'Empathetic understanding of resistance to achieve a new normal' by Amal Farhat

12th October 2020

School leaders often face resistance when introducing a new approach to be adapted by teachers. This was evident when schools had to abruptly shift to online teaching due to the involuntary closure of schools due to the COVID-19 lockdown. While administrators were pushing for the shift to online teaching, many teachers, who are instrumental for this shift, resisted it. The stand of either side is justified since each perceives the shift from a different perspective.

Administrators need to lead their institutions. In their attempts to keep up with change, maintain the existence of their institutions, and perform the duty they were delegated by parents of educating the younger generation, they might act as a driving force to cause change to occur. This is necessary but might be countered by an opposing force from the teachers. At a first glance, teachers might be perceived negatively for not wanting the change to occur, but with careful study, their attitudes are justified and need to be dealt with and understood with extreme patience and tolerance. A sudden adoption of a new approach by the school is likely to drift teachers from their comfort zone, and that can cause them stress and anxiety. The feeling of failure at trying something new is enough to cause resistance to it.  All this can be due to lack of knowledge and skills and abilities in what the school is proposing.

Change should be planned well for proper implementation. First, school leaders need to differentiate between resistance that is caused by the individual’s indifference and resistance that is caused by anxiety and fear of failure. To deal with the latter, educational leaders must approach the issue empathetically. Empathizing with teachers means understanding their points of views, their problems, experiences, feelings, and above all the stories they have. Those stories can be understood when conversing with teachers. Conversing empathetically, rather than interviewing them to elicit answers to questions, is what helps teachers reveal stories about their experiences and how those experiences impacted their feelings and understandings. Such conversations will allow you to know that the teacher feels uneasy when giving a lesson via a video conferencing tool and how the mother of one of her students interfered in the lesson unexpectedly and wouldn’t stop giving answers to the questions asked to the class. During such conversations, you know that a teacher has problems giving lessons early in the morning because that is the time her toddler wakes up and wants his mommy beside him or else, he throws a tantrum. Such conversations will let you know that the teacher feels uneasy during a live lesson because he can’t stop the students from annotating on the screen which disrupts the class and they all fall into laughter. These stories give the school leader much insight on the struggles of teachers, and that is when the driving force of the administration and the resisting force of the teachers unite into one force pushing into one direction: adoption, implementation, and change.

Making informed decisions requires that the administration and other school leaders understand the reasons behind resistance (or acceptance) of change. Once understood, they can be evaluated and rated to understand which can be influenced and which cannot. Then it becomes easy to devise a strategy to enhance the points of strength and weaken the points of resistance. In the case of integrating technology to teach online, as the case is now that schools had to close down, the strategy might include a training agenda to equip teachers with the skills they need, creating coaching groups to support and mentor those who need assistance, providing resources for online teaching, creating support groups for sharing stories of successes and disappointments, and providing the necessary infrastructure for online teaching as internet and devices.

Change is a process of unfreezing a certain situation. It is only natural to experience resistance during this process. But this resistance is not necessarily out of ill-intentions but may be due to lack of skills, abilities, and other necessary requirements. Discerning these needs makes it easier to make informed decisions and devise plans of action that would achieve optimal results. Once new behaviors are adopted, implemented, and sustained, the school culture will be functioning with a new normal. That is change.

About Amal Farhat, PhD


Amal Farhat is currently an educational supervisor at Rawafid School in Lebanon, an educational counselor at the Lebanese Ministry of Education and Higher Education and an assistant professor at the Lebanese International University. Farhat aims at creating professional learning communities in the institutions she works at. She adopts the concept of transforming the whole school into a community of learners. Such communities require purposeful relationships among all the stakeholders where they interact for the fulfilment of a common vision. Farhat has presented papers at many national and international conferences.

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