I was recently asked by a colleague to share some advice about how to talk to a faculty member whom he perceived would be resistant to some upcoming changes. Being a technology integrationist, he was admittedly sensitive to such resistance from past experiences when there was more such resistance in schools. So we sat down and I asked him to recap the conversation and share with me what made him think the teacher would not be open to some of the shifts that are coming up this spring.
He indicated that the teacher was very excited about her current scope and sequence of technology skills. This enthusiasm made my friend think that the teacher would be resistant.
From here, I shared my three category theory about change in schools, and he encouraged me to write about it.
Whenever there is change, and most noticeably with technology, teachers will fall (for the most part) into one of three groups. Understanding these groups, who is in them, and most importantly how to work with each one are integral skills for the leader of the initiative/program/school.
The first group is the trail-blazing, torch carrying, fearless pioneers of the program. They have the talent, skills, energy, and enthusiasm to lead the way. This group needs little direction or motivation, but they do need to be engaged in discussion about their process to keep them from straying too far from the herd in their enthusiastic application of the initiative. These are the positive deviants who with the same resources, do far more than their peers.
The second group is the open-minded novices. This group lacks the skill and background in the new area, but are enthusiastic, willing learners with the optimal growth-mindset. This group needs guidance, support, and time, but are plenty motivated. Often teaming some trailblazers with open-minded novices is a good strategy for a variety of reasons. It allows the trailblazers to develop teacher leadership skills, and nurtures a terrific collaborative community that builds continuity in the program. Further, the process breeds in the novices the responsibility to share their experiences with the third group. This practice is one of the effective methods in overcoming obstacles with the third group.
The final group is the resistors. They lack the skills, motivation, and desire to learn. In fact they often can sabotage not only their own growth, but also the growth of others. Often, they have developed compelling arguments against the new practice that seems very reasonable to them. This group is obviously the biggest challenge. However, there are strategies that I have found very effective.
First, since the first two groups can be matched up, much more attention can be paid to this third group. I have found the one on one approach is most effective since most of the time, the resistance comes from a fearful feeling of vulnerability. Helping them feel safe, and assuring them that we will take things slowly are integral initial steps.
The first question I ask is what their ideal vision for their class is, or I ask them to describe a perfect lesson. Then we brainstorm about how a new tool can help them fulfill their vision. We start small, we make sure the first attempt is successful, and we encourage the reflection process. Working with this group is not dissimilar to working with reluctant learners. Maslow for teachers is integral, and helping a talented yet reluctant adult “see” the value will lead to overcoming some of the resistance. Finally, letting the teacher’s vision drive the process gives the teacher ownership, which again helps with the resistance.
I mentioned earlier that the open-minded novice group would be important in helping this third group of resistors. The open-minded novices’ experiences with being guided by peers, having success with technology, and understanding the collaborative culture in the school can often be infectious on the third group. At the end of the day, the second and third groups really differ in their initial attitude (and mindset- growth vs. fixed), so the ability and experience levels are relatively the same. Focussing on nurturing that attitude through the above strategies has been very effective in my experience.
Yet, it is not a perfect science or process, so there are a couple of simple dynamics that we work to avoid in gaining ground on a unified whole in implementation. With two ends of the spectrum potentially speeding in opposite directions, my goal is to make sure that the gap between the pioneers and the resistors doesn’t become so big that all three groups are isolated on their own island. I want to encourage the pioneers to charge forward, and not truncate their growth, and I can’t let the helplessness of the resistor group become paralysis. Often, the connection of each group to the open-minded novices is the key. Thus much of my approach is to lean on that group- connect the other two to them.
So my conversation with my colleague revealed that the teacher was not necessarily resisting, but that she was very happy with her current approach. My advice to my friend was to ask her what her vision for technology use in the classroom is and then listen to her response. The reality is that the teacher is an open-minded novice who merely needs some supportive guidance to take the next step with using technology in the classroom.