Preventing Resistance through Proactively Building Consensus


Accept the fact that resistance will be a common phenomenon experienced in building multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) and/or professional learning communities (PLC). However, resolve to minimize the extent and intensity of resistance through knowing the common causes of resistance and proactively building and revisiting consensus in your district, building and teams.   

MTSS and PLCs are highly effective solutions to improving learning, but both involve technical change and social change. Technical change refers to changes in the procedures or routines of how jobs are performed.  Social change, on the other hand, impacts the relationships within the organization.  Each of these aspects of change introduce reasons for individuals or groups to resist.  In her article, Ten Reasons People Resist Change,  Rosabeth Moss Kanter identifies the following reasons for resistance:

  1. Loss of control - change threatening aspects of autonomy

  2. Excess uncertainty - change involving a lot of unknowns

  3. Surprise, Surprise - privately planned and suddenly announced change

  4. Everything seems different - multiple confusing or distracting changes

  5. Loss of face - change that threatens individuals associated with past leadership

  6. Concerns about competence - change that raises concerns about ability to do the work

  7. More work - overload during transition due to change

  8. Ripple effects - change affecting stakeholders more distant to the direct change

  9. Past resentments - historical bitterness to the impact of previous change

  10. Sometimes the threat is real - change poses real loss, such as job cuts

The complex changes presented by MTSS and PLCs make these reasons for resistance inherently relevant to any leaders who are being honest with themselves.  The extent and intensity of resistance can be minimized by using leadership teams as guiding coalitions for consensus leading up to and throughout the implementation of MTSS and PLCs.  

Consensus involves planfully building shared understanding about the “why” and “how” of implementing MTSS and PLCs. Some aspects involved in executing MTSS and PLCs are dictated by the research on implementation fidelity or by legislation.  This mandatory nature does not eliminate staff resistance due to misconceptions about the research and fidelity requirements or resentment of the laws.  Recent history of No Child Left Behind evidences resistance to federal law.  Closer to home, some elementary classroom teachers resist Iowa’s choice of FAST as the state endorsed universal screener.  Leadership teams should provide quality training for comprehending the vision for and research about successful MTSS and PLCs.  Thus, leaders and staff share accurate and common rather than misinformed and different interpretations as they make decisions about the discretionary and contextual aspects of MTSS and PLCs.

Consensus is even more relevant to staving off resistance to the many decisions that districts and buildings get to make about the local MTSS and PLC processes.  Examples of decisions include schedules, team memberships, new job responsibilities, interventions and purchased materials. Many of these decisions change technical and social perspectives for the staff, thus creating resistance due to more work, teacher self-perception of competency, excess uncertainty, confusion, distraction and loss of control.  Consensus is NOT unanimous consent of our staff members about decisions. Rick Dufour explains consensus as the point at which “all points of view have been heard and solicited and the will of the group is evident.”  Participation in and the opportunity to voice input increase buy in, quality of plans and compliance with decisions.  Proactive consensus building also reduces anxiety and resentment.  Although attending to consensus isn’t the absolute vaccine for resistance it is an effective remedy for lessening it.


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