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Validating resistance

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Change and change management are constant factors within the life of an educator. Whether the context is school or facilitation based, the ever-changing trends in education mean that ongoing professional development and lifelong learning have never been more important. Education in New Zealand is immersed in technological change, and has been for some time. For many who are viewed as ‘outliers’ to the adoption of such technology, it’s time to come in from the cold and find their leadership legs. But with change comes resistance. I used to refer to the change-fighters as ‘eye-rollers,’ a common sight in many staffrooms as something new is being shared. The frustration at being on the receiving end of the roll can often be a tremendous distraction, but it wasn’t until recently that I began to question my understanding of their resistance. Do I validate it? Acknowledge it?

Pete Hall presentation
From Pete Hall’s presentation at Net Hui 2015

Pete Hall from Network for Learning recently posed the question, ‘What if our views of the qualities we believe make someone a better educator, are not in line with the views held by those resisting?’ Is it simply a case of one being right and one being wrong? There are many reasons behind resistance to change, summarised well by Torben Rick on his blog.

Top 12 typical reasons for resistance to change:

  1. Misunderstanding about the need for change/when the reason for the change is unclear.
  2. Fear of the unknown.
  3. Lack of competence.
  4. Connected to the old way.
  5. Low trust.
  6. Temporary fad.
  7. Not being consulted.
  8. Poor communication.
  9. Changes to routines.
  10. Exhaustion/Saturation.
  11. Change in the status quo.
  12. Benefits and rewards.

But, the question of validation remains unanswered. What I identify as the qualities needed by educators to become ‘better’ or more future focused may be quite the opposite to those identified by the individuals themselves. It’s not necessarily a resistance to change, but often a resistance to how we reach it. It’s too easy to dismiss resistance as fear or lack of trust. Easier still, to consider it a lack of skills or understanding. But, what of those who don’t believe in the direction being proposed? Do we expect them to pay lip service to new direction and development?

Michael Fullan summarises resistance very effectively.“We are more likely to learn something from people who disagree with us than we are from people who agree.” (Fullan 2001)

It’s easy to continue conversations with those who readily conform, happy to explore agreeable concepts further. However, as Fullan points out, it might get you through the day, but it won’t get you past the resistance to the changes you want to make. To achieve change with shared understanding and collaborative practice, the resistance must be validated. This might be a challenging conversation and may not achieve anything initially, but to the person or people resisting, it indicates that you’re listening.

“In all organisations, respecting resistance is essential, because if you ignore it, it is only a matter of time before it takes its toll, perhaps during implementation if not earlier. “
(Fullan 2001)

Respectfully acknowledging a difference of opinion or understanding is the first step in negotiating a common ground. In not doing so it could be argued that it’s no longer facilitation that’s occurring, but dictation. The recent notion that often resistance comes from a lack of knowledge around technological change, or even from being asked to move outside of a comfort zone, is not new. What has become more apparent is that our response to what we may perceive as stubbornness, actually stems from our lack of understanding of an individual’s identity and who they are. What I arrogantly judge to be resistance to change may simply be resistance to my judgement.

Without honouring the past — Titiro Whakamuri — how can we ask individuals to push the boundaries of education? Understanding your whakapapa is essential, identifying someone’s existing skills, their ringa rehe, must be undertaken before any resolution can be found. Recognising that the skills and pedagogy someone has are still valid in the modern classroom creates trust and professionalism in a relationship. As Dean Anderson points out, one of the key mistakes often made is mandating change: “ …which squelches participation and increases employee resistance;” (Anderson 2001)

If ever managing change was critical, it’s now. With the movement towards modern learning pedagogy, innovative learning environments, and self-directed, technologically-able learners, the speed and diversity of shift is tremendous. We need to be prepared for the concept that resistance may come from a different place from the one we assume, and question whether we have made an arrogant judgement in the process. It seems obvious, but in a time of huge, transformational change in education, perhaps we need to step back and contemplate our journey travelled before we look ahead.


Anderson, D. and Ackerman-Anderson, A. 2001 Beyond Change Management, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco

Fullan, M. 2001 Leading A Culture of Change, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco

Rick, T. 2011 Top 12 Reasons Why People Resist Change- Available from