitely saw some of this behavior in my day to day rituals, though I saw it as efficiency instead of tweaking the environment.  Getting my clothes laid out, lunch made, and my bag packed the night before is considered tweaking the environment, though I do it to be more efficient and having to think less the next morning.  I appreciate the tips and advice the book offers, but I struggle applying it to the bigger picture in the classroom and would like more classroom related ideas.  The one idea for the classroom mentioned had to do with late students and options that can be used to tweak the environment.  Some of them, we already do like talking to the students to appeal to their emotions.  That sometimes works, but it is often short lived.  Another idea was to lock the door and have them stuck in the hallway - well, often late students don't care about that, and also we were told we are not allowed to do that.  They offered the idea of "ON TIME" competition, though I have found that keeps motivated kids motivated and unmotivated kids don't buy in.  What actually worked was that the teacher bought a couch and whoever got there first could sit in the "new, cool" place to sit.  This worked for his late students.  The late kids started to come on time to get the good seat.  It bothered me, though, that the kids who were doing what they were supposed to all along were stuck in the old "not cool" seats now.  We often spend more time and energy on the few squeaky wheels than rewarding kids for doing what is right.  The other problem that I had was that the couch idea, though creative, wouldn't be allowed as it would nit pass fire safety codes.  I've read these books and feel that I can apply them more to my own life, but I would like to see more examples of how they can be adapted to school systems rather than businesses.  In theory, I see the logic for classroom application, but, in reality, I would like real applications for classroom use.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Chapter 9: Build Habits

The chapter, "Build Habits," was interesting in the fact that it talked about how habits are mostly formed because of the environment.  I never thought about how environment can either reinforce or deter a habit until reading this chapter.  It makes sense that they refer to habits as "behavioral autopilot" because you do them without even thinking. 
Their idea of a mental plan or "action trigger" was fascinating.  It helped me connect that if you decide to make a change it isn't the same as actually making a plan to do it with concrete steps.  The quote that struck a note with me was, "Action triggers simply have to be specific enough and visible enough to interrupt people's normal stream of consciousness."  In school, this makes a lot of sense to use with students. 
They suggested that using a checklist "educates people about what's best, showing them the ironclad right way to do something."  We already do it in some areas, but not necessarily in the area of changing "bad" habits.  In Writing, we use checklists for what should be included in a particular genre of writing.  Many teachers use checklists in solving math problems.  The assessments in the ELA Modules always have a "checklist" of what they call Criteria for Success for the students to check and see if they have included everything they should.  What if we created checklists that told students what they needed to do specifically to change the habits they already have that hinder their success and held them accountable for following through? 
The end of the chapter brings up that the hardest struggle will be maintaining motivation of the "Elephant."  Wouldn't it be great if we could design classrooms to be environments that would make it easy for students to change their bad habits?  The question is, how do we do it effectively so it makes a lasting impact with students?

Monday, February 15, 2016

Chapter 7 Grow Your People

Through the stories/examples in chapter 7, “Grow Your People”, these were the ideas that caught my attention:

Page 152 - “Paul Butler didn’t shrink the change. Instead, he grew the people.” I think when we are faced with a difficult task, breaking it down can be helpful. When the task or change becomes a part of who you are it can be powerful and create momentum for hard work.

Page 156 - “Identity is going to play a role in nearly every change situation.” Individuals need to take ownership of their work. When one has ownership in the process, change or learning can be more meaningful.

Page 165 - “A growth mindset compliment praises effort rather than natural skill.” I try to remember this with my students. I have learned to choose my words carefully, wanting to acknowledge the hard work and not just the finished project. Noticing each step in the process, the positives, as well as the struggles, can sometimes help students continue to strive for change and growth in different areas.

Page 168 - “But to create and sustain change, you’ve got to act more like a coach and less like a scorekeeper.”
We need to point out what is working well and keep practicing to get better or make a change.

Page 169 - “We will struggle, we will fail, we will be knocked down-but throughout, we’ll get better, and we’ll succeed in the end.” I think it is important for anyone trying to make a change to keep this in mind. Students need to know we will be there to support them.

Page 175 - “There’s no “never” at Jefferson anymore, only a “Not Yet”.” I really liked this idea. So often kids and adults get hung up on grades and not the actual learning or growth taking place. The idea of “not yet” allows one to notice that some work has been done, but the job is not over. That’s ok. Keep working.

Page 175 - “The Elephant has to believe that it’s capable of conquering the change.” The idea of confidence is an important part of making a change.