Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

What Can We Do about Teacher Resistance? If School Leaders Understand the Nature of Resistance, They Can Improve Their Relationships with Teachers and Increase Teacher Implementation of Proven Practices

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

What Can We Do about Teacher Resistance? If School Leaders Understand the Nature of Resistance, They Can Improve Their Relationships with Teachers and Increase Teacher Implementation of Proven Practices

Article excerpt

When efforts to improve student learning fail, teachers often end up being blamed. Teachers were resistant to new ideas, say the leaders who were working with them. Rather than blame teachers and ask, "Why do teachers resist?" perhaps those of us who lead change should ask, "What can we do to makes it easier for teachers to implement new practices?"

Two pioneers in unpacking the meaning of resistance, Miller and Rollnick, have this to say about resistance in counseling and therapy relationships:

  To use the term "resistance" as explanatory seems to suggest that
  things are not going smoothly because of something that one person
  (the client) is doing. ... In a way, it is oxymoronic to say that
  one person is not cooperating. It requires at least two people to not
  cooperate, to yield dissonance. (2002, p. 45)

We can learn a lot about professional learning if we apply the same kind of thinking to our understanding of "resistant teachers." Consider six questions that can bring to the surface reasons for this dissonance between teachers and change agents.

QUESTION #1: Are the Teaching Practices Powerful?

In The Evolving Self, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi describes what's required for one idea to supersede another. "Ideas, values, technologies that do the job with the least demand on psychic energy will survive. An appliance that does more work with less effort will be preferred" (1993, p. 123, emphasis added).

Csikszentmihalyi's suggestion that people adopt new ideas or tools that are easier or more powerful also applies to teachers leaving behind old ways of teaching for more effective approaches. Teachers aren't likely to implement new practices unless they are powerful and easy to implement. Indeed, that seems like wise practice.

The issue of ease of use will be addressed in question two. Let's begin by considering the need for powerful teaching tools. Of course, few teachers will be motivated to implement a teaching practice if it does not increase student achievement, make content more accessible, improve the quality of classroom conversation, make students happier, increase love of learning, or have some other significant positive impact. Nevertheless, teachers report that they're frequently asked to change in ways that don't make a difference.

This situation can arise for at least three reasons. First, not all teaching practices are created equally. Before recommending practices for their schools, consumers of educational interventions must consider the quality of research that supports those practices, the effect sizes or other measures of statistical significance from supportive research studies, and the experiences of other educators. Indeed, change leaders should propose new ways of teaching only if they're confident they will have a positive impact on student achievement.

Second, educators should consider student achievement and behavior data from their schools before proposing new ways of teaching. Decision makers should strive to find teaching tools that are the best match for the needs of their students. A highly effective program in one school might be totally ineffective if adopted in a school facing different challenges. School improvement is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

Third, even proven, effective programs that are a good match for a school's needs still may not be powerful if teachers don't get sufficient support for high-quality implementation. Our research at the Kansas Coaching Project (Knight and Cornett 2009) indicates that teachers are unlikely to implement a practice successfully, if they implement at all, if they have had only workshops without coaching or other forms of follow-up support. Many teaching practices are sophisticated, and teachers can't be expected to learn them without an opportunity to watch model demonstration lessons, experience job-embedded support, and receive high-quality feedback. …

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