What Stops Some Teachers From Moving Forward?

In my new role as an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher, I have the opportunity to meet many teachers from all across the school board. In only the first two weeks, I have met some amazing educators who are really pushing the envelope of what classroom teaching can look like. Obviously though, not all teachers are moving forward at the same pace.

As I was driving home the other day, I was trying to understand what it is that stops some teachers from moving forward. From my perspective, there are three reasons that teachers may be resisting productive change:

1. They don’t believe the THEORY

In other words, these people have not been sufficiently convinced that moving forward in one direction is the right thing to do. A simple example from assessment and evaluation is one that has been around for at least 10 years (since I started teaching). It is the concept that assigning zeros to a student who has not submitted an assignment is generally bad assessment. Although there is a lot of great research and many case studies to clearly indicate that using zeros is more harmful to learning than it is helpful, many teachers simply reject the notion outright. It is their conviction, regardless of what research shows, that assigning zeros to students is a good motivator.

So, if a teacher doesn’t believe the theory, they will not change.

2. They believe the theory, but they don’t think it will work in PRACTICE

This group of teachers understands the theory and even agrees that it works in a philosophical sense, but believes that the theory does not apply to them in their school. For example, a teacher may feel that assigning zeros is a bad idea in general, but that it is necessary for the type of students he has.

So, if teachers don’t believe the theory will work for them, they will not change.

3. They just don’t WANT to change

This category is simple enough – change is hard work, and sometimes (for any number of reasons, sometimes good ones) people just don’t want to change what they’re doing.

If you have a problem with number 1, then you probably need to do more reading/learning. The research is out there. Assessment, classroom community, literacy, numeracy, technology, instruction, leadership, brain science, and on, and on – these are areas of teaching and learning that are either highly developed, or becoming more refined each year. MORAL: If you resist change because of number 1, you have more work to do.

If you have a problem with number 2, then you probably need to talk to the people who are actually making it work. I have always enjoyed the quote by Elbert Hubbard, “the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.” The reality is that many teachers are having tremendous success in all areas of teaching and learning. MORAL: If you resist change because of number 2, you have more work to do.

It is my fear that most resistance to change is actually because of number 3, though teachers likely convince themselves they don’t change because of numbers 1 and 2. Moving forward in education is as much a personal journey as it is a professional one.

Photo credit: KimManleyOrt


  1. I absolutely agree…being in a similar role in my school I don’t think (now) that you can force change. It’s hard to be patient but I think some people would rather be swept up by the wave then to be on top of it. great post.


    1. You make an important point. We can’t be too frustrated when not everyone is willing to be a “risk taker” or “early adopter.” In time, the momentum builds and eventually more and more people are brought on board with the change. Patience is certainly one of the virtues of great leadership.

      Thanks for commenting.


  2. So true. I just started as Director of Academics and one of my roles is as coach and I have found the same thing.

    When you say, “if you have a problem”, do you mean as a coach or as a teacher?

    How do you move someone out of one of these modes?

    What about the other out, I could do that but what would you like me to get rid of?


    1. Hi Jeff. In the post, when I was saying, “if you have a problem …” I was referring to the teacher, not the coach. Thanks for helping me to clarify that. I guess what I’m really trying to say is that when a teacher finds them self resistant to change, it is first important that they evaluate why they are not willing to change. If the reasons are ultimately legitimate, then change will not always be a good thing.

      You ask a great question – how do we better move people from a position of resistance? This is, after all, the primary role of a leader, right? I suppose the only real strategy is to (through calm and moderated dialogue) help these teachers express their fears, and then try to remove these fears.

      Thanks for commenting.


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