Why Education is the Most Resistant to Change


We all know change isn’t easy. Just think about the last time you tried changing your diet and exercise routine. According to Marketdata LLC, the U.S. weight loss market was worth $66 billion in 2017! There are millions of Americans, 97 million to be exact, actively trying to change and yet, most of these attempts fail.

In my first year of teaching, I spent all my time just trying to stay afloat. I wasn’t leaving the school until 6, 7, even 11 at night. I would be tired, cranky, and really hungry. But there was no way I was going to go home and cook myself a well-balanced meal. I took my meager wages and tired ass through the drive in at McDonald’s. I gained twenty pounds and pre-hypertension. This year a made a commitment to myself to be healthier and more active; I would get back to that pre-teacher weight. I stood on the scale this morning, and it told me what it tells me every week:

You have not lost any weight, not a single pound in the last eight months.

Here’s the big deal about making a weight loss change. Millions of individuals, like myself, actually want it to happen and still, it sometimes doesn’t! So how can we expect to change the massive system of education when those involved in it aren’t too interested in taking on yet another school reform?

The Theory of Planned Behavior

Behavioral health is an interesting field in how it examines the interweaving of society and psychology in the decision-making process. When you have grown up with a perception or a mindset backed by socially and culturally accepted information and experiences, change is difficult to accept.  It’s only natural that people, especially adults with all our years of formed opinions, resist change.

The Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) attempts to understand the link between a person’s attitude and their behavior. The TPB laid out three main constructs which influence whether or not a person will make a change: their attitude toward the behavior, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control.

Attitudes Towards Change

Have you ever met someone who just has a bad attitude? Have you ever needed their cooperation in implementing a change? Yeah, it’s hard. Change is hard. Especially when those needing to make it do not positively perceive it. If teachers feel there is a lack of benefit, that they or their students are not going to see some advantages, it’s likely to be another program littering the heap of school reforms.

Cost and Benefit

Teachers already have a full load, between students and lessons and grading and meetings…they don’t need more responsibilities added to their list unless they can see how it’s going to pay off. They are juggling enough of their time and resources as it is.

Status Quo

It is never easy to create a new habit or routine. Just like our workout example, even if you have the positive intention to perform the act, disrupting old patterns and a sense of order can feel overwhelming. As soon as it starts to feel uncomfortable, people may forget the positive reasons they had for making a change. Soon, they’re convincing themselves the old way wasn’t so bad. Why change what works?


Probably the biggest reason teachers tend to not view change positively is because of the constant changes thrust their way. Do this, try that, forget that, start over! It causes chaos and disorder. Just the other day I had to handle a high priority email about a student at the beginning of class. I usually start the class off by greeting everyone and giving them the list of objectives for the day. When that didn’t happen, the classroom fell into complete disorder which took half the period to correct. If something that small can throw thirty minutes of productivity in the trash, imagine what happens when you try to change the curriculum or how its implemented.

Subjective Norms

In the teaching realm, we are all probably guilty of telling our students not to fall prey to negative peer pressure. The infamous line, “If he tells you to jump off a cliff too, will you do it?” Subjective norms are just that; perceived social pressure to perform or not perform a behavior. Group and peer influence can be change’s best friend or worst enemy.

You might think in the teaching world, all of us teachers are so focused on increasing outcomes and mentoring each other to be better teachers for the sake of our beloved students. You would hope. Unfortunately, most the time, your biggest critics are going to be other teachers. I’ve come across a lot of judgement in my few years teaching.

Disrupting the status quo in your own classroom may cause teachers to feel uncomfortable. They may feel insecure about their discomfort, and all of that may find its way back to you in the forms of suggestions to how you run your room, or straight criticism, or just good ol’ plain gossiping. If you let yourself be bothered or swayed by their resistance, it’s going to be hard to create change for yourself.

Perceived Control

Does this change come from the top or has it evolved from the bottom naturally? Top down change happens a lot in schooling. Some new program gets pushed out from the control center and we all are expected to implement it into our daily lives. Top down approaches have proven to be very unsuccessful at creating meaningful, long-lasting changes.

So instead, they disguise top down programs as grassroot approaches by holding long, boring meetings. You get to sit for hours with your co-workers and contribute ideas to the program. They ask questions like, “How can you see this working within your school or community?” Ultimately, they are asking teachers to just paste some new wordage on a program without actually modifying the existing plan.

Without ownership, influence, and buy-in, there will be little to no change going down. Teachers will go straight from the meeting, back to their rooms, and continue using the whiteboard while the fancy, expensive Smart Board installed becomes a glorified projector.  Or collects dust. Again, why change what works?

If lack of control isn’t the barrier to change, it might be a lack of competence in their own ability to make the change. Smart Boards may be the biggest, most humorous example of a change initiative gone south in my district. Everyone wanted to integrate more technology, everyone was on board, and I haven’t met one teacher that is utilizing a Smart Board to its potential. Why? Because we don’t know how! And learning takes a great deal of time and energy which we already discussed teachers are strapped for.

Which brings me to my next point, perceived lack of support. Without peer and administrative support, change in the school at the classroom level is never going to occur.

Smart Boards were installed in classrooms all over the district, but formal training consisted of a ten-minute session or a PowerPoint sent to your email. Even if a teacher mastered all the tools of the tech, it doesn’t translate into meaningful applications of the technology within a lesson plan. And if it stops working? Well, the one IT guy for your school is booked till next March so good luck!

When people do not feel they are going to be successful, they become fearful of failure. This can be caused by lack of control or lack of competence but it all results in individuals not even attempting to make the change.  

How to Tell If You Are Resisting Change

It’s not always easy to recognize our own attitudes and perceptions on change. You may think you are open to change as I did when I moved to South Korea. (Check out that story in part one of resisting change). The next time you are confronted with a serious change, ask yourself these 10 questions posed by Liane Davey, Ph.D., Psychology Today.

  1. I silently disagree with the proposed change but I don’t voice my concerns

  2. I spend more time thinking about why the change is a bad idea than a good one

  3. I question why the change is necessary, even after the rationale has been explained

  4. I share my concerns and dislike of the change with my peers

  5. I am less productive as I spend time talking about the change

  6. I procrastinate and only comply with the change when someone follows up

  7. I share information to try to discredit the change or the person leading it

  8. I ignore requests to change my behavior and continue on as normal

  9. I use my influence to try to get decisions reversed after they have been made

  10. I encourage others to ignore the change directives

If you found yourself answering yes, especially on those higher numbered questions, you may be sporting some extreme resistance to change. Check back next week to examine, How to Overcome Your Resistance to Change.