Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Top 10 Roadblocks to Change

There are two paths that a leader can take, telling people what they want to hear, or taking them where they need to be.   In either case, challenges arise. During my tenure as a principal, I was able to identify common roadblocks to the change process.   If identified and addressed appropriately these roadblocks can be overcome.

This is too hard

News flash, CHANGE IS NOT EASY!  Please keep this in mind as I continue this post. Change in the field of education is as elusive as the Loch Ness Monster.  If it were easy we would see innovative programs, authentic learning experiences, successful integration of technology, and students yearning to arrive at school each day. The fact of the matter is that nothing in life comes easy, let alone transformation change in education. Educators must be willing to take risks, learn from mistakes, and put in the time.

I don't have time for this

Ah, the old-time excuse.  This is probably the most common excuse given when educators and the thought or sight of change come together.  We are in a profession to make a difference in the life of a child, leave a lasting impact, motivate them to achieve, instill a sense of life-long learning, and prepare them for success once they leave our schools.  If someone says they don't have time to work towards change that helps to achieve these goals then they should question why they are in the field of education.  Dedicated educators make the time because it is their job!  You ask any child who had a teacher that turned their life around and they will tell you that the time spent was priceless!

Lack of collaboration

The field of education has been moving from a profession that hoarded ideas, lessons, and successful strategies to one that is openly willing to share this bounty with as many passionate educators as possible.  Innovation and change are a collective process and schools that get this concept have personnel who routinely collaborate amongst each other and with that outside of their schools. "Together we are better," is the motto that change agents abide by.

Directive approach

Ok, I have been guilty of this when trying to get my staff to utilize Skype. Thankfully I learned from this mistake and have found that change occurs through shared-decision making, consensus, collaboration (see #3), and modeling.  As a leader, I had better be able to effectively model what I want my teachers to implement if I have any hopes of seeing the idea to succeed and be sustainable.  In education, you can't just tell someone to do something because you are mesmerized by a piece of technology, read the latest book on innovative practices, or heard a great speaker discuss PLCs.  You need to get each and every stakeholder involved in the process (see #3), properly model the strategy, and put the time forth to ensure successful implementation (see # 1 and 2).

Hierarchy in Schools

The hierarchical structure in many schools is most often a deterrent to innovation and change.  This results in #4 being prevalent and no chance of #3 because ideas have to go through so many layers and red tape to even be considered.  Schools that have moved away from this structure support learning cultures that are innovative. Educators need to be placed in environments where flexibility and freedom to take risks and try out new ideas and initiatives without fear of repercussions are actively fostered.

No support

As leaders how can we expect teachers to be innovative and move towards change if we don't support them 100% of the time?

Fear of Change

This is a given, so it had better be expected.  If numbers 1-5 are addressed this will help to alleviate this feeling. Passion for helping kids succeed on the part of administrators and teachers will always work to one's advantage when trying to subdue the fear a group might experience when trying to initiate new ideas. Passion is what drives us!  Use it to your advantage.

The naysayers and antagonists

Well, you should have known this was coming.  Some people will never get on board with the change process for a variety of reasons (none of which we agree with).  Those that embrace change and experience success should be celebrated, honored, and commended.  This is the best way to motivate others and inspire them to willingly become part of the process.

Poor professional development

How many times have we sat through training sessions that were boring, meaningless, and didn't provide any practical implementation ideas?  Professional development has to be relevant to teachers, contain numerous choices, and be hands-on.  More often than not this can be done with teacher leaders present in all buildings.  If money is going to be spent make sure it is on a vetted, well-respected presented where you will get your monies worth.

Frivolous purchases

Money does not equate into innovation and change.  Just because you purchase the latest technology doesn't mean everyone will use it correctly or productively. Professional development (see #9) is key.

Be a transformational leader and take people where they need to be!


  1. I really agree, especially with the hands on professional development piece. We need to stop lecturing to students AND teachers and allow them BOTH to drive the vehicle of learning in a direction that best gets them where they need to be. As long as we, and Tech Integrationists are there to help guide the way, who are we to say that it must be accomplished along a single path. Create excitement in education with out teachers and we will see engagement with students.

  2. I agree these are common roadblocks in education. Our challenge is to overcome them and move forward. You are right that change is not easy, but change to make teaching and learning more innovative is always a good thing! Effective professional development is critical, but always a challenge with the funding in schools...we have to find a way to make it happen!

  3. I'm a new follower, so forgive me if you've covered this elsewhere; but, what do you see as the strategies for overcoming these roadblocks? Assume you have a teacher on staff that falls into each of the roadblock categories you've identified. How do you, as an administrator, help that colleague get past the roadblock?

  4. Daniel:

    Many of the answers lie in the responses above. The keys are modeling, support, shared-decision making, creating a culture that fosters risk-taking, flexibility, and celebrating the successes of those that embrace change.

  5. Alas, I guess I was looking for more specifics. For example, HOW do you, as a principal, go about "creating a culture that fosters risk-taking, and flexibility"?

    I was hoping to read about some of the strategies or approaches you've implemented that have proven successful in achieving the objectives you've outlined in the aforementioned post.

    And the reason I want to read about specific strategies that have proven successful is because I constantly find myself having to plow through many of the obstacles you've outlined, and reading how others have gone about it is always useful. :)

  6. Absolutely true! All of what you have written represents a huge paradigm shift, for lack of a less-overused phrase. Unless we start to make everyone inside and outside of the schools aware of how education can improve, change will be elusive. Leading by example is important, and also important is being there to talk it over with the teachers as they digest the ideas. My best administrator did just that...and the changes came!

  7. Change comes from the questions we ask. Your suggestions promote great discussion. You have created a school culture that honors adults as learner. Educators in leadership roles need to model 21st century learning by taking risks and having the courage to be imperfect. Teachers need to know that school leaders are also trying to make sense of 21st century learning. We are engaging in these discussions in our district. Look forward to our conversations with you.

  8. What an impressive reflection! Before I made it to the comments, I sent the URL to my principal. With his vision and the willingness of many staff members to take leadership roles I think we have a good chance to overcome most of these 10 Roadblocks to Change. Thanks so much for starting the discussion.

  9. I agree with some of the apprehension mentioned above. It is one thing to talk about a shifting paradigm and it is another to actually implement such change. In my experience, you need to find a group of teachers that are respected as teachers first, and not overly techie. That way people know this is about student achievement and not about "cool" technology. Then it needs to erupt from within the building and in many cases without looking to admin for a direct leadership role because in many cases, they don't understand and can at times be your largest obstacle. By assembling a group with respect it will lend credibility and pull those along who are waiting for others to test the waters. Respect their apprehension and celebrate every step they take. Finally, forget the "Debbie-downers". They'll drag their feet as long as they can until they have no choice. Not worth your time or energy.

  10. Eric, much of what you and others have shared here resonates with me. I just want to add to the mix a great resource for facilitating buy-in to change: Overcoming Resistance to Whole-School Uptake of Restorative Practices by Peta Blood and Margaret Thorsborne ( And never mind the restorative practices bent, since the ideas can be generalized to almost any context.

  11. I enjoyed reading your post. I also think that if we want our students to be risk takers we, as teachers, should model this. Accepting change and welcoming change is one way to do this.

  12. Eric,
    I loved your blog post. This speaks volumes to the challenges many of our leaders across NC are faced with. I am thinking about using your blog post in an upcoming training and asking each group to create a counter transformational response or action to their assigned roadblock. I am thinking this will encourage them to think beyond the barrier and create solution that isn't always tied up in money and people. Thanks for these.

  13. Maybe it comes down to hiring the right people? The ten things you listed above at their core are people problems...aren't they?

  14. Thank you for constantly inspiring us to move forward for those who really matter the most, the students. I am always refreshed after reading your posts or tweets. Being at the crossroads of teaching and administration, I am relieved to see that others share some of the same thoughts (but can articulate them better)!

  15. Paul: Yes, they are people problems. Hiring the right people that fit into your vision is key and something I emphasize personally. Unfortunately, tenure laws protect many educators (teachers and admin) across the country and the things I listed apply mostly to that group.

  16. Wow, I could not agree more with this list.As a teacher I see SO many of these roadblocks hampering technology in my school.The frivolous purchases, the POORLY and I mean really poorly) concieved of PD. The naysayers. It's all there. I have a question, how about having teachers and students have a say in tech purchases? Can administrators set up test programs and then test them with a targeted set of students and teachers and then decided what to purchase?

  17. Rae: My students made the convinced me to purchase iPod touches!

  18. Hey, you know what would be a perfect program for an iPod touch? And you students will love learning from iPods.

  19. As a lower elementary teacher I became excited when I was given a little one on one, and was shown what a few simple apps could do. Who did this? My eighth grader who is in the same school as me. Over a few months, she showed me a few things that she was learning. I found that her giving me some personal time and showing me the apps purposefully by way of a class project or two she was doing and voila, I was at ISTE a year later hungering for more. What's my point? If you want teachers to make time and effort, you make time and teacher at a time. You won't have to do the whole building, one will ignite another (as I am). I cannot wait for school to start so I can share with my peers. Why I have "Delicioused" a whole list of possibilities. Last year delicious meant a good desert!

  20. I'm fortunate that our Chief is a direct implant from the IT world. We get to run on the philosophy of Go Big or Go Home. He enables us to make big decisions quickly and then learn from our mistakes. It is amazing!

  21. When faced with these "yeah buts" I've gotten in the habit of looking at the person listing them and saying, "ok, fine. So forget about the "Big Change." What's your personal "yeah but" for not changing the way you learn? What's stopping YOU?"

    None of this is going to happen until we have enough educators who have made the shift to passionate, self-directed, self-organized learning on their own. Through that lens, we see clearly the curricular challenges that schools face moving forward.

  22. Well done, Eric. Really encapsulates the resistance to change.

    Question: When you have someone so entrenched in some negative anti-change behavior, what do you do to pull them out and move them forward?

  23. Eric/

    I Believe It Could Be Due In Large Part To Our Respective MindTime

    See > MindTime > Past / Present / Future

    !!! "Our Minds Must Not Be Confined Nor Defined By Our Place Or Time !!! "


  24. Excellent post Eric, as usual. You may be interested to view these three videos which describe one school's journey. They give some practical answers to those seeking more detail. Http://