Are Teachers to Blame for Failed Reforms?

In The Human Side of School Change, Robert Evans points out that when reform efforts fail teachers are often blamed, rather than the leaders who design the reforms. Unfortunately, leaders often make faulty assumptions about how teachers will react to their reform efforts. In my last post, I explain how leaders often frame change efforts from an engineer-economist framework that emphasizes rationality, procedures, training, and cost. Yet, the engineer-economist framework overlooks the profound psychological ramifications of change.

The reality is that when leaders initiate reform efforts teachers often feel threatened by the initiative and begin to question their place in the organization. During a change initiative, teachers may no longer understand their duties or know who has authority to make decisions. The structural certainty that was the foundation of the organization has now been called into question and teachers often feel a sense of confusion and a loss of control. 

An engineer-economist framework for change essentially ignores the realities of human emotions. With such a structure, reform efforts are based solely on rational systems and procedures and here’s-how-to-do-it training that ignores the reality of how people actually change. If we are to truly understand resistance to change, we must deal directly with the psychological - in other words, the human element.

Ultimately, change challenges teachers’ sense of security, prompting many to doubt their effectiveness and value within the institution. Change shakes teacher confidence, especially their ability to adapt to the new environment. Change often questions and even discredits past experience and past learning, unnerving teachers.

Unless leaders are willing to pay as much attention to the human elements of change as they do engineer-economist elements, reform efforts are likely to face deep resistance from teachers and, likely, will fail. 

School Leader as Social Architect