Posts Tagged 'David Brooks'

Why getting others to change is so difficult

IMG_1365Influencing others is one of leaders’ most important responsibilities and greatest challenges.

Most of us are familiar with techniques that are less than effective—providing rational reasons for the change, threatening, and ordering people to change, for instance—yet we persist in doing them, often because we don’t know what else to do.

David Brooks explored this issue in his New York Times column.

“You can tell people that they are fat and that they shouldn’t eat more French fries, but that doesn’t mean they will stop,” he writes. “You can make all sorts of New Year’s resolutions, earnestly deciding to behave better, but that doesn’t mean you will….”

“People don’t behave badly,” Brooks says, “because they lack information about their shortcomings. They behave badly because they’ve fallen into patterns of destructive behavior from which they’re unable to escape.”

Brooks encourages readers “…to pick one area of life at a time (most people don’t have the willpower to change their whole lives all at once) and help a person lay down a pre-emptive set of concrete rules and rewards. Pick out a small goal and lay out measurable steps toward it.

“It’s foolhardy to try to persuade people to see the profound errors of their ways in the hope that mental change will lead to behavioral change. Instead, try to change superficial behavior first and hope that, if they act differently, they’ll eventually think differently. Lure people toward success with the promise of admiration instead of trying to punish failure with criticism. Positive rewards are more powerful.”

What does work then?

  • Having modest, measurable goals within a framework of larger, stretching purposes that energize the change. The achievement and celebration of modest goals also provides the energy to persevere when our motivation lags.
  • Learning to think about things in new ways. While such “reframing” is often essential, it isn’t always necessary for people to change their beliefs before they change their behavior. In fact, a change in beliefs often follows a successful change in behavior that produces the desired result.
  • Repetition of new behaviors until they become habitual. Because old behavior are often deeply rooted and provide their own rewards, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of effort and perseverance required to change even one behavior.
  • Having supportive relationships, particularly with those who are a bit farther down the road of change and who offer hope, a new way of thinking about the problem, and practical solutions to common problems.

The essential role of social support in making lasting change will be explored more fully in my next post.

What have been your experiences with change—as an influencer of change, as the subject of someone’s change effort, or as a person seeking to change—taught you about the “essentials” of influence and the change process?

Enriching the space between students and teachers

Leland, Michigan/Dennis Sparks

People learn from people they love. Anything that enriches the space between a student and a teacher is good. Anything that makes it more frigid is bad. This doesn’t mean we have to get all huggy and mushy. It means rigorous instruction has to flow on threads of trust and affection. —David Brooks

If we are more loving toward our students, it can only help them and us.  Most likely, it will help us with all of our relationships.  And who wouldn’t want to live in a world that is filled with more love. —Jim Knight

Here’s a simple but important idea: good teachers respect and care about their students. That “truth” is particularly important for students whose life circumstances require that their teachers not only have content knowledge and pedagogical skills but who also clearly demonstrate that they like and enjoy their students.

There are exceptions to that generalization, of course. Many of us have had one or more teachers who we did not like us and whom we did not like, but for one reason or another we learned from them. But I wouldn’t want to staff a school, or even a hallway of a school, with such teachers, especially a school that serves our most vulnerable students.

Sometimes academic rigor and “trust and affection” are cast as an either/or proposition. Either teachers demand academic rigor or they are ”all huggy and mushy.” In fact, it is both/and.

The presence or absence of all these qualities, however, is not determined solely by a hiring decision. Academic rigor and positive attitudes toward students are cultivated by leaders who like and respect teachers, who design professional learning that deepens and expands teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogy, and who enable sustained conversations at faculty and team meetings about how teachers’ attitudes influence student engagement, learning, and desire to stay in school when it is no longer required.

“Anything that enriches the space between a student and a teacher is good,” David Brooks tells us. And I would add, “Anything that enriches the space between leaders and teachers—in particular, the professional learning and the critical conversations that affect the learning and well being of students—is good for the school community as a whole and for all of its members, no matter their age or role.”


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