Ditch That Textbook

Teaching with less reliance on the textbook.

5 ways teachers can sell others on their ideas

Robert Louis Stevenson once said, “Everyone lives by selling something.”

That goes for teachers, too. We sell our students on the benefits of using that last five minutes of class to do homework rather than take a nap. We sell them on the importance of the Pythagorean Theorem and how they’ll use it in their lives.

Teachers sell motivation. They sell their product: their content. They sell responsibility.

We sell, sell, sell, and the best of us teachers get our students to buy, buy, buy.

So when Dan Pink, an author and career counselor (www.danpink.com), penned a new book called “To Sell Is Human,” I instantly started thinking of connections to the teaching world.

(Pink also gave a Ted Talk on internal motivation and its three main components – mastery, autonomy and purpose – that I blogged about last March.)

In an interview with Wisconsin Public Radio, Pink outlined some ways that people sell that I think are good connections to teaching. Here are five of them:

1. Let them tell you why they agree with you. Pink suggests that you create the context for people to agree with you – and then get out of the way. Don’t force your reasons for agreeing on them. Let them draw those conclusions themselves.

So, as teachers, in our little sales, like getting students to participate in class, or our big sales, like helping them plan for their future, set the scene and let them make their own connections. “When people have their own reasons to agree with you, they adhere to them more strongly, believe them more deeply,” Pink said.

2. Decide whether to pitch with facts or questions. We’ve all made sales pitches to students, colleagues, administrators – even our loved ones. And we’ve all probably made them using facts and using questions.

The effectiveness of that pitch is based, in part, on whether we use questions or facts, Pink said.

Make your case with questions if the facts are clearly on your side. Why? Your questions elicit the answers that you want to hear. If the answers to your questions are obvious, your questions will lead your subject on the path you want them to take. If they’re not, your subject could wander off track.

Make your case with facts when your case isn’t open-and-shut. This more restrictive method is your best chance for success if your subject has many plausible choices and you want him or her to select a particular one.

3. Remember that your digital audience is wider than ever. Social media has the potential to magnify what you do in the classroom, be it positive or negative. An exciting learning experience in class may reach other students, teachers, parents and administrators if your students take to Facebook or Twitter about it. Results: building interest in your classes and your subject area. A misunderstanding or poorly chosen words could have the opposite effect, though. Pink compared this to a farmer selling sweet corn from the back of a truck. If he rips his clients off and they tell their friends and family, his business suffers. If he takes good care of them, word-of-mouth advertising makes him money.

4. Be a servant leader. The old tried-and-true selling approach of serving people first and then selling to them is still effective, Pink said. Relationships are key, and good teachers know that well. Students who have close relationships with adults in their lives are more likely to take their advice and see them as role models. It’s like the auto repairman who listens to a clanking car on his free time and later sees his business booming with trusting clients.

5. Help people find their needs. In the information age when answers to our questions are only a Google search away, sometimes people don’t need answers, Pink said. They need people who can help them identify their needs. “Identifying new problems is as valuable as solving existing ones,” he said. Students are often quick to find solutions to their problems. But they need caring adults to help them identify their most pressing problems or evaluate their solutions.

Don’t want to consider yourself a salesperson? That’s fine, but you’re acting, thinking or talking like one when you try to persuade people to your way of thinking. Let’s challenge ourselves to ditch the textbook concept of working with students and rethink our persuasion techniques. You never know how many lives you may affect.

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