On ‘How to influence others’ 

The title really does sound quite evil I’m sure, but I’m putting it out there. No hiding. 

Let me set the scene. I teach English as a foreign language, and every so often, the weekly topic is an issue close to my heart – the environment. In class, we spend 5 days learning vocabulary like ‘endangered, solar and biodegradable’, reading articles on climate change and discussing the future of the planet. As a ‘greeny’, I get excited at having a platform to debate such issues. The little warrior inside me has an ulterior motive however: How can I make my students change their habits and be greener?  

I can admit that I have been a pushy person in the past, and I’m not proud of it. I wanted those around me to live in an ‘eco-friendly’ manner. But it wasn’t until others wanted me to change aspects of my lifestyle, that I soon realised how ‘being forceful’ can actually alienate others and drive them further from the issue. Even with the kindest intentions, you could shove gold in someone’s face and tell them it was the best thing in the world, but you’re more likely to end up repelling them. They’ll probably go out and buy some silver in spite of you.  

The thing is, that generally people just want to share. They find a great band, app or have an amazing idea, and they want others to experience it too. Sharing is good, don’t get me wrong, but if you really want to influence others (and not in a Dr. Evil sense) for their own good, or for that of the planet, a different technique is required.  

Back in the language classroom, my approach was to simply open the floor to discussion. I showed them the Stop Sucking video (StrawlessOcean.org) and hoped we’d be able to reach the conclusion that straws were unnecessary. After posing the question ‘Do we need straws?’, and discussing paper or metal alternatives, 90% of the class decided that plastic straws were still important. Not exactly what I’d hoped for. They admitted that they used straws to avoid bacteria or protect their teeth, and as I didn’t want to be too preachy or isolate myself from my students, I said that I used to use them, but that I was actually cutting them out of my life.  

I believe a teacher should generally remain neutral when touching on sensitive subjects. I try to lead by example and allow people to come to their own conclusions. But I feel like there’s still something I’m missing out. More experimentation is needed and hopefully, I can edge closer towards a balance between subtlety and persuasiveness.  





Written by Rebecca Hatfield on 31st Jan 2018  

2 Replies to “On ‘How to influence others’ ”

  1. Giving a platform to challenging topics is definitely a role of teachers and education – otherwise, it just becomes a practice in regurgitation. In an age of ‘no platform’ing (incidentally, a dangerous way of alienating students from topics that are unpalatable to them because of the current relationship in education of consumer/content provider that student/teacher has become) censoring of topics prevents the development of high level debating skills on topics that are emotionally charged. If certain topics are ‘inappropriate’ for a classroom, are they then to be banned from discussion in society? Fitting the narrative that education is a key to improved job prospects and the student/consumer should not have to feel all at sea confronted by ideas they, possibly vehemently, disagree with. Resulting in a dissatisfied costumer sending in a complaint to the administration of the organisation who in turn neutralise the situation by diluting the curriculum down to an anodyne level that neither student nor teacher benefit from whatsoever.

    More on the point about what can be done on ‘How to influence others’ – it’s easy to quote Ghandi about ‘being the change one wants to see in the world’, but would students take notice of green habits if really they’ve got little interest. I think the best approach is for the school to be openly positive towards green issues and include students in their ways (having recycling bins, composting organic waste, reduced use of plastic) so that it becomes habit forming, leading to a more informed view on the subject. No one likes being told to what to do, but is there any harm in being shown ‘how we do it’?

    1. Thanks for your comments. I think the Ghandi quote is very poignant; it’s an important thing to remember. But as you said, if others aren’t tuned in to green issues to start with, well, will they notice the teachers actions at all?
      Maybe it’s about finding a balance between opening the floor to a debate and promoting deep questioning, whilst also presenting your own opinion when appropriate.

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