Making the Switch to a Stronger, More Inclusive AP Program

This summer on one of my many long plane rides, I read a fabulous book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, by brothers Chip Heath and Dan Heath. The authors develop an extended analogy throughout the well-researched book that made it an interesting and entertaining read. They compare making a change to having a rider trying to keep an elephant on a narrow pathway when it just wants to go stomping off in a different direction. The rider represents our rational mind who understands that change is necessary and good (ie., losing twenty pounds would make me healthier!) The elephant is our more emotional side that seeks pleasure and avoids discomfort (ie., desserts taste great and exercise is yucky!) The narrow pathway is the environment in which the change needs to take place (ie, the teachers’ lounge offers nothing but unhealthy snacks and the television beckons me with wonderful reality shows!)
The authors offer examples, anecdotes and strategies to address how to best address each of these three components in a successful change. As I was reading the book on my way to the AP Annual Conference in San Francisco, I kept thinking that (okay, in addition to losing weight) the change I would most like to see is more schools committing to building a strong and inclusive AP program that will allow more minority and low income students the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of Advanced Placement. Amazingly, I continue to run into people in education who insist that these goals are mutually exclusive. They insist that having a more inclusive AP program will dilute its quality and that a strong programs demands that certain students be shut out of the AP opportunity. I think that everyone who reads this blog would agree that this mindset needs to be changed. The question is how do we go about doing that?
Using the lessons learned in this book, I am going to write four new posts during the next two weeks that will address how to “direct the rider,” “motivate the elephant,” and “shape the path.” Notice that I set a numerical goal and a specific timeline. Each new post will discuss a specific aspect of managing change, but all need to happen in conjunction with one another. You might consider buying and reading this book, but I hope that my posts will give you enough information to help you get started without having to do so. School is about to start; our kids show up on Tuesday. It would be easy to postpone getting started on this, but I feel as though it’s too important a topic to wait any longer and the beginning of the school year is a good time to start making changes. I have promised shorter, more frequent and more focused blog postings so I will end tonight and head to the grocery store to stock up on healthy food and then to the track to walk a mile or two!

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