Reading between the lines: Teacher resistance to change

Pamela Freilich Hjelle, University of Pennsylvania


This qualitative study examined teachers' responses to reform. Teachers in this study demonstrated both resistant and compliant behavior in response to a particular curricular change, which also served as a springboard for teachers to express concerns over other aspects of their jobs. This teacher-research study, which took place during the 1998–1999 school year, utilized ethnographic methods for data collection and analysis, including audiotaping of participant observations, classroom observations, and interviews, journal notes, and program documents. The responses, insights, and perspectives of six elementary school teachers provided the primary data in this study. A literary metaphor, presented as the stages of reading a book, framed three units of analysis: (1) to uncover teachers' initial reactions and responses to change, (2) to determine the structures inherent in the public school environment that produce teacher resistance, and (3) to illustrate the ways in which different teachers complied with or resisted change and how these actions further impacted teachers' practice. The results of this study indicate that the process by which school districts and administrators implemented change negatively affected the successes for which these policy makers hoped. This study also revealed that teachers perceived that school administrators and policy makers expected teachers to blindly accept change with little or no regard for their expertise or professional opinions. Further, when given opportunity to voice their opinions about curricular change, teachers cited overriding problems with the organizational structures in which they worked. Finally, this study indicates that different teachers exhibit different forms of resistance. Non-productive resistance prevented successful execution of the change initiative. Productive action, though resisting certain aspects of change, contributed to not only successful changes in curriculum, but also positive transformations in teachers. Throughout this study it is clear that simply mandating change is not enough to successfully and effectively implement change or to achieve advances in student achievement or teacher improvement. I propose a definition of a culture of reform which may modify those aspects of schooling that create obstacles for change and lead to teacher resistance.

Subject Area

School administration

Recommended Citation

Hjelle, Pamela Freilich, "Reading between the lines: Teacher resistance to change" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3003638.