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How to Address "Yeah, But" Objections From Resisters

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What's stopping you or your peers from making a meaningful change in your teaching practice? What are the "yeah, but" arguments you hear when you propose a new idea, a way to do something differently?

Rob Mancabelli and Will Richardson, authors of Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education, asked a few hundred teachers to list the "yeah-buts" they hear from other teachers, administrators, and parents.

The audience attending the packed ISTE Conference yesterday had a long list of complaints and objections they've heard along the way.

Here are just a few:


Yeah, but:

  • It's not safe to let kids experiment on the Internet.
  • We need to block and filter sites.
  • It's always been this way.
  • Is it standards-based?
  • We don't have this technology in our school.
  • We don't know how to use this technology
  • It's disruptive to the classroom.
  • Will it help our assessment scores?
  • It's not rigorous enough.
  • We don't have enough bandwidth or infrastructure.
  • We don't have enough money.
  • There's no room for this in our curriculum.
  • Teachers can't be trusted.
  • It has a negative effect on the brain.
  • Does everyone have to do it? Why isn't something that you do, if you're so interested.
  • Students are cheating when they look stuff up.
  • It's too fun.

Richardson and Mancabelli have some advice for frustrated educators who run into the proverbial wall when they propose new ideas: appeal to the nay-sayers' emotions, rather than their intellect.

"Often our response to a 'yeah-but' is one of defensiveness and this can sometimes derail the conversation," wrote Trevor Shaw in a simultaneous chat during the session.

In addition to listing all the rational reasons why the idea might work (introducing critical thinking, introducing autonomy, showing trust, engaging thought), ask them: "What’s at the root of this for you? Why don’t you think you can’t make this change?"

Chances are you'll hear some interesting answer, which can then be rationally addressed.

For example, if you're proposing a new way of using cell phones in the classroom, and you hear objections about how it'll take too much time to figure out how that might work, your rational tactic, Mancabelli says, could be:

  • Explaining that investing time up front will pay dividends later. The learning curve always gets easier after the first try.
  • Offering ways of reallocating time, such as using a faculty meeting or departmental meeting for professional development.
  • Suggesting a couple of half days for students so that teachers can work together on professional development.
  • Teaching people to use social networks so they can learn on their own time.

But that will only go so far, Mancabelli says. You have to also dig into the emotional objections. Ask them, "What’s your feeling behind it"? You might here one or more of the following:

  • I'm already overwhelmed with all the work I have to do.
  • If I don't succeed at this, I'm afraid I'll make a fool of myself in front of not just other teachers but also the students.
  • It isn't fair that I have to learn about one more thing.

Now that you've gotten to the bottom of the issue, you can address the emotional concerns. These are some of Mancabelli's suggestions:

  • How long do you think it'll take to learn this? What's an appropriate amount of time to set aside?
  • Invite them into a conversation about how long this change is going to take.
  • Ask them what they need to succeed.
  • Tell them that there is no bar to get over.
  • Give them permission to fail.
  • Provide support if they run into roadblocks by reallocating funds, if you need to.

When it comes to allowing access to blocked sites at schools (read the Department of Education's list of rational reasons, those in favor can appeal to the emotional side of the argument. Ask students to share about their online lives, and how they keep safe. Tell educators that it's part of their job to prepare kids from pitfalls of social media sites. Ask them: "Wouldn't you be more scared about kids accessing sites without proper training and guidance?" And of course, lead by example: share your own work online on open,collaborative sites and bring in others who do, too.

See the entire presentation here. And how appropriate: as with most everything Richardson does, it's on a collaborative site: a Google Doc.

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