PMP 046: 5 Tips for Responding to Resistance

One of my favorite college education professors would often start class with a provoking question.

Photo by ecospc – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License

As we would grapple with how to answer and/or support our positions, he would stand there with his large hands lifted in the air, his voice booming, “Disequilibrium is the beginning of education!”
It took me a while to figure out that he was teaching us by example. He was trying to help a room full of future teachers see that the greatest learning opportunities in life first start with challenges that “shake” our normal way of thinking about problem solving.
Only by challenging us to think would we ever really learn.

Embracing Healthy Tension

With that in mind, how has resistance helped you grow as a leader, as a teacher, or in life? How have some of your most difficult moments birthed other great opportunities?
Years ago when I felt I was prepared to move from assistant principal into a principal position, I was frustrated that I could not find any openings that were good fits for me. As I wrestled with my own frustrations at my inability to promote, I decided to take some positive steps.
I began reading a book called 48 Days To the Work You Love by Dan Miller. Through the practical steps required in the reading, I was forced to re-think my values, goals, and talents. Eventually, the process reassured me that I was in the right profession but needed to keep growing in the knowledge of my own field.
At the same time, however, even with my renewed sense of purpose, I experienced the pain of rejection as I applied for openings, interviewed for them and was told no. But that time also birthed some of the most creative ideas I had had in years about my purpose and practices as a school leader–even giving me the idea for blogging and podcasting. Most importantly, I became intimately aware of my own motives and reasons for wanting to be a school leader.
Eventually, the right door opened for what I am doing today. I wouldn’t want to go through the difficulties again, but without them, I wouldn’t be leading with the focus I developed through those challenges.
Resistance is not always counterproductive. It is often the necessary tension to push us in the right direction. What resistance are you facing today? As you persist, here are five ideas to keep in mind:

1. You are not alone.

If I believed I was facing each day dependent on my own abilities and strength, I would be so limited in my possibilities. As a person of faith, I don’t believe we face resistance alone. In fact, that assurance provides immeasurable peace during difficult times. (Here is a great Bible reminder.) I also believe we’re not alone because we have communities of other educators who can surround us with meaningful feedback.

2. Remember others on your team who can help carry the load.

Don’t forget to look around at the people on your team who care about reaching the same goals. You are not Superman; so tuck in your cape, and ask for help. School leadership is never effective unless it is shared. And when you’re facing resistance, it is so much easier when you face it with others. So reach out to those right around you. Don’t be afraid to ask for help in facing resistance.

3. Be patient with yourself. Experience is a great teacher.

Any time you are improving a process, you learn most through trial and error. Be patient. Keep doing what works, and be honest about what doesn’t. One helpful tip I’ve heard in staying patient as a leader is to beta-test ideas you want implemented in your school. Testing ideas gives you room for trial and error. It helps you remember that it takes time to make meaningful change.
Also don’t rush the process. As the book Outliers by Malcom Gladwell teaches, people with the most talent in their fields usually put in 10,000 hours before reaching that level of performance. We all have a long way to go toward reaching our peak!

4. Choose to find joy rather than becoming resentful.

Sometimes when I am faced with a challenging situation, I have to remind myself that this is just a part of my job. I can either be overwhelmed, or I can face it with perspective. That mindset will not only change your attitude, it also influences those with whom you are working.

5. Look for and celebrate the small successes.

At the end of the day, don’t forget to find the small victories that outweigh the struggles. Sometimes that may be hard to do. But even the smallest steps in the right direction are worth remembering.


Students need to be challenged to grapple with tough questions in order to find profound solutions. Researchers need to make errors in experiments before discovering miracles of science. Teachers need to experiment with best practices till they find the ones that work. We should not be surprised that all of us (including school leaders) need to accept that the daily questions and challenges we face can either serve to frustrate us into despair or to motivate us into growth.

Now It’s Your Turn

Is there a difficulty you are facing where you could use some feedback in finding a solution? Share with the rest of us and let’s grow together. What are some ways you have found to use resistance to your advantage?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker