Understanding Resistance to Change

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Can you recall a time when you worked with a group of educators and one or more seemed resistant to the ideas you were sharing? Encountering educators that are resistant to change is a common challenge for many teacher leaders and math coaches and it is easy to slip into an unproductive “us versus them” frame of mind when working with them. However, when we take time to identify and understand the root of the resistance, we are in a better position to support our colleagues through any change initiative.

For the last year, I have been working to understand why change in education is particularly difficult for some people and how we can best support them. I am excited to present on these ideas at many national conferences and I would like to share my resources with you so you can take part in the same learning. Feel free to reach out to me with questions, ideas, and requests. Thanks.



The Switch Framework

The book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard is by far the best resource for understanding change. If you know me, then you know I love analogies and metaphors. It is how I see the world and how I try to bring meaning to my work with teachers. Their analogy of the rider and the elephant is a great way for us to think about what is happening in our brains whenever a change situation is upon us. The first short video by one of the authors of Switch will explain the framework. The second video is a more in-depth overview of the framework.

Switch Resources

Chip and Dan Heath provide a number of free resources you can use to help you implement the ideas from Switch in your setting. I highly encourage you to check them out. The Switch for Organizations Workbook and the Switch Framework are particularly helpful.

Switch Resources and Workbooks by Chip and Dan Heath

A Summary of Switch by Alex Vermeer

Switch overview from The Lean Thinker (Mark Rosenthal)

The Five Whys 

Taiichi Ohno, former Executive Vice President of Toyota Motor Corporation, developed the Five Whys method of root cause analysis. He asked his staff to ask “why’ 5 times about any problem they encountered. The idea is that you eventually get down to the root systemic cause behind the problem. We can use the same strategy in the math education world to better understand why our change efforts are not working or why we are encountering resistant behavior from particular teachers. Here a Five Whys worksheet I created that you could use. Just be careful to avoid having this exercise become the “Five Blames”. You are looking for systemic issues, not people problems. 

The Five Whys Worksheet

Ask Why 5 Times About Every Matter by Taiichi Ohno

The 5 Whys Process We Use to Understand the Root of Any Problem



Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard

Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness


Turning Resistant Teachers into Resilient Teachers by Jessica Bohn

4 Key Strategies Help Educators Overcome Resistance to Change by Anthony Armstrong

The 5 Coaching Strategies that Helped Me Connect with Resistant Teachers by Gina Gates

“How Can I Coach a Resistant Teacher?” Part 1 by Elena Aguilar

“How Can I Coach a Resistant Teacher?” Part 2 by Elena Aguilar

“How Can I Coach a Resistant Teacher?” Part 3 by Elena Aguilar

“This Will Never Work!” Exploration of Resistance to Change by Teacher Development Trust

Instructional Facilitating: Roles, Causes, and Strategies for Overcoming Resistance by Bruce Peil

10 Reasons Your Educators Are Resisting Your Change Initiative

Why Some Teachers Resist Change and What Principals Can Do About by Judith Zimmerman

What We Can Do About Teacher Resistance by Jim Knight

What Schools Can Learn From Resistant Teachers by Kathleen Cushman

Reducing Teacher Resistance to Change and Innovations by Hayal Koksal

Resisters and Saboteurs: Dealing with Resistant Teachers by Theodore Creighton

How To Connect With Resistant Teachers (Even When Most of Your Coaching is Online!) by Gina Gates