By Tom Many, EdD

“In every school that we have seen become a high-performing PLC, a defining moment has occurred when a leader chose to confront rather than avoid saboteurs.” – DuFour et al, p. 221

One of the most vexing problems for any principal working to implement Professional Learning Communities is how to respond to resistors. It’s not difficult to recognize blatant forms of resistance but not all resistance is expressed during public confrontations. Nor does resistance always manifest itself in passive aggressive behaviors such as grading papers or checking email. Sometimes resistance is subtle.

Responding to common forms of resistance is difficult enough but it can be especially difficult when the resistance is not overt. When politically correct forms of resistance emerge, teachers do not directly challenge the principal, rather they choose to engage in less obvious but equally dysfunctional behavior.

“A leader must not remain silent; he or she must be willing to act when people disregard the purpose and priorities of the organization.” – DuFour, et al, p. 213

Leaders understand challenging resistance accomplishes more than just bringing about a change in the resistor’s behavior; they know confronting resistant behavior also communicates what is important and valued within the school. The most effective principals recognize the Ruler Test, Regression to the Meaningless, and the Goldilocks Syndrome, for what they are (just another example of politically correct forms of resistance) and respond in ways that keep the PLC process moving forward.

The Ruler Test
If you hold a ruler up to the left side of your head, you will see there are about 12 inches between your head and heart. One common form of politically correct resistance happens when teachers fail the Ruler Test.

Failing the Ruler Test occurs when staff members are aware of what could or should be done to help all children learn (head) but fail to act in accordance with what they know is best practice (heart). It has been said that, “When we know better, we must do better,” so when teachers behave in ways that are inconsistent with what they know is best practice, they fail the Ruler Test. If left unchecked, teachers who know better but fail to do better threaten the success of the PLC process.

One of the most effective responses to those who fail the Ruler Test is to engage the resistant staff member in a conversation about the ‘why’, clarify specifically ‘what’ is expected, and monitor the resistant staff member’s behaviors.

Regression to the Meaningless
Anyone who has taken a statistics class as part of their college coursework will remember the concept of regression to the mean; the notion things tend to even out over time or that extreme scores will eventually come back to the middle of the range. Regression to the Meaningless is our mythical correlate to the statistical construct of regression to the mean.

Regression to the Meaningless happens when faculties engage in the easiest, safest, and least impactful aspects of the PLC process. Consider the example of a team that writes a common assessment and uses the results to identify which students need more time and support but resists any attempt to utilize assessment results to improve their practice. The faculty might argue that by using assessment results to identify students who are and are not proficient, they are engaging in PLC practices but by not using data to reflect on their own instructional practice they fall short of ‘best’ PLC practice. In this example, it is good to look ‘through the window’ and use assessment results to identify students who need more time and support but it is far, far better to ‘look in the mirror’ and use assessment results to reflect on ways to improve one’s instructional practice.

What makes this form of resistance so problematic is that the faculty is engaged in the work, but only to the extent necessary to comply with the administrative mandate or expectations of the principal. The best way to respond to Regression to the Meaningless is to celebrate the team’s initial efforts while simultaneously pressing for deeper and deeper levels of implementation.

The Goldilocks Syndrome
The Goldilocks Syndrome is named after the children’s fairytale Goldilocks and the Three Bears. As the story goes, Goldilocks was looking for things to be just right; the first porridge was too hot, the next too cold. The first bed too hard, the next too soft. Teachers can use the same strategy to derail implementation of PLCs.

When the Goldilocks Syndrome is present, teachers do not resist in overt ways. In fact, they may appear supportive but are constantly asking for more and/or different kinds of training. It’s not unusual for teachers to ask for more training or request different training or argue the training hasn’t been nearly enough to prepare them to be successful. The truth is when ‘Goldilocks’ is happening there is NEVER enough of the right kind of training. At some point, principals realize teachers have learned enough and it’s time to try the new idea, practice or strategy in their classroom. Instead of offering more workshops and training, leaders should support their teachers’ efforts to actually DO the work.

For example, one district which was struggling with their common assessment initiative invited all the teachers to a central location, asked them to bring their standards documents and course materials, provided an uninterrupted opportunity to collaborate with the support of coaches, and required them to write two common assessments before the end of the day. The completed assessments were their “ticket out the door.” Asking for more and more training is just a polite way of putting off doing the work and the most effective way to respond to this form of resistance is by intentionally moving from learning to doing.

Politically correct forms of resistance can be just as dysfunctional as conventional forms of resistance. While it may be initially challenging, when principals recognize and respond appropriately to these subtle, politically correct forms of resistance, they help move their schools to higher levels of effectiveness.

DuFour, R., DuFour R., Eaker, R., Many, T. & Mattos, M. (2016). Learning By Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work – 3RD Edition. Solution Tree: Bloomington, Indiana.

Dr. Tom Many is an author and consultant. His career in education spans more than 30 years.

TEPSA News, November/December 2017, Vol 74, No 6

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