Klingenstein Day 10: Changing Culture

“Culture of Resistance” chapter

  • What is the “culture of resistance”? What aspects of culturally-embedded resistance are reasonable?

At my school, I think that part of the culture of resistance is against “21st century skills.” It seems there is a divide among the faculty about who is on board with 21st century teaching and learning (as it is often called) and those who are not. I do not sense that there is a group of teachers who are “just not sure about it.” I think that this builds a negative aspect of our culture because there is a kind of elitism associated with both positions.

Those on the 21st century side, and I admit to thinking this a time or two, wonder “how teachers can be resistant to change when the change is research based? How can teachers say they’re great educators when they’re not willing to be learners?” I imagine that part of the argument on the other side goes something like this, “We’ve been a top school for 50 years, doing the kinds of things I’ve been doing for 50 years. We don’t have trouble getting kids into Ivy league schools. Why should we change now? Are you telling me that what I’ve been doing isn’t good teaching?!”

I get that some of the culturally embedded aspects of resistance are reasonable. As Evans mentions, “no institution can abandon the deep structures on which its very coherence and significance depends” (Evans 1996). Our school has been established as an “academic” institution, and it is understandable that we are loath to let go of the “academic” structures modeled after traditional college courses. Because we are so successful at doing the “traditional academic thing” with its A’s, B’s, C’s, lectures, tests, and participation grades, our institution has built a culture around this idea. 21st century teaching and learning ideas challenge the very essence of what my school believes it does well. There is value in the fact that our culture is about student success, and I know it will take a long time to redefine what success means.

“Implementation: Tasks of Transition” chapter

  • Think of a change your school tried to implement. Did it succeed or fail? Which factors described in the “Implementation” chapter (pp.55-73) contributed to the outcome of success or failure?

I think that right now my school is in the middle of the implementation of the idea of consistent teacher collaboration through the DuFour’s PLC model. The Junior High has slowly adopted it over the last three years, and I think the high school is on the way. So for it has been successful, if (predictably) slow, but I notice many of the ideas from Evan’s text being played out right now at my school:

– In the “unfreezing” process, we are slowly “increasing the fear of not trying” because of the growing members and numbers of PLC’s, and in doing so we also “reduce the fear of trying.”

– People are slowly working through their grief of their perceived loss of their style of teaching and working. Letting go of the independent sage on the stage or close-my-door-and-teach styles of work has been a mourning process. I don’t know that we’ve let people “grieve” as they’ve needed to.

– Change agents at our school have done a wonderful job being supportive of those in transition, especially as they join/form new PLC’s.

– Those in PLC’s have been provided training that “supports innovation…. [and is] coherent, personal, and continuous.”

– We have established a “critical mass” of supporters of the idea of collaboration.

– Fullan’s comment that “changes in behavior lead to, as well as flow from, changes in belief” rings true in the way that changes has happened at my school. This idea is KEY!

“Michael’s Enthusiasm”: Use the Evans reading as a framework to respond to the following:

  • What steps may Michael have taken, in advance, to prevent the situation that occurred with the Faculty Dean?

1) He should have communicated his learning throughout the semester with his Dean, particularly since he knew the culture of the school was “old school.”

2) He could have presented the dean with the lesson plans of the classes he was teaching, backed with research supporting his decisions for running the class.

3) He also could have done a bit less. Change just a bit at a time, with the knowledge that change is slow, and he could best model the change that should be occurring at his institution through smaller steps.

“Cobblestone School”: Use the Evans reading as a framework to respond to the following:

  • How might Headmaster Loren Taylor have paved the way for Charlotte Whitehead’s success?
  • Once in the job, what specific steps might Charlotte Whitehead have taken to bring about curriculum coherence?

1) Headmaster Taylor could have helped the teachers “grieve” the loss of their old curriculum director. She also could have alerted them to the change that was coming, maybe even tapping a few “lead teachers” to help Ms. Whitehead map out curriculum development. Finally, she could have  let Ms. Whitehead know about the more laid back “culture” of the school that she would be working within, providing her strategies that might help her fit in to the culture while changing it.

2) Ms. Whitehead should have accepted that change would be slow. She started off with too much change, pushed too hard, and did not provide a supportive environment for change. Instead of being there to provide support for those “grieving”  and instruction for those who were on board, she got frustrated.

Both of these case studies provide interesting insight into what happens when we push change too fast, too hard, and without understanding of those who are doing the changing.


Evans, Robert. “The Culture of Resistance” and “Implementation: Tasks of Transition.The Human Side of School Change: Reform Resistance and the Real-Live Problems of Innovation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1996. 40-73.

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