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Overcoming Resistance to Change

Traveling changes our perspective and opens our minds to new possibilities. Last week I had the pleasure of experiencing the joy of learning while facilitating a session on Becoming A Learning School in Toronto, Ontario. After spending two days with 40 highly motivated educators dedicated to implementing collaborative professional learning at their schools, I returned refreshed, invigorated, and newly enlightened about the work being done on the front lines.

The educators attending the session were from the Toronto District School Board, and they hold the unique and auspicious sounding title of Position of Responsibility. Their role is similar to what we might call a coach in the U.S., but their responsibilities run the gamut from planning and supporting all professional learning at their schools to serving as quasi-administrators. Although their job duties vary, their focus is the same--determining how to coalesce staff around the goal of improving teacher learning so that student learning will improve.

At the end of day one, I closed the session as I usually do, by asking participants to write their burning questions about learning schools and professional learning teams on sticky notes and posting them. My plan was to review the questions and return the next day to address their queries.

The first step in the process of organizing and addressing disparate questions of this nature is to group them into categories or themes. Out of the almost 40 questions amassed, the overarching theme that emerged was how to deal with resisters. The next day, I joked with the group that since Canadians are such nice people surely they didn't have the same challenge of dealing with difficult individuals as we do in the states. Of course, that got a good chuckle since we all understand, no matter where we live, something common to human nature is that, faced with change, everyone exerts some level of push back.

And just as some things don't seem to change no matter the geographic locale, so, too, are there basic approaches to addressing challenges like the change process. During the session, we discussed and role-played using the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM) as a strategy for supporting teachers experiencing change. This model contends that, before we can move to implement a new way of doing things, we have to address the questions people have about what the change means to them and their current practice. In other words, we have to be attuned to their needs, wants, and desires before rushing to adopt new practices.

The educators appreciated the chance to in some cases review and in others learn the CBAM model. They left eager to try it out in their schools in the hopes that the larger goal of implementing collaborative professional learning could be achieved.

My trip to Canada crystallized my learning and beliefs about change and how to support the change process. In crossing the border, I was reminded that, regardless of the era or the country, there are still valid, trusted, and useful approaches like CBAM that stand the test of time. We should stay on the alert for opportunities to use what we already know works and the pass that learning forward.

Carol Francois
Director of Learning, Learning Forward

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