Final Post on Switch-Tweak the Environment Part 5

June 25, 2011

Change, Education

This is my last post on the book Switch.  We have talked about giving clear directions to the Rider – your rational side.  We have talked about motivating your Elephant – your emotional side. Today we will talk about changing the Path.

By far the easiest and simplest strategy to make change happen is to set up the environment to make that change easier. Trainers know this.  We set up our rooms for a successful training…most of us choosing to use round tables where participants can talk and work together.  I remember baby-proofing my house, so that I did not have to say “No!” a hundred times a day to a toddler who was innately curious and on the move.  Grocery stores know how to create a path for you that maximizes your spending.  Why else is the milk at the back of the store?

So what does this look like for our youth programs?  Here are some strategies:

1.  Make sure your setting is safe physically, emotionally and socially.  Provide healthy food so that young people can be attentive.  Provide physical exercise so youth can have an outlet from sitting all day.  Make sure there is no bullying or burning.  Build a sense of belonging through games and activities.  Have a conflict-resolution plan that is respectful to each youth.  Know your youth and the struggles they bring into your rooms.

2.  Arrange the room to maximize learning and minimize conflict.  Often this means that you use group forming activities instead of letting the youth self-select where they sit and what groups they work in.

3.  Allow your youth to create the guidelines and roles for the program.  Let them build the path. This creates buy-in with the youth and difuses the power struggle.  As we used to say at Oasis Center, ” If you get into a power struggle with a youth, you have already lost”.

4.  Create incentives for the behavior you want.  Cool ones.  And give feedback that is specific to the behavior, not the typical, “Good Job!” “Awesome”.  Instead use phrases that reward the youth for the effort and strategy. “You really kept trying until you got that.” or ask, “I am curious as to how you figured that out.”  (See my blog on Creating a Growth Mindset  in Youth for more about giving feedback.)  Allow youth to reflect on their work and share it with the group.

5.  Help create habits for your youth with routines and structure.  There is less resistance to habits, since they form a path of behavior that becomes automatic.  Create “action triggers”.  For example, when a certain song is played, it is clean up time.  Let the youth create checklists for themselves to follow.

6. Create a positive peer culture….a “good herd” for the elephant to follow. Ownership and pride create a path of behavior as well.  Gangs use these to negatively lead our youth. Let’s use them to positively lead ours.

As the Heath brothers say, “…when it comes to changing… behavior, enviromental tweaks beat self-control every time.”



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