Listening to Resistance

In her book Literacy Coaching: The Essentials, Katherine Casey shares her experiences and the wisdom gained from her work as a school-based literacy coach. Casey was fortunate enough to find herself mentored by teacher-leader Lucy West. The second chapter of her book highlights the important ways in which her relationship with West enabled her to grow into her role as a coach:

“During our teacher-leader training sessions, whenever we complained about teachers who were, in our opinions, resistant to change, my coach Lucy West implored, ‘Don’t silence resistance. Embrace resistance. Listen to resistance. Within what you are calling resistance lies what you need to do.’”

Casey doesn’t attempt to provide strategies for “tolerating” “coping with” or “managing” resistance. She also doesn’t offer her readers anything in the way of heavy-handed metaphors involving gardens, rocks, flowers and where our watering cans are best employed. Instead, she suggests something much more simple but a bit more frightening: she recommends that we LEARN from those who disagree with us.

And I love this. It’s a simple plan that possesses great promise. What would happen if we all promised to give the best of ourselves, listened to one another, and treated everyone with respect and dignity? I wonder how this might affect change.

This year, I’ve been given the time and the space to truly listen to the teachers that I am striving to help. Most of these teachers are neck-deep in monumental change and grappling with great uncertainty. Some are more comfortable with this than others, and some are more vocal about this than others. It takes courage to speak your truth when what you have to say may not be popular or comfortable for someone else to hear (someone like me, for instance). But if I’m not willing to listen…..if I’m only willing to invest myself in respecting those who understand and agree with me, how will real change ever occur? Preaching to the choir accomplishes very little in the way of change.

Casey discovered that “embracing resistance” enabled her to identify what teachers really needed, and defining this enabled her to better meet those needs. This is what good coaches do, Casey suggests, and the return on their investment is substantial: coaches learn and grow professionally as a result. I’m thinking that this is what good human beings do as well, and that perhaps these values should underpin all that we act upon as educators and advocates for change.

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3 Comments

  1. Mathew says:

    Yes! Coaches often discuss teachers in terms of whether their mindsets are fixed or not and try to figure out how to change them when in fact it is coaches who often have the most fixed mindsets of all. We have to be willing to change and grow or we are not role models and will simply be tuned out.

  2. Carol A. Weintraub says:

    I LOVE this post.
    My motto has always been this: “If teachers don’t have some resistance, there just might be something wrong with them.”
    The way change has been pushed top-down and haphazardly, who can blame teachers for resistance?

    I really enjoy reading your writing, Angela.

  3. Angela says:

    Thank you for stopping by Carol. Our conversations this summer provided guidance that I am very grateful for. I’m really enjoying this work…enjoying being seated in the circle more often than I’m standing in front of it if you know what I mean.

    That’s an interesting point, Mathew—applies to much in life, I think.

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