Based on reader requests, here is the entire Response to Barriers Series, edited as one post.


This short essay will address seven primary barriers to changing instructional practices and the appropriate response by leadership.


The Response to Barriers – Ignorance


The first barrier to changing instructional practices is ignorance, meaning that there are teachers who are simply unaware of more effective practices.  This is in no way a commentary on work ethic, or intelligence, as we are all ignorant of something. Ignorance is part of the human condition.  As it relates to instructional practices, situational ignorance can occur for any number of reasons, but most commonly you find that isolation, lack of experience, lack of time and inadequate resources are the primary reasons for teacher ignorance of better practice.  In all of these cases, leadership can, should and must endeavor to make teachers better informed.


In this endeavor, professional reading, consultation and collaboration, are the practices that leadership must create and cultivate on the campus. Staying current in one’s professional reading ensures that the teacher is aware of the evolutions in effective practice.  Consultation and collaboration not only provide support for the inexperienced teacher but also leverages the brainpower of the instructional collective which allows for improved time management, better resource allocation and improved staff effectiveness.


Essentially, it is the formation and cultivation of the PLC that best overcomes the slow stagnation of teacher curiosity and intellect, that perpetuates ignorance. The PLC is a system solution and as such is a critical function of leadership.


Here is the good news, if you find that the staff is ignorant of better practice, you are a critical part of the solution.


The Response to Barriers Series – Inadequate Training.


Once it is determined that the staff is not ignorant of better instructional practices, yet it is observed that better practices are not being implemented at sufficient quantity and quality the question becomes, “Why?”


The most common answer is, “Inadequate training.”


Throughout the profession, our districts and campuses do a poor job of adequately training staff.  One-time trainings, infrequent training opportunities, irrelevant training, etc. I could write an entire book highlighting the training malpractice I have observed inflicted on teachers across the country. I can count on one hand the districts and campuses that do a better than adequate job of training teachers.


In today’s high stakes operating environment, if training your staff does not represent a significant investment in intellectual, time and monetary resources, your staff will never operate at anything resembling high effectiveness and efficiency.


So, what are the building block of effective training program?  The following should be considered minimum requirements:


  1. Orientation and induction training that builds foundation skills.
  2. Training that is directly correlated to improving instructional practice.
  3. Embedded training that is delivered over-time, in small, actionable chunks.
  4. Training that models the targeted practices and behaviors.
  5. Immediate (or near immediate) practice opportunities for teachers, with cueing and feedback.
  6. Training that regularly revisits identified core competencies.


Here is the good news, if staff are struggling due to non-existent or inadequate training, you are a critical part of the solution.


The Response to Barriers Series – Habit


You have determined that your staff is not ignorant of better instructional practices and you have revamped both the topics of training and the methods of delivery.  Good for you, you have now positioned your staff to be more effective and efficient, improved scores are now a forgone conclusion. Or so you think.  As a leader, your job has only just begun, awareness and training are just prerequisites.


You will soon notice, especially if you have a lot of staff with years of experience, that nothing is actually changing.  Habit has raised its head.  Research points out that 30% of what we do everyday is a habit or routine. And the longer these habits have been entrenched the more powerful they become.


In practical terms this means that the inefficient practices veteran teachers keep implementing aren’t due to conscious choice or insubordination, it just happens.  So, what is the solution? Well it turns out, as with everything else we do, it’s not complicated but it is work.


There are three things required to change a habit:


  1. You must have a replacement behavior. This means as leadership we have to clearly state things in the following manner, “For the next two weeks we are concentrating on increasing the amount of Recognition and Reinforcement in our Classrooms.”


  1. You need a behavioral cue, lots of them. The cue for engaging to a classroom replacement behavior is the classroom observation. You tell your staff, “For the next two weeks, when someone visits your classroom, use that as your cue to Recognize and Reinforce a student.”


Consistent volume is the key.  Which is why the PowerWalks Hero List is so important.  The campuses that make the list are generating enough cues to give the staff a fighting chance to break a less effective habit and replace it with a more effective practice.  The campuses that don’t make the list are only paying lip service to supporting teachers and improving student performance.  And yes, for some of you, that fact should sting.


  1. You need a reinforcer, once you do the replacement behavior. Something that make the replacement behavior feel good. Again, this is where the PowerWalks Observer is critical. When the observer enters the classroom and sees the teacher doing the targeted practice, the observer should… SMILE AT THE TEACHER.If the teacher is not doing the practice when the observer walks in, but uses the cue to do the practice, the observer should… GIVE THE TEACHER A THUMBS UP.Nothing fancy, just a quick response that recognizes the effort and energy of the one person doing the most important work in the school…THE TEACHER.


Here is the good news, if staff are stuck due to out of date habits and routines, you are a critical part of the solution.


The Response to Barriers Series – Choice


Choice is a good thing… isn’t it?  Conventional wisdom says,“Yes, and the more choice the better.”


But from a leadership perspective, you need to reexamine how you implement choice.  Because choice can (and often does) represents a significant barrier to change. It does so in one obvious way and one counter-intuitive way. First the obvious.


No Choice.  When a person is given “no choice” you are sowing the seeds of resentment.  It doesn’t matter if it is “right” or not. Choice equals a level of control. If I operate in an environment of no choice/control, in short order I will either, shut down, hate you or become a master of subterfuge.  But here is the interesting fact, give me a choice, even if it is the choice between “the rock and the hard place,” and I will willingly engage because I picked my option.


This means that instead of presenting something to person as a “You don’t have a choice” situation, you would be better served by pointing out the that the choice is either engaging in the hard work or dealing with a harsher option.  Some might point out that this is just semantics.  I would argue that it is managing perception, and as we are often told, “Your perception is your reality.”


But just as “no choice” is bad, so is having too many choices.  The human brain can easily pick between Choice A and Choice B.  It a simply a case of determining the relative pro’s and con’s.  Add Choice C and the job gets a little more difficult, but the final selection is more satisfying. Continue to add choices beyond A, B or C and there are too many variables to sort through. The brain gets stuck in false analysis loops. Now instead of determining that A is better than B, and C is better than A, all we can see is the whatever we picked can’t match up with the combined positive attributes of all the other choices. Faced with this dilemma, we either do nothing or live with nagging “buyer’s remorse.”


At a school leadership level, what this means is that when we tell staff, “Just implement a best practice, pick one of the many,”we make it almost impossible for a teacher to pick any practice to try to implement.


The solution?


Significantly narrow the choice.  “In your lessons this week, have your students either Talk or Write.”


That is a choice that can be made quickly and with confidence.


Here is the good news, if staff are stuck due to the issues of choice, you are a critical part of the solution.


The Response to Barriers Series – Fear


Fear is a tremendous barrier to change, especially in education. If you look at the typical educator, you will find that person is much more risk adverse than their peers in other professions. This is in no way an indictment. In fact, in many instances this is a strength, but any strength taken to an extreme can become a liability.  What are some of the things that teachers fear?  Not being competent and not being in control are two significant teacher fears.  The adoption of a new instructional practice generally requires an initial step backwards in both areas.


As an instructional leader or support provider, once I recognize that I have staff members that are dealing with fear constraints, I can become a powerful teacher resource.  First, I can ensure and remind my staff that as we adopt a new practice or tool, expertise is not the expectation.  Instead, all we initially require is effort.  Just engage in the learning curve, free of judgement. The honest permission to not be perfect is all that some of our teachers need to begin moving forward.


For other teachers, this may not be enough.  The fear of losing control of their classroom prevents them from attempting any new practice.  For these staff members let them know that you are there to help.  Tell them that being concerned about losing control in the classroom is valid and legitimate.  As such, they should really focus on implementing the new practice when another adult is visiting the classroom.  That way there are two adults monitoring the students, so behavior doesn’t suffer and if the teacher runs into any delivery trouble (which they rarely do) the visitor is there to step in if necessary. Since your campus already does a lot of formative classroom visits (if not, I suggest PowerWalks…. I hear it’s good), sit down with the teacher and schedule when the next couple of visits will occur.  This allows the teacher to be ready to try the new practice and reduces the stress of wondering when someone is going to show up.


Here is the good news, if staff are stuck due to the issues of fear, you are a critical part of the solution.


Response to Barriers Series – Helplessness


Sadly, there are those in our profession who have given up hope. They truly believe that what they do in the classroom does not matter. Their driving focus is to simply survive another day. At the many identified challenged schools across the country this is more common than anyone likes to admit.  With these staff you have to become the “Stockdale Paradox” salesman.  (The Stockdale Paradox: The acceptance of the brutal truth while believing that if you continue to do the right thing you will persevere.)


You have to communicate how the training provided will lead to a more successful classroom. You have to track progress and celebrate forward movement. You have to talk to your staff and get them to begin to believe in themselves. Remind them that if the student is coming to school there is something in them that we can still reach.  And remind them that because they choose to work where many won’t they are just a little more special than other teachers.


With the teachers that feel helpless, you aren’t going to be successful by being a bigger bully, they are already beat down.  Instead you have to be the church leader and get them to believe.


Here is the good news, if staff are stuck due to the issues of helplessness, you are a critical part of the solution.


The Response to Barriers Series – Obstinance


The obstinate teacher just refuses to do “it;” whatever “it” may be.  As a leader you have to decide if the “it” is important or not.  If “it” isn’t, honestly, who cares?


If “it” is important, then draw a line in the sand.  Talk to the teacher, document the teacher, and if necessary, fire the teacher.  When you allow the obstinate teacher to get away with not complying, you are making everyone who does comply a stooge.  This quickly becomes a morale problem of your own making.


Here is the good news, if staff are stuck due to the issues of obstinance, you are a critical part of the solution.


Response to Barriers Series – Summary


To review, the primary barriers are:


  1. Ignorance
  2. Lack of Training
  3. Habit
  4. Choice
  5. Fear
  6. Helplessness
  7. Obstinance


Below, a is chart listing some potential interventions for each barrier.


Barrier Corrective Actions Corrective Actions Corrective Actions Corrective Actions Corrective Actions Corrective Actions
Ignorance Book Study Induction Orientation Embedded Training PLC  
Inadequate Training Induction Orientation Embedded Training Coaching PLC  
Habit Clear Communication Embedded Training Identified Replacement Behavior High Volume Formative Classroom Observation (Best Tool – PowerWalks) Positive Reinforcement Coaching
Choice Clear Communication Show That There is a Choice Limit Choices (No More Than 3) Coaching    
Fear Cultivate a Judgement Free Learning Curve High Volume Formative Classroom Observation (Best Tool – PowerWalks) Scheduled, Specific Purpose Classroom Visits Coaching PLC  
Helplessness Clear Communication Clear, Concreate Mission Highlight and Celebrate Small Successes Coaching PLC  
Obstinance Clear Communication High Volume Formative Classroom Observation (Best Tool – PowerWalks) Positive Reinforcement Purposeful, Prescriptive Documentation Termination  


Think. Work. Achieve.

Your turn…

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