Overcoming Organizational Resistance

Here is the next section of my KAM (in DRAFT form of course). I’ve finished the first five sections on facilitating organizational change; this is the first on overcoming organizational resistance. It doesn’t offer many answers, but might get people pointed in the right direction. For now, I’ve included an “appendix” as a summary of a particularly valuable passage in one of the DuFours’ books.

Thanks to those who have been reading… and especially to the few who have left comments. It’s motivating to me, and the criticisms will be valuable as I move forward with this project. For everyone else, I apologize for the temporarily low signal to noise ratio. ;)

Overcoming Organizational Resistance

A thorough review was conducted of theories about professional learning communities published by DuFour & DuFour, Wald & Castlebury, Huffman & Hipp, Roberts & Pruit, Hord, and Stone & Cuper. This review has revealed ten elements of school change that can be used to guide the process of integrating video games and simulations as educational technologies in a constructivist learning environment. The next three of these elements relate to overcoming organizational resistance: respond to obstacles, challenges, and barriers; sustain the process; and, develop learning.

6. Respond to Obstacles, Challenges, and Barriers

As Hord (2004) reported, “changing schools is highly challenging, complex, and messy work – and change is rarely welcomed” (p. 3). There are a variety of obstacles, challenges, and barriers to successful school change, including resistance from faculty and others. However, many professional learning community theorists have addressed these elements of resistance. They have offered strategies for responding to obstacles, challenges, and barriers – and for overcoming organizational resistance.

One of the first and most obvious obstacles is people in the organization who actively resist change. DuFour and Eaker (1998) point out that “principals often make one of three mistakes as they struggle with this problem” (p. 188). They either “pay too much attention to the resisters… vilify the resisters… [or] focus on attitudes rather than behaviors” (p. 188-189). DuFour and Eaker share that “the most effective way to change negative attitudes is to focus on behavior… [thus] providing them with new experiences [that] can become a catalyst for transforming attitudes” (p. 190, see also DuFour, & DuFour, 2002, p. 85). There are a variety of other objections or problems that schools must overcome: the claim that “there is not enough money or personnel” to support the necessary changes, or that “there is not enough time for frequent teacher collaboration” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Karhanek, 2004, p. xiv). These issues must be creatively and carefully accounted for in school schedules and budgets. Even so, there will be no denying that “building a professional learning community is difficult due to the many demands on teachers and administrators; the growing accountability issues; the increasingly diverse needs of students; teacher isolation and burnout; and many other unmanageable stressors” (Huffman & Hipp, 2003, p. 5). Increasing a school’s capacity for flexibility and adaptability is critical for successful change efforts, but ultimately, “the level of distrust, the lack of structural flexibility, debilitating levels of turnover among school and district personnel, lack of resources, and other obstacles combined to make PLC implementation a truly heroic effort” (Hord, 2004, p. 151).

In addition to these obstacles, DuFour, Eaker, and DuFour (2005) identified “three daunting challenges” (p. 9) to professional learning communities. The first is the challenge of “developing and applying shared knowledge” (p. 9), which is highly individualistic and dependent on context. The second is the challenge of “sustaining the hard work of change” (p. 10), which requires considerable effort and focus, particularly in the early days of a professional learning community. As DuFour, Eaker, and DuFour pointed out, there are “no easy shortcuts… it will require a staff to find common ground and to exert a focused, coherent, consistent effort over time” (p. 11). The third and most daunting challenge is that of “transforming school culture (p. 11), which the authors explain this way:

“Significant school transformation will require more than changes in structure – the policies, programs, and procedures of a school. Substantive and lasting change will ultimately require a transformation of culture – the beliefs, assumptions, expectations, and habits that constitute the norm for the people throughout the organization” (DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005, p. 11)

The DuFours and others offer still more warnings about additional barriers. For instance, the sorts of logistical barriers that Richard DuFour overcame at Adlai Stevenson high school included the teacher’s association (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Karhanek, 2004, p. 68), instituting a new concept of supervision (p. 69), providing staffing (p. 71), revisiting the grading system (p. 72), continuing to handle discipline issues (p. 73), and working together to find solutions (p. 77). Many of these same issues will need to be addressed or revisited when a technology such as video games or simulations are introduced to a school culture. More “fundamental barriers to professional learning communities” were identified by DuFour, Eaker, and DuFour (2005, p. 162). First among these was “a lack of clarity regarding vales, intentions, and beliefs” (p. 162). Clearly maintaining a focus on mission, vision, values, and goals will be important to overcoming this barrier. The next was a “dependence on those outside of the school for solutions to problems” (p. 162), which can only be overcome by building the problem solving capacity of the faculty, staff, and community of the school. The worst barrier was a “sense of resignation that robs educators of the energy that is essential to the continuous improvement of teaching, learning, and relationships in schools,” (p. 162), which can only be overcome through inspirational leadership, frequent celebrations, and consistent attention to the human side of school change. Elsewhere in the same volume, DuFour, Eaker, and DuFour offer an additional “ten barriers to action and how to overcome them” (p. 227-248, see appendix A for an overview of this discussion). Hord (2004) pointed out additional structural barriers, such as “lack of training, lack of time, lack of a culture of collaboration, and lack of leadership support for shared practice” (p. 152), and the fact that “for the most part, American teachers work in high-volume, short term relationships with students” (p. 153).

To overcome these barriers the principal (or other change agent) must “constantly nurture those who under[stand] the value of becoming a PLC and persuade those who [have] yet to recognize the strength of a PLC” (Hord, 2004, p. 23). This is important because, according to Hord’s observations, “professional learning communities provide the means through which teachers can be enabled and emboldened to develop individually as professionals, and collectively as a profession” (p. 153). Moreover, “those who begin the PLC journey and the cultural shifts that it requires should not only anticipate but should also welcome challenges to PLC concepts” (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, Karhanek, 2004, p. 168). After all, as Hord (2004) explained, “the most successful PLC schools… were catalyzed by an external crisis or opportunity and lead by a powerful administrator who transformed the external force into energy for internal change” (p. 4).

Clearly change agents responsible for the introduction of new educational technologies, such as video games and simulations, will need to respond to similar obstacles, challenges, and barriers. Luckily, similar solutions to those used in professional learning communities should be helpful. For instance, focusing on behaviors rather than attitudes may be a more efficient way to help educators accept the use of new technologies.

Appendix A