Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.


In the first part of last year I read/listened to Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. I loved it and have often referred back to ideas from some of its fabulous stories. Like any good technobibliophile, I went to the book’s web page to see what resources they might have. I signed up and downloaded some stuff and checked back in occasionally when the opportunity prompted. Theres some good stuff there for educators.

Switch by Chip & Dan Heath

Then in November, I received an email stating I would be receiving a copy of their new book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. I was initially excited and having signed up on their site I wasn’t too suspicious of receiving emails from them. Cool. I grew excited and found myself anticipating it’s arrival, much like Ralphie in that favorite movie of mine. Then Ralphie’s lesson that he learned from his decoder ring started echoing in my mind…”A crummy commercial!” I slowly began to suspect as much as well.

The blur of the end of the semester and the year swept away all thoughts of the book until it arrived in the mail. There was a letter with the book that said thanks for checking it out. Really cool. I read on to see the catch, suspicious like a kid who’s been burned on an Ovaltine commercial gimmick, and there it was…

“One serious request: Please don’t blog or tweet about Switch until January 15, 2010.”

(You can see I’m well beyond that deadline.) What? Oooh, the secrecy…I looked at the cover of the book and it has a caption at the top “Uncorrected Proof – Not for Sale” (see the picture to the right). Really, really cool. I felt like I was part of some super secret society. I started reading right away and noticed some things that needed correcting -that’s the old English teacher kicking in.

I found the book very engaging, but the holidays hit and the second semester started and I was running on 5-ish hours of sleep for a period of time that made any kind of casual reading impossible. So when I went to EduCon, I was determined to read the book. The flight to Philly and back provided just the opportunity I needed. Although I must say I probably could have finished the book much quicker if I didn’t keep stopping to make notes from thoughts the book triggered. I absolutely love that in a book!

I’m quite interested in the change process, but I’m worn out with the onslaught of change procedure manuals that focus on process and not people. Switch’s focus is on people and how to help, motivate, and encourage them (us) through the change and it’s (often perceived) barriers. It’s not about callous manipulation and sterile, mechanistic change protocols. In fact Switch is an acknowledgement that our hearts, minds, and situations all play significant roles in how we approach and embrace/reject change. Brothers Heath in Switch “argue that successful changes share a common pattern. They require the leader to do three things at once…Direct the Rider, Motivate the Elephant, and Shape the Path.”

Hang on there, Rick. Rider? Elephant? Path? What kind of circus is this? Can these guys really be serious with this stuff?

For sure (and we’ll come back to that), but they don’t take themselves too seriously and they are realistic about the framework they’ve created.

“We created this framework to be useful for people who don’t have scads of authority or resources…As helpful as we hope this framework will be to you, we’re well aware, and you should be too, that this framework is no panacea.”

I absolutely appreciate the practical simplicity of those two sentences and the two sequential paragraphs they introduce in the book. In fact, I’m pretty sure those pages in that section of the first chapter sold me on the rest of the book.

Now, back to the circus.

The Heath’s conversational writing style and engaging storytelling provide fertile ground for their explanations and takeaway learnings. They’re both educators, which adds extra credibility and perspective for me. They know a good word picture/example/metaphor/story when they steal it. Okay, they really don’t steal the stuff they use in the book; they give credit where it’s due. For their framework they have taken an analogy used by University of Virginia psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, of an elephant and it’s rider. -I have to admit I had a small mental image of an circus-type elephant and rider on initial conception, but as I read on I replaced that image with that of an oliphaunt and haradrim rider as depicted in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies.

The essence of the rider, elephant, and path analogy-pattern-framework comes down to this:

  • Direct the Rider -our rational side. “What looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity. So provide crystal-clear direction.”
  • Motivate the Elephant -our emotional side. “What looks like laziness (or reluctance -my addition here) is often exhaustion…engage people’s emotional sides.”
  • Shape the Path -our situations. “What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. When you shape the Path, you make change more likely, no matter what’s happening with the Rider and the Elephant.”

Throughout the book, the Heath’s use surprising and entertaining stories to illustrate and clarify their Rider/Elephant/Path analogy. They are amazing, funny, poignant, incredible and sometimes jaw-dropping. Each story effective reinforces the the sub-elements of the framework. Switch will provoke and entertain, stimulate and inspire, and reframe and refocus (note the section on SMART goals in chapter four, especially). I know it sounds a little like a commercial, but leaders in any capacity will find benefit in these pages. The takeaways at the end of the book with the Problem-Advice format add an additional dimension to the book and reinforce the lessons in the book.

Switch has a wealth of resources for anyone wanting to keep people at the forefront of any change (small or large). I’m interested to see how those in the educational community respond as they read the book and incorporate it into their own change initiatives, knowing it is not an all-inclusive manual about top-down control. Here, the Heath’s caution us, “Big problems are rarely solved with commensurately big solutions.”

I look forward to the discussion.


February 4, 2010 Posted by | Education | , , , , , | 2 Comments


Connections and reconnections. That sums up my EduCon experience today.

After @NancyW (Nancy White) and I made our bus connection to SLA, I connected with @bhwilkoff (Ben Wilkoff) and @hdiblasi (Howie DiBlasi) and later with @mwacker (Michael Wacker). During the SLA tour, guided by two SLA students, I found my way into several classrooms and posted a few tweets during the process.

On a tour at SLA, now in @mrchase English class. Lesson about Jackson’s The Lottery. #educon

What!? What kind of heresy is this? Laptops right next to lab equipment and kids entering experiment data?! #educon

Now kids reading their poems from their laptops! Not a piece of paper to be found! Who do these people think they are?! #educon

Overheard: You dont want to be on your cell phone in class. You might miss something… #educon

I know the non-educator friends in Facebook (and maybe even some of educator friends) sometimes get a little annoyed by my constant tweets that update my Facebook page. Some of them comment and leave me special sentiments. Like the kids we teach, they engage at different ranges consistent with their areas of interest and/or if they think they can beat someone else to a humorous reply.

Later I found myself in Zac Chase‘s (@mrchase) regular classroom having a conversation about a range of education topics with @bhwilkoff (Ben Wilkoff), @mwacker (Michael Wacker), @shareski (Dean Shareski), @thecleversheep (Rodd Lucier), @jasonmkern (Jason Kern), and several others. I didn’t say much, which, for those of you who know me will probably find that hard to believe. I was there for my own learning and while I wasn’t verbally participating, I found myself making mental connections to some of my own prior learning and working it into this new knowledge. Not everything bore immediate fruit, but as is common for me, I planted seeds from the conversations of others.

Downstairs in the commons and feeling the pressure to steal a few minutes of work, I turned my laptop on for the first time. I didn’t get much work done; there were too many conversations making too many connections for me. @mwacker (Michael Wacker) and I talked a little shop with @akamrt (Gregory Thompson).

I met SLA teacher @dlaufenberg (Diana Laufenberg) and got to hear about some of the internal workings of SLA over a Mediterranean lunch with several people from during the day. Some of that conversation connected to some of the earlier conversations that connected back to another book I’m currently reading.

Afterword, we again found ourselves (with several others from earlier) in Zac Chase‘s (@mrchase) regular classroom, only this time populated with his students. I listened as kids read their sentences attempting to use some of the vocabulary taped to the wall. Later, I was again content to be an observer, but one of @shareski‘s and one of my tweets sums it up:

@MrChase likes being a teacher.

Got put to work in @mrchase English class with @bhwilkoff @mwacker @shareski and others No passive observers here at SLA. #educon

Mr. Chase drafted us to help kids with some of the struggles they were having in working through an assignment where they were using blogs. I didn’t know much about the assignment, so I found myself asking lots of questions to understand. The students were very gracious in their responses, but through the whole process I saw that one of them was listening to the group’s responses and was working them into the 10 items Mr. Chase asked them to work on. There, I made another re-connection: questions are important. It’s soooo easy to fall back on our “Curse of Knowledge” as Dean Shareski made reference to earlier (which also triggered a connection to a book I recently read, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath who also made reference throughout to the Curse of Knowledge).

@bhwilkoff (Ben Wilkoff), @mwacker (Michael Wacker), and I made an unremarkable trip and back to a tweetup before attending the Friday Night Panel Discussion. Now that made lots of connections for lots of people. The Twitter hashtag #educon made it as one of the trending topics in Philadelphia. Managing the conversations on stage and via Twitter proved to be hyper-engaging for me, not really a pacifier as one panelist alluded to regarding technology. I may have gotten a little snarky once or twice.

I followed the crowd out and ended up riding a conversational wave that included connections from @thecleversheep (Rodd Lucier), @shareski (Dean Shareski), @jonbecker, (Jonathan Becker, whom I long tweeted with and finally met in person), @courosa (Alec Couros who, by the way, went around the group of 13 people, introduced by both in-world and twitter names, only missing one who was new to him. That was amazing and shows the power of connections on people.), @bhwilkoff (Ben Wilkoff), @lizbdavis (Liz Davis), @aforgrave (Andrew Forgrave), @msjweir (Jamie Reaburn Weir), @zbpipe (Zoe Branigan-Pipe), and @crafty184 (Chris Craft). My memory isn’t as good as @courosa (Alec Couros) because I’ve left two people out. I apologize.

After the good conversations from the day, I knew I wasn’t going to be going to sleep anytime soon. That stinks because the conversations of the day start early tomorrow (er, later this morning).

Oh yeah, I decided to change my Twitter picture so I can help with putting a name to a face when meeting in-world. Thanks for the suggestion.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Possibility vs Scarcity Thinking with Ben and Roz Zander

The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life

I’ve just finished Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander’s book The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. This book caps of a trio of books I’ve “read” since January 2009. (Note: I have placed “read” in quotations because I actually listened to two of the books and some of my English-teacher friends would say that doesn’t really count as having read them. That’s their problem, not mine. I’m all the better for my auditory or visual interaction with them anyway and I’ll use read to signify both kinds of interaction here.) The other two books are Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath and The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson with Lou Aronica (listed in reverse order read.)Made To Stick

First of all, Zander’s The Art of Possibility and Robinson’s The Element represent the books I purchased because I watched related videos on TED. TED, by the way, if you have never heard of it is “riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world.” For all you corporate, copyright, intellectual control, 19th-century business model, knowledge-hoarding authoritarians, you might want to notice that the free media on TED directly contributed to the purchase of two additional, possibly three items -the Zanders’ physical book and Robinson’s audio recording, which I may also purchase in hard copy for future reference. Additionally, after listening to the Heaths’ book, I purchased the hard copy…I’m just sayin’.

The ElementI didn’t intend to read the books in the order I did. In fact I didn’t intend to read them at all other than The Element. After watching Robinson’s TED talk and Zander’s TED talk, I had to learn more. Additionally, reading Made To Stick and The Art of Possibility were a result of recurring recommendations by those I follow on Twitter and those whose blogs I read.

…Meanwhile, back to the books themselves. They all have a similar “long line” as Zander calls it, “a theme upon which each [book] is a variation.” That theme is simply to make a difference our own lives and the lives of others. Each author (or groups of authors) present rather compelling and impassioned ways to do this. But each does it in almost the same way; they tell stories -lots of them. In fact stories are one of the six principles in the Heaths’ “SUCCESs” model. Each book speaks to the transformative power of Story. In testament to this, The Zanders have a section at the end of their book called “A Guide to the Stories.” The Heaths include story references from their chapters also in the end section “The Easy Reference Guide.” Robinson focuses often on “epiphany stories,” those stories that “involve some level of revelation, a way of dividing the world into before and after.” For this post, I’ll focus on the Zanders’ The Art of Possibility.

In using stories told from each of their perspectives, Ben and Roz (as they identify themselves in the book) illustrate in concrete ways we can make a difference in our own lives and of others. Of the three books, theirs provides some of the most practical thinking for transformation -well, duh, it is in the title. One of the most compelling thoughts comes early on in the book as they reframe the context of world from one of scarcity to one of abundance. Here are some examples from the book. While note set against each other for a direct comparison, some do flow that way. Some may make immediate sense, while other may necessitate your reading the book.

Scarcity Thinking

Abundance Thinking

A world of measurement: assessments, scales, standards, grading, and comparisons Beyond the world of measurement to include all worlds: infinite, generative, and abundant
Obstacles show up as a scarcity of people, time money, power, love, resources, and inner strength We gain our knowledge by invention
Acceptance and Rejection Action may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word -reproducing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves.
Surviving in a world of scarcity and peril
Responses: alertness to danger, a clever strategic mind, an eye for assessing friend and foe, a knack for judging strength and weakness, the know-how to take possession of resources, a measure of mistrust, and a good dollop of fear
Resisting challenges to our personal viewpoint Resources are likely to come to you in greater abundance when you are generous and inclusive and engage people in your passion for life
We know each other and things by measuring them, and by comparing and contrasting them A passionate energy to connect, express, and communicate
Children are compared to each other Children contribute meaning and are passionate
Life arranged in hierarchies Taking a long view without being able to predict the outcome
People, ideas, and situations can be fully known and measured When you are oriented toward abundance, you care less about being in control, and you take more risks
Some groups, people bodies, places, and ideas seem better or more powerful than others
Some people, races, and organizations are safer and more desirable than others All are contributors
There are only so many pieces of the pie The pie is enormous, and if you take a slice, the pie is whole again.
A world of struggle Setting the context and letting life unfold
Competitive sports and war metaphors apply to almost any situation A cooperative universe
Conversations chronicle personal trials and triumphs A wiliness to be moved and inspired
Fear, anger, and despair at losing A humane, charitable world
…virtually everybody, whether living in the lap of luxury or in diminished circumstances, wakes up in the morning with the unseen assumption that life is about the struggle to survive and get ahead in a world of limited resources. Unimpeded on a daily basis by the concern for survival, free from the generalized assumption of scarcity, a person stand in the grate space of possibility in a posture of openness, with an unfettered imagination for what can be.
Seek more for ourselves no matter how much we have and treat others as competitors no matter how much they have Lighting a spark in others
Questions of assessment Questions of inquiry
Persuasion Enrollment
What’s best for me What’s best for all of us
Expectations to live up to Possibilities to live into
Reality is fixed No guarantees
Winning and Losing Life appears as variety, pattern, shimmering movement, inviting us in every moment to engage.
Overcoming odds and prevailing
Being acknowledged and included
Competition is the vehicle to success
Exhilaration of coming out on top
Supplies are fixed and limited
The frenzied accumulation of resources by some leaving others without enough


Further in the book the context for these ideas are framed in the illustration of “downward spiral” and “possibility” talk/thinking. The define the downward spiral talk as “a resigned way of talk [thinking] that excludes possibility…[f]ocusing on the abstraction of scarcity…creat[ing] an unassailable story about the limits to what is possible, and tells us compellingly how things are going from bad to worse” (p. 108). They introduce possibility earlier on page 20, but it stands contrast:

“The action in a universe of possibility may be characterized as generative, or giving, in all senses of that word -reproducing new life, creating new ideas, consciously endowing with meaning, contributing, yielding to the power of contexts. The relationship between people and environments is highlighted, not the people and things themselves. Emotions that are often relegated to the special category of spirituality are abundant here: joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion, and compassion.”

PopTechSee the video on Pop!Tech to hear from Zander himself on the topic -and many others from the book. Zander is one of those teachers we all wish we could have. He walks his talk absolutely graciously. It has some similarities with his TED talk, but this one has a kid! Stay for the end. The 30 minutes is completely worth it.

The above quote from the the book, published in 2000, resonates with me as an educator (and I suspect others also). It’s what we strive for as educators it speaks to our passions and best hopes. It’s often how we define our educational reform efforts.

This is one of those must-read books for educators. It has so much more than a blog post can do justice.

If you’ve read this book or have feedback on the post, I welcome your comments.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments