Don’t Be Surprised By Resistance

I cringe when I hear people say “this is what kids want” when discussing technology.

From the old digital natives to talk about the digital generation, there is this often unchallenged idea put forth that today’s students will embrace and welcome technology-rich environments that are learner centered.

Don’t be surprised if you find this isn’t always the reality. Don’t be surprised if students actually resist.

Reason #1: Changing the Game

If a teacher is typically not learner-centered, a shift to a technology-rich environment that empowers the learner is changing the game. For students that are playing the game well, creates a new challenge for them and can be frustrating.

The idea of reallocating class time or more commonly known today as Flipping the Classroom is something we’ve been trying in pockets for a couple of years. One teacher worked really hard to understand this and focused on making this shift for the benefit of student learning. Part of her belief was that students would welcome this change and become more engaged.

What happened was quite the opposite. The students resisted. They preferred the lecture in class. They preferred the handout that gave them the main points to focus on. They preferred the teacher-centered environment.


They play to the ego of teachers: we love your ideas, we want to hear from you, we get more out of it, etc.

Perhaps that is true on some levels but I’d argue it is easier and easier is better. If I get a sheet that tells me what to look for in the movie, I don’t have to think much nor do much. If I get to listen to a lecture for 40 minutes, I don’t have to think much nor do much. If the teacher flips the classroom, I have to own my learning and engage collaboratively as I demonstrate transfer of learning through creation and visible thinking.

You change the game. There will be resistance.

The question is will you fight through the implementation dip.

Reason #2: Highway to the Comfort Zone

Okay, students are great at Facebook. They are wonderful operators of their cell phones. And, many can bring the thunder with about any gaming system out there.

But, they are not technology gurus with an intimiate knowledge of digital technologies, web 2.o tools, and multimedia software. Yes, there are some that display wicked genius when it comes to technology, but the majority are simply Office trained and no more technology “literate” than the average teacher.

While most aren’t afraid of the technology and they can do magical things when given the chance, I’ve seen too often where students will simply default to using PowerPoint (bad… bad… Powerpoint not effective design) even when they have a choice to be creative. I’ve seen them resist using creative and emerging technologies.


It is easier. They are in their comfort zones with what has always been. Students need to be pushed out of their comfort zone just like adults. We can’t assume they will do it themselves.

You take them out of that comfort zone and they will more than likely resist.

The question is should you let them remain in their comfort zone.

Embrace and Fight Through the Resistance

This isn’t universal. Perhaps your experience is different.

But, I continue to see frustration from teachers that hear about this magical world and then face something different in the classroom. They face resistance.

Because of this, we must help them with this reality

  1. We need to help them understand why students are resisting.
  2. We need to remind them that community is at the core of a classroom not myths about what this generation wants.
  3. We need to acknowledge that this isn’t easy and it is even more challenging when you try to change the game in the midst of the class.
  4. We need to help teachers and students fight through it for a better environment that they might not fully understand or appreciate in the moment as they build and establish community.

What are other ways to help teachers to face embrace and fight through this resistance? What are some other reasons students resist?


    • @ryanbretag Always like your blog. Been thinking about this a lot. When you change-those who are winning in the status quo will push back

    • @ryanbretag I just got moderated by @ryanbretag . Is this some sort of Canadian comment filter??

  1. I think the key here is for teachers to make some decisions about what’s best for students. It’s best for students to be great at learning. It’s best that they own their learning. From there we need to help guide the path to those goals. In the classrooms that we envision, we see students working harder than they are in many of our classrooms today. No one naturally wants to work harder. This shift to students owning their learning can’t simply occur with success as a single high school teacher decides to make a change. But I applaud those who try. But they will face resistance. That’s inevitable. But in the same way that parents make decisions in the best interest of their kids that isn’t always popular, at some point we need to do that for our students. We’d like to paint the picture that school will be better and more engaging and while it can be, students may not see that immediately. Maybe some never will but we still owe it to them to give them the opportunity at least to make an education for themselves.

  2. I see this happening in elementary grades too. At the beginning of the year, my “gifted” students were very reluctant to the learner-centered classroom. They were used to be told exactly what to do and then doing just a bit more than what was expected. They even resisted typing their writing. It was one more thing to learn, and it seemed that it was an impediment to them accomplishing the task in a manner they were accustomed too.

    Another issue that arose for many students was their inability to collaborate. They knew how to talk, but not really in a learning-focused context. When asked to “work together” they would often wait for one of the more independent students (generally a “gifted” student) to start and/or get most of the work done and then begin to discuss–which usually consisted of, What’dya do for this one?–the task.

    It’s still not perfect in my classroom, but many of my reluctant students are now enjoying the new classroom atmosphere and culture that a more learner-centered classroom and various technologies can provide them.

  3. I was surprised by how much resistance some students offer at anything really new to them. My students were not used to work on the Internet they know how to play and connect on Facebook but they had never worked or connected with their teacher online. So I tried it and expected them to be enthusiastic. Some are but some just won’t change the good old methods.
    Why ? Are they afraid ? Do we train them to be extra careful ? Is it that they just do not trust us ? I don’t know …
    Thank you for this very interesting article.

  4. I think this makes total sense when WE change the students’ learning environment. When teachers discover relevant and powerful ways to continue learning, they do it because they find it empowering and they gain personal and professional satisfaction from it. However, in much of what you describe, students are not the ones choosing new learning contexts. It makes sense that they push back when they are pushed out of what is familiar, predictable, and comfortable for them. I think we see the same thing with teachers. When change is imposed upon them without developing and nurturing the ideas and frameworks upon which mandated changes are built, teachers push back. They give lip service. They go through the motions. They complain. And let’s face it – they sometimes do this because they are pushed out of their own comfort zones… and sometimes because to them, what is being asked/required of them makes no sense. They have lived a professional lifetime of new initiatives that have made no sense… to them – and, no one has really made a concerted effort to built professional capacity around many of such initiatives.

    I know I’m somewhat hijacking your initial point here, but I think it’s relevant to consider how the same discomforts, pushbacks, and yearning for “the way it used to be” is also exhibited in teachers.

    I think you’re quite right that we need to both persist/push through such “uncomfort zones” (yeah, I just made that up) and work really hard at growing understanding for new learning contexts and opportunities. If we simply stop at the old “this medicine is good for you” line, I think we’re making it harder for everyone.

  5. This is one of those could-easily-go-into-a-diatribe points for me, since I’ve sat through workshop after workshop with the older, usually boomer generation “experts” telling me (a genXer) who is actually in the classroom teaching the younger generation precisely how tech-savy and -enamored the “digital natives” are, how we have to adapt to them, how old modes of learning are basically dead.

    What my experience has been is that there’s a very shallow-level familiarity with technology on the part of the younger generation — they can text faster than us, they have less inhibitions about some forms of behavior, they come into class knowing what Facebook is, and with 600+ friends. But, real curiosity about how any of it works, what its possibilities are — that seems just as well proportioned in their generation as it is in every other one — in short fairly rare. Very few of my students know anything about Twitter, and of those who do, almost none realize it can be used to garner information about events real time from multiple perspectives. They typically have a much harder time making their way around our Course Management System (Blackboard) than we profs do.

    Those who are brighter actually want “chalk and talk” and resent being told that it’s no longer appropriate for them — they rightly wonder how any of us could possibly have been well-educated back before all the incorporation of technology.

    I tend to think — and I realize that this is a strong claim for which arguments I’m not providing really ought to be supplied — that the boomer “experts” are really just projecting their own fantasies and anxieties onto the blank slate of the millennial generation. I also think they ought at some point to start asking us 35-45 year old profs what we actually see in the classroom.

  6. I can strongly relate to the concept of kids’ resisting when teachers “change the game” because it’s happening to me right now. I looped with my class to teach 5th grade this year, and over the summer I attended the Ozarks Writing Project Summer Institute (through the National Writing Project), which completely changed my thinking about teaching.

    As I’ve incorporated more learner-centered activities increasingly throughout the year, I’ve encountered SO much resistance with my students. Before I began the school year, I believed my kids would be as (or perhaps more) enthusiastic about all these “new” changes I had made in my teaching approach in comparison with last year, but that’s anything but the case. Sure, there are a few who absolutely love the new, more challenging approach; however, the majority have negative/passive dispositions when we (on a regular basis) do more active, student-centered learning activities. They give up easily, moan and complain the whole way through, and resist with every fiber of their being. It’s frustrating.

    Anyway, despite my consistent negative feedback from my students, I am determined to keep trying because I know this is the best way for them. I know that kids don’t always know what’s best for them; they are far better at identifying the “easy” path, which I don’t intend to encourage by offering passive learning activities.

    I really enjoyed reading this article, and I feel encouraged. Thanks for sharing!

  7. This is such a smart post with some great comments. I don’t even know what to say. I see this. I also see a need to communicate this to classrooms that are going through it.

    Thanks for sharing. I’ll be chewing on this for a while.

    – @newfirewithin



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