Montana Catholic Schools Weekly

February 15, 2016

How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Switch by Chip & Dan Heath is a book that explores change leadership. Like many business books, the authors use a central metaphor to illustrate their point: making a switch (read—making a change) is like convincing an elephant and its rider to change direction. You first try to convince the rider through mental persuasion but ultimately the elephant (the emotional) is more powerful. So in order to make a switch, one needs to direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path.


The book has relevance to our classrooms and schools because the authors reject a “top-down” approach to leadership, instead relying on persuasion and sales to bring about change. At times, the arguments seems almost manipulative (see this article about marriage as an example) but ultimately it’s worth considering. For example, when I sat down to write this blog post, I am thinking about the article about suicide rates in Montana and wonder how we can address that problem.


The strength of the book is the examples. Examples of “directing the rider”:


· A researcher tried to address malnutrition in rural Vietnam. He began by finding the “bright spots” where malnutrition isn’t as prevalent and built a program by replicating their practices.

· The authors challenge us to “script the critical moves” because ambiguity is exhausting. One group worked to support a healthier community by challenging people to select 1% milk instead of whole milk. One small change was simple and the campaign was direct.

· Authors claim we need to “point to a destination” where we remind people of the goals. Instead of simply offering data to analyze, we should point to an end point and allow people to figure out the means to get there.

Examples of “motivating the elephant”:

· Instead of “analyze-think-change” (the popular approach to change), the authors argue that the process is “see-feel-change” meaning that emotion is the primary motivator

· As opposed to consequences (“what do I get out of this?”), the authors believe people choose out of identity (“who do I want to be?”). He uses the example of hotel maids. When they are told they have been meeting the daily requirements for exercise through their work, the majority go on to do even more exercise and begin to lose weight. Those that aren’t told they are meeting the requirements rarely exercise outside of their work.

· The authors believe in the small steps. For example, cleaning a house can be overwhelming. So they suggest taking the smallest, easiest steps first.

· Likewise, they explore the wisdom of Dave Ramsey’s wealth promotion system. Ramsey argues that someone should pay off small balances first (as opposed to the higher interest accounts) in order to gain momentum.

· On St. Lucia, the government was challenged to protect the parrot. Without any power and not much of a budget, the government launched a PR campaign to give the parrot an identity with the island and to establish the idea that islanders “take care of their own.”

· The authors argue that a growth mindset allows a person to learn new tasks and accept new motivations. A new minimally invasive heart procedure was rolled out and the authors found that hospitals with growth mindsets were more successful because they didn’t need to be perfect on Day One. They learned!

The authors argue that we need to “direct the path” in order to make change easier:

· Habits are hard to break. The authors point out that “stand up meetings” are successful because it breaks the habit of long meetings.

· The environment is crucial to supporting habits. Drinking and obesity, for example, are contagious and are supported by one’s social situations.

· We should support the small steps in the right direction in the same way that parents support a child learning to walk.


The book works well in considering large changes such the “designated driver” movement. First, it was important to establish the rational reasons for the healthy behavior and the reasons to avoid the punishment (directing the rider). In order to motivate the elephant, the movement pushed Hollywood to include examples of designated drivers in movies and TV shows. Then they worked to direct the path by making it easy (and cheap!) to call a cab or getting free non-alcoholic drinks for designated drivers. Think about the change that has taken place over the last 20 years, enough that now we have Helen Mirren scolding us during the Super Bowl (“if you tried to donate your brain to science, they would reject it!”).


Dr. Tim Uhl, Superintendent

The Week Ahead

Monday: Missoula meetings

Tuesday: Office (Helena)

Wednesday: Butte meeting & Billings School Board

Thursday: Billings & Bozeman meetings

Friday: Great Falls meetings


This week: 1,013 miles

Last week: 465 miles

2015-16: 16,094 driving miles; 7,844 air miles

Montana Catholic Schools

Serving 3800+ students in 24 Catholic schools across the Treasure State

For Principals

  1. Bishop Warfel has issued a letter to the Great Falls Catholic Community. In the letter, he announces the formation of a Task Force to recommend improvements to our schools.
  2. WCEA progress reports are due March 1st. This applies to all schools who were visited prior to this year and aren't scheduled for a 3-year revisit this year.
  3. NCEA is offering two new resources that are worth the time: an E-rate information page that is worth visiting, and a webinar on using ACRE results.
  4. The Catholic Extension Service is offering a webinar on Innovations in Catholic Education on Tuesday, Feb 16th, at 3:00 pm.
  5. School Messenger is offering a webinar to our Montana Catholic Schools on Feb 23rd at 3:00 pm. This webinar is designed to show off the new features (like apps) as well as provide an overview to interested schools. Registration info.
  6. The deadline for the Catholic Mutual safety survey is February 15th. I sent out the link in an email last week as well as information regarding the online safety classes.
  7. I sent out a budget memo to principals last week. Please make sure to share this information with your Advisory Councils and business managers.
  8. There is a new SSO (Student Scholarship Organization) which will begin providing scholarships to students in private schools. It is called Big Sky Scholarships and has our complete support. Here is the link to the donations page.
  9. For the March regional meetings--March 15th at Miles City; March 17th at Hays; March 22nd at Butte. All meetings will start at 10 am and lunch will be provided by the hosts.
  10. Here is the link to the Monthly Principal tasks. Intent forms for faculty/staff should have been collected.

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