Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why We're Resisting Change

Education week has 10 Reasons Your Educators Are Resisting Your Change Initiative and it seems like a pretty interesting list.

Why are teachers always resisting change initiatives dictated from on high? Peruse the list. One VERY important reason is missing. Admins will consistently miss it and won't get it.

Teachers will ALL get it.

10 Reasons Your Educators Are Resisting Your Change Initiative
  1. Surprise, Surprise! Decisions or requests that are sprung on administrators and teachers without notice.
  2. Excess Uncertainty. Not knowing enough about the change will result in the "walking off a cliff blindfolded" syndrome.
  3. Loss of Control. Feeling that changes are being done to, rather than done by, those affected.
  4. Loss of Routine. Concerns that change will require administrators and teachers to question familiar (and comfortable) routines and habits.
  5. We've Seen This Before. Expectation that the initiative is temporary and it will stay incomplete, meaning the best strategy is to lay low and not contribute to success.
  6. Loss of Face. Change implies that the former way of doing things was wrong. Some administrators and teachers may feel embarrassed in front of their peers or staff.
  7. Concerns About Future Competence. Educators can question their ability to be effective after a change: Can I do it? How will I do it? Will I make it in the new situation?
  8. Ripple Effects. Change in one area can disrupt other projects or activities, even ones outside of work.
  9. More Work. Organizational change often increases workloads.
  10. Sometimes the Threat Is Real. Change often creates real winners and losers, and people worry about where they will end up when the project is complete.
Additional thoughts
As a school leader, if you want your change initiatives to be successful, you MUST address these issues. More important than whether you think you’ve addressed them is whether the resisters believe that you’ve addressed them. It’s what is in their heads and hearts, not yours, that’s important.
What else might we add to this list? I’d probably add:
  1. Under-Resourcing. The initiative is not accompanied by sufficient resources (e.g., time, support, funding, training) to actually make it happen. So why should we bother?
  2. Innovation Fatigue. Too many simultaneous initiatives. [this contributes to both 5 and 9]
Source: IBM’s online Change Toolkit for educators. Scott McLeod cross-posted at Dangerously Irrelevant

Notice the reasons listed are written from the point of view of an administrator who knows that what he is doing is right in all ways. Secure in this knowledge, he is confounded by all those naysayers. Why are they obstructing him in his righteousness? What is the solution to this knave? How can we deal with him, shut him up and move on with our tablets to mount on the wall where all the sinners can see them -- and convince them to stop worshipping their false American Idol. (Enough bad references!)

So, besides the fact that the announcement came from on high in response to a problem that nobody had and takes the form of an initiative that no one ever thought of ...

What I find the most amazing is that neither in the original post nor in any of the comments added on has  anyone taken note of the most important reason to naysay, block, obstruct, resist or otherwise hinder the adoption of a new initiative is ...


If I've already seen this initiative fail, I will continue to fight its newest incarnation. My experience is the only reason why I get paid twice what a new teacher earns. Why do my principals insist that my resistance is pigheadedness rather than a reasoned evaluation of the project -- a project that will come up short because I've personally been through its failure before?

I've done some dumb things. My schools have done some dumb things -- we actually built open classrooms. One year later, we built walls.  A nearby HS built a huge open classroom building and has spent every year since hating it. I have no intention of repeating my failures intentionally.

It's funny, though not too surprising when you consider the mindset of the posters and the administrators involved, that no one ever seems to consider the possibility that the initiative is a proven loser.

Even though you don't like me saying it, it still won't fly.


  1. Great extension of my post. Thank you! (and I hope you leave a link to your post over in my comments area so folks find this one!)

    Sometimes it's hard to tell if the proposed innovation is one of substance (this pig will NEVER fly) or implementation (a good idea, poorly implemented in the past). If the latter, it may be worth revisiting, particularly if new knowledge, techniques, and/or tools allow for hopefully-better results. If the former, well, you said it!

  2. You see this in business too. A new CEO comes in with "new" ideas. Unfortunately, they happen to be the same "new" ideas that the CEO before last had, that failed miserably. If you have been around long enough that the "new" idea isn't new to you, and you know why it won't work for your department/company, you're just not going to be really excited about implementing the "new" plan.