Respect The Realities of Resistance

Well, I’m still rolling. In addition to lunch and some chores today I’ve also completed another three page section. I don’t have more reflections to share at this point, but here is the next section…

Overcoming Organizational Resistance

A thorough review of Senge, Evans, and Fullan 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. Three of these elements relate to overcoming organizational resistance. These are to respect the realities of resistance, remember psychology, and sustain the process.

6. Respect The Realities of Resistance

Change agents who respect the realities of resistance will be more likely to successfully deal with and overcome challenges. Resistance is after all a healthy and necessary reaction to organizational change.

Resistance to change often occurs because the organization is exhibiting what Senge called a learning disability. Senge (1990) identified several learning disabilities, including “I am my position” (p. 18), “the enemy is out there” (p. 19), “the illusion of taking charge” (p. 20), “the fixation on events” instead of processes (p. 21), “the delusion of learning from experience… when our actions have consequences beyond our learning horizon” (p. 23), and “the myth of the management team,” most of which engage in “skilled incompetence” rather than raising difficult questions and dealing with complex issues (p. 24). Senge also identified defensive routines (p. 237) as a force of resistance. Later, Senge et al. (1999) ten challenges to implementing, sustaining, and rethinking change. The implementation stage may face the most challenges, including the lack of control over one’s time, inadequate support, lack of relevance, and a lack of clarity and consistency from management (p. 26). Sustaining change faces the challenges of fear, anxiety, negative assessment of progress, isolation, and arrogance (p. 26). Even efforts to redesign or rethink change initiatives are challenged by the difficulties of balancing autonomy against chaos, diffusing innovations, and maintaining organizational strategy and purpose (p. 26). Familiarity with these disabilities and challenges will aid change agents in discovering and addressing the root cause of resistance.

With his focus on the human side of school change, Evans (1996) pointed out that “any transition engenders mixed feelings” and that “understanding these feelings is vital to the successful implementation of change” (p. 26). He dealt with change as loss (p. 28) and acknowledged that change challenges competence (p. 32), creates confusion (p. 34), and causes conflict (p. 35). Most importantly, he urged change agents to respect the fact that “ambivalence – especially… resistance – needs to be seen as part of the solution, not just part of the problem; it demands the attention and respect of all who seek innovation” (p. 38).

Fullan focuses on other obstacles and problems, including the problem of transferability. The obstacles to change are many, and each of them is a potential source of resistance. Obstacles identified by Fullan (2003) included lack of trust in teachers, lack of risk taking culture, lack of time, lack of leadership, lack of coherence, and the general lack of confidence, knowledge, and training (p. 78-80). He also identified overload, fostered dependency, loss of what has been gained, and the threat of recent accountability measures as additional obstacles (p. 78-80). The increasing threat of innovation overload and the observation that “schools and school districts do not have the capacity to sort out which programs to pursue, or even the capacity to say no in the face of innovation overload” (Fullan, 2001b, p. 27), is another problem that Fullan addressed, arguing again that a focus on the moral purpose behind the change is essential. Regarding the problem of transferring innovations from one context to another, he stated simply, “ideas acquired with ease are discarded with ease” (Fullan, 1999, p. 64). the capacity for transferability in a social system is a function of the quality of the infrastructure” (p. 75), including the capacities for continuous learning, generating accountability data, promoting feedback, and stimulating innovation.

Fullan also noted that “successful organizations don’t go with only like-minded innovators; they deliberately build in differences” (Fullan, 2001a, p. 43). In keeping with Evans’ thinking, Fullan (2001a) recommended instead that “we need to respect resisters [because]… they sometimes have ideas that we might have missed, especially in situations of diversity or complexity or in the tackling of problems for which the answer is unknown” (p. 42). Also, “resisters are crucial when it comes to the politics of implementation… being alert to differences of opinion is absolutely vital” (p. 42).

Change agents who are attempting to overcome resistance to new educational technologies, such as video games and simulations, must therefore respect not only resistance, but also those who resist. They must endeavor to build the capacity necessary to properly deal with such resistance in addition to other obstacles, problems, and challenges that resist change, including organizational learning disabilities. This will require a deep understanding of organizational change on the part of the change agents, which must be pursued through continuous learning on their part, and which must be diffused throughout the organization through continuous sharing with others. Significant or fundamental change will not happen quickly and will not happen without resistance. Those who are frustrated and give up in the face of resistance, rather than respecting this reality, will not be successful.