How Can We Change Behavior

When it comes to changing, common sense might not be the best way to approach change. I’ve been teaching long enough to know that education does not change behavior. so funny that this is a conversation that we’re having on a Tuesday, because on Monday I saw one of my former students in the gym. I asked him what he was doing, and he broke my heart. He told me he was going to college and he was taking business classes, but those weren’t his primary for focus. His primary focus was D1, or division 1 football. I understand that if he was a division 1 football player with one year of eligibility left, he would have already been contacted. As well, the fact that he didn’t mention taking classes that transfer let me know that even if he had the talent, he might not have the courses.  The most troubling part of the whole conversation is that he told me he has no plan B.  This is further proof that no matter how much we educate people, education alone will not change attitudes or behavior. 

 Dr. Cross pointed out that attitude follows behavior, but that attitudes do not predict behavior. To change behavior, we need to change attitudes.  We need to set high expectations  and if I want to change attitudes I need to set high expectations.  Every job has the, “culture busters”, the laggards or complainers.  If we are to exert any influence over them, we have to help them love what they hate. 

Cross points out that to change behavior, we have to provide assistance, and set high expectations. My concern with high expectations is, we always hear that if you set high expectations people will live up to them. What studies have been done that confirm this hypothesis?   Who were these studies done on?  Why is this important?  As I have experienced, setting high expectations for a group of people that aren’t motivated to excel is like giving steak to a baby that should be breast-feeding.  They won’t be able to eat the steak because the baby doesn’t have the proper tools or mindset.  In fact, what I found is that many of the students found me to be an oddball.  They just couldn’t respond to high expectations.  I don’t like to reflect on this conversation often, but the truth is, the early years at my current school made me a better teacher because of lessons like this.  What I came to realize is, just like I had to adjust my coursework to fit the clientele that I work with, I also had to adjust my expectations.  What one school considers high expectations might be regular or low at another school site.  This is akin to an ongoing argument that I am having with myself regarding the growth mindset.  Simply put, we make certain assumptions about things because we deal with people that share our same viewpoint.  When we go into another environment, in which our norm is the outcast, We might not be so quick to believe what we once thought was true.  There will have to be some more thought put into the high expectations argument.  But I do think the motivation to be great has to come from within.

Wait…What, “people don’t know what motivates them?” Well, yet another idea out the window.  Dr. Cross argues that people are motivated by the pressures presented by social norms. So we have to model for them what they should be doing, or we can also create direct experiences for them as the influencer model says.

In my change initiative I will be using personal motivation to, “help them love what they hate” and, “help them do what they can’t.”  Socially I’m going to provide encouragement and assistance. I’m going to let them see what I do, and I will help them every step of the way.  Then I will ask them if they want to work with me to set-up a project-based learning  module.  I’m going to give them the “heavier tasks” and I will provide the guidance. I might also be able to change their space. Student-centered learning is hard, and you’re going to come home mentally drained after working on projects all day. However, the emotional strain from teaching using projects is not the same as the emotional strain from direct instruction methods.  If I can convince them that their classrooms will be less combative or frustrating, I think I’ll be able to influence them positively.  


Change Behavior- Change the World: Joseph Grenny at TEDxBYU. (2013, April 26). Retrieved from

Influencer: The new science of leading change: 2nd ed. (2013). McGraw-Hill Education.

McChesney, C., Covey, S., & Huling, J. (2016). The 4 disciplines of execution: Achieving your wildly important goals. Free Press.

Strickland, A. (2016, August 31). Why you may not recognize Clark Kent as Superman. Retrieved from

Three Myths of Behavior Change – What You Think You Know That You Don’t: Jeni Cross at TEDxCSU. (2013, March 20). Retrieved from

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