Dealing With Barriers to Change

Like great teachers, great leaders promote change by example. Leaders can play a powerful role in materializing the positive effects of change. Today, I read a post by George Couros 3 Questions Crucial to Creating the Conditions for Change in which he indicates that change doesn’t just happen by reading and telling about it. It involves immersion in the process which starts with leaders, teachers, parents and all others involved.  Leaders must be able to take risks themselves to encourage others to conceive the value of the change and step in and give it a chance themselves. Conscientious leaders are always learning and asking questions to help everyone in their community follow their example of effective, innovative change.

When school leaders provide an environment that inspires risk-taking and innovation, more teachers will be more likely to adopt change. George indicates that one of the questions school leaders must ask is, “Do people have an emotional connection to why change is imperative?” It’s true that people need to be emotionally connected to the change. But I also think that leaders need to consider the mental models of the teachers and parents of the school community. Leaders must also reflect on the readiness and willingness of people to learn something new. Some people are resistant to change despite the opportunities established for taking risks in a safe environment. They just don’t have the patience or the capacity to learn and implement something new despite its relevance and promise in facilitating the work we do every day.

How do we deal with this group of people who are adamantly resistant to change even when modeling and support are evident in leadership?

It’s very frustrating when dealing with people of this unwavering mindset, who are not willing to budge or even try to give it a chance.  At times, it may be unwillingness to admit lack of understanding or capacity for learning. Leaders must be able to assess this lack of capacity to implement change and provide the necessary resources for effective learning to take place. While the leader has a crucial role in fulfilling the vision for the change, the teachers who are supportive and “on board” have an equally important role in upturning the others’ way of thinking.  As partners in the change process, teachers and parents have a significant role in collaboratively demonstrating that change is effective in improving the culture and enhancing achievement. The voice of a group speaking the same language is louder than that of one, even if that one is the leader. When most of the school community is on board, those resistant to change will eventually realize that change is inevitable and that they must either learn to implement the change or jeopardize their inclusion in the learning community.

How can teachers promote change with minimal or no support from school leaders?

Oftentimes, teachers and others in the school community are discouraged from moving forward or trying something new because they are not supported by their leaders. Their ideas are condemned by school leaders and they may even be intimidated by negative criticism or reprimand. Nonetheless, confident teachers who are serious about promoting improved learning opportunities for their students and revolutionizing their instructional practices are capable of embracing change and bringing it to fruition despite resistance and opposition by their school leaders. I think those type of teachers embody the real meaning of “teacher leadership.” They are teachers who are empowered by their fervor for ongoing learning and willingness to adopt new and innovative learning practices no matter the consequences. They are inspired by their purpose for choosing change. They are guided by the vision that “everything we do is for the best interest of the children we work with.” Teachers can be successful in promoting effective change if they are willing to take risk and stand up for what they believe will help children academically and emotionally. Ultimately, when teachers and school leaders work collaboratively barriers to change will be alleviated.

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