Weathering Change: Coping in a context of pervasive organizational change

By Michael A. Raffanti, Ed.D., J.D.

Abstract

This study of organizational change was conducted
using classic grounded theory methodology (Glaser &
Strauss, 1967). Most of the relevant data came from
open-ended intensive interviews with educators—classroom
teachers, professional developers, learning specialists,
administrators, and student teachers. Theoretical sampling
was also done in organizational settings such as
businesses, nonprofits, and religious institutions. The
theory of weathering accounts for how organizational
members continually resolve their main concern of survival
in the face of pervasive change. Weathering is a basic
social-psychological process that enables individuals to
endure changes in a manner consistent with their personal
and professional needs, goals, and values. In the sizing-up
phase, an individual initially confronts an impending
organizational change. In the filtering phase, one decides
how to cope with the change by processing the information
through personal and professional filters. The outcome of
filtering determines the behaviors exhibited in the coping
stage. Coping is a set of behaviors that are best
characterized as resisting and acquiescing. The study
suggests that leaders consider the complexities of
weathering behaviors as they seek to implement
organizational changes.

Introduction

Relentless calls for reform are etched in the
consciousness of American public educators. As debate
continues to rage among policy-makers and scholars over
high-stakes testing, accountability, and educating an
increasingly diverse society, administrators and classroom
teachers face the grassroots pressures of improving test
scores and student learning. Despite a wealth of
theoretical and practical writings on school reform,
implementing change remains as challenging as ever. As
Evans (2000) observed, “Organizational change—not just in
schools, but in institutions of all kinds—is riddled with a
paradox. We study it in ever greater depth, but we practice
it with continuing clumsiness” (p.4). By examining the
“human side” of school reform, Evans sought to illuminate
the psychosocial factors of organizational change that
rational-scientific approaches do not fully consider.

Contemporary scholars of the change process
recognize that complex organizational processes are best
understood through systems thinking. As Wheatley and
Kellner-Rogers (1998) noted, “Since human organizations
are filled with living beings…this process can’t be described
in neat increments. It occurs in the tangled webs of
relationships—the networks—that characterize all living
systems”. (p. 1) With its focus on discovering patterns of
behavior, classic grounded theory (Glaser & Strauss, 1967;
Glaser, 1978) is an ideal, and underutilized, methodology
for understanding, explaining, and predicting the patterns
of social behavior that occur in complex organizational
contexts. A theory that is grounded in the psychosocial
behaviors of actual participants in change contexts affords
researchers and leaders a “controllable theoretical foothold”
through which to implement sustainable change. A
grounded theory truly addresses the complex, human side
of change.

Methodology

Grounded theory is a systematic, empirical, and
primarily inductive research methodology. The purpose of
the methodology is to generate theories directly from data
to explain social behavior. The theory that emerges from
analysis of the data accounts for how participants in an
action context continually resolve their relevant issues and
problems (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). The grounded theorist
enters a substantive area of study and begins to collect
data, usually through open-ended intensive interviews or
participant-observation. Rather than pre-establishing
interview subjects or generating a list of questions at the
outset, the researcher follows the data where it leads
through theoretical sampling, the continuous collection and
comparative analysis of data. (Glaser, 1978)

In constant comparative analysis the researcher open
codes the data. That is, one compares incidents, freely and
abundantly generating codes in the margins of the notes,
transcripts, publications, and other data sources (Glaser,
1998). Open coding generates substantive codes, which
summarize empirical data in the substantive area, as
opposed to theoretical codes, which conceptualize how the
codes interrelate. The core variable is the category that
emerges from comparative analysis of data and serves as
the foundation for the theory. It recurs frequently, links
various data, and allows for maximum variation in
accounting for behavior in the action scene. Through
coding, memo writing, and theoretical sampling for more
data as indicated by the analysis, a relevant grounded
theory — linked together by a core variable — emerges.

This study fully embraced openness to all forms of data
for analysis. As Glaser (1998, p.8) proclaimed, “A basic
tenet of grounded theory, one that particularly grabs its
devotees, is that ‘all is data.’ [The researcher] need only
see what incidents come his way as more ‘data’ to
constantly compare, to generate concepts, and to induce
the patterns involved.” The “grist” for this study included
the following:

· Open-ended intensive interviews with over twenty
individuals involved in educational reform (classroom
teachers, administrators, student teachers, consultants)

· Group interviews with student teachers;

· Participant-observation in a public elementary school;

· Participant-observation in professional development
activities;

· Online teacher diaries;

· Videos of teachers engaged in professional
development;

· Ethnographic studies of teachers engaged in change
processes;

· Personal reflections/journals on change experiences;

· Scholarly literature on organizational change and school
reform.

The Theory of Weathering Change

Through constant comparative analysis of data, the
theory of weathering change emerged. Weathering is a
basic social-psychological process that enables individuals
to endure changes in a manner consistent with their
personal and professional needs, goals, and values. This
study discovered that, rather than focusing on
implementation of reform measures, teachers in pervasive
change environments are most concerned with various
forms of survival.

Conditions

There are five factors that combine to create a
problematic situation in which weathering behaviors result.
First, the receiver of the communication of a change
initiative understands it to be imposed. Second, the change
communication is perceived as emanating from a person or
position of authority. Third, the receiver of the change
message believes the imposed change to be accompanied
by expectations of accountability for implementation.
Fourth, the change message is delivered in a context of
pervasive change. Finally, the change produces
apprehension. If each of these conditions is present
weathering behaviors in an organization become highly
likely.

Stage One: Sizing-Up

Sizing-up, the first stage of the weathering process, is
the initial mental processing of a change initiative.
Weathering has begun, meaning that the individual already
feels apprehensive about the change. Thus, emotions play
an immediate and vital role in weathering from the outset.
The stage is marked by uncertainty, indecision, and
perhaps fears. Such visceral reactions impact one’s initial
impressions of the initiative. Although some deliberation
occurs, sizin-gup is primarily reflexive in character.
Sizing-up is not only an internal mechanism; as a
meaning-making stage, the social dimensions are of
tremendous significance. That is, the meaning that one
constructs of a change initiative is derived not only through
mental processes, but through social intercourse. People
gather information from observing others relate to the
same issue. They also gain insight by interacting with other
meaning-makers around them. Thus, principles of symbolic
interactionism (Blumer, 1969) are integral to the sizing-up
process. Through weathering, individuals negotiate the
meaning of organizational changes through a process of
interpretation and self-communication. In the sizing-up
phase, people negotiate meanings and choose responses
through the behaviors of recording and taking cues.

Recording

Recording behaviors enable people to gather
information that is used to size-up and filter change
initiatives. While engaged in receiving communications,
people are recording data to “play back” during the filtering
stage. People record not only content that is presented by
the authority imposing the change, but also imprint their
emotions and instinctual responses.

Initial impressions “frame” perceptions of the
environment in which the change was communicated.
According to Goffman’s (1974) theory of frame analysis,
frames arrange what part of reality one sees based on the
context. Whether one experiences an event as a command
versus a collegial invitation depends not only upon words,
but upon the entire context—location, formality, and other
symbols. Frames guide perceptions and therefore help
determine how and if a change is to be weathered.

Taking Cues

People encountering change take cues from the social
context. In other words, as individuals form their initial
impressions of the change being imposed on them, they
consider the behaviors of other organizational members.
Taking cues frames perceptions and helps create meaning.
The two main types of behavior that color the atmosphere
are nay-saying and buying-in. Nay-saying is an effort to
influence the change process by those desiring to voice
discontent and “rally the troops.” The behavior, when
observed, recorded, and sized up by others, has the
potential to galvanize opposition or create support for the
change, depending upon how people respond to the person
nay-saying.

Buying-in communicates an active acceptance of the
change initiative as it is presented. Buying-in is similar to
nay-saying in that it is a public behavior. But the individual
communicates, through words and actions, enthusiasm
rather than discontent. They are part of the weathering
process because of their social influence. In fact, leaders
utilize buying-in behaviors of core organizational members
in order to sway peers. As one teacher recalled,

My principal took me aside before a staff meeting
where we were to decide about shifting funds to his
pet program. He asked me to argue for his cause
because he felt that other teachers respected me
and would go along.

Reputations and loyalties are relevant factors that
weatherers take into account as they record both nay-saying
and buying-in.

Stage Two: Filtering

The second stage of the weathering process is filtering,
which is a means for deliberating how to cope with an
imposed organizational change. The individual evaluates
the change and possible alternatives for action through
both professional and personal filters. Filtering takes
information recorded during the sizing-up phase and
compares it with preexisting internal filters or schemas.
People weigh options and manipulate as close a fit as
possible with both personal and professional
considerations. People filter change initiatives based on a
benefit analysis, an appraisal of what would be the
advantages and disadvantages of various actions with
respect to the change. Filtering is done with the head and
the heart, and encompasses instincts, emotions,
rationalities, and desires. Filtering produces results that are
consistent with personal logics.

While initial responses in the sizing-up phase are
reflexive, filtering is a deliberate process that shares
significant commonalities with other conceptual models
found in organizational theory literature. For example, the
concept of mental models sheds light on the construction of
filters. Mental models are “deeply engrained assumptions,
generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence
how we understand the world and how we take action”
(Senge, 1990, p.8). Filters emerged in this study as types
of mental models used for a specialized purpose—to endure
or weather change.

Filtering is the activity of using filters in a decisionmaking
process. The application of filters is comparable to
symbolic interactionist theories of inner dialogue (Blumer
1969). The process of filtering is both internal and social;
one self-communicates and imaginatively rehearses
alternative behaviors before choosing a course of action.
Filtering is interpretive and comparative. The actor
interprets the meaning of the relevant change data
(symbolic objects) with reference to his or her own
personal and professional filters.

People filter organizational change initiatives according
to their professional paradigms. A professional paradigm,
as the term is used in this study, refers to prevailing
conceptions of what it means to be a member of a
profession such as teaching. Although paradigms are
established in the social sphere, individuals have their own
emphases and modes of interpretation within a paradigm.
Thus, one’s operational paradigm is a conception of workrelated
interconnections and his or her place within that
framework. For teachers, the professional paradigm is
synonymous with a philosophy of teaching—core beliefs
about curriculum, instruction, assessment, discipline, and
management. In the current atmosphere of high stakes
testing, teachers find themselves making such thoughtful
analyses and judgments; they must budget their time
based on what they want to accomplish. As one middle
school teacher related with respect to curricular changes
that require teachers to prioritize test preparation,

I don’t teach to the test. That’s what other teachers
are doing. They teach students formulas for writing
that will help the score well on the WASL. I don’t
follow that line of reasoning. I focus on making
them good writers; research shows they have to
write at least 900 words a week to improve. My core
belief is that I’m preparing each student for college.
They all know that it’s my expectation they will go
to college. I’m too young to compromise my ideals.
I’m too young to give up on my beliefs about
teaching.

Educators use filtering to determine how they will
protect their deeply held beliefs about the profession of
teaching.

Organizational members filter change initiatives
according to their own career orientations. This concept
differs from professional paradigms by focusing instead on
issues such as length of service and attitudes toward one’s
position in the organization. For example, long-hauling
refers to a career orientation which contemplates remaining
with the organization for what the individual considers to
be a substantial period of time. Long-hauling is a future-
looking orientation: “I will be here for the foreseeable
future.” The consequence of long-hauling on the filtering
process is that it produces a propensity to seriously
address changes and how they will impact the work
environment. There is a sense of organizational ownership.

Conversely, short-timing refers to behaviors and
attitudes reflecting the intent to leave the organization
soon. The orientation may also reflect an indifference to
one’s length of stay. Short-timing is most often a filter of
people nearing retirement or departure due to other
reasons. An educator illustrated this point as follows:
“[T]he older teachers roll their eyes and start
complaining…the older teachers, they’re not going to do it
[teach the new curriculum]” (Broner 2003, 93). The
significance of short-timing in the filtering process is its
accompanying lack of ownership in organizational affairs.
There is also fearlessness toward decisions about imposed
change. Short-timing brings a sense of personal autonomy
to filtering.

Careering is a set of behaviors that incorporate a
concern for the progression of one’s career. Careering leads
to changes being filtered according to their likely impact on
one’s career. Factors include career advancement, sense of
professional worth, and feelings of belonging to a
profession. Careering overlaps with aspects of professional
paradigm related to respect and how one perceives the role
of one’s position in an organization. Jobbing is the
antithesis of careering. The person engaged in jobbing
filters change initiatives based on how it will impact daytoday
job activities. Of course, careering incorporates such
considerations as well, but does not emphasize them.

Filtering of organizational changes involves both
professional and personal factors. These considerations
overlap, as one’s professional identity is interwoven with
one’s personal life. Yet the distinction between professional
and personal filters is relevant to the theory of weathering,
as people discuss their change-related decisions as if the
two filters were separate. Personal filters are comprised of
two principal categories—personal agendas and emotions.
One component of personal filters is the personal agenda.
The value one places on financial concerns, social issues,
and personal fulfillment impacts workplace decision-making.

Organizational change produces emotional reactions;
indeed, apprehension is one of the conditions that give rise
to weathering. Despite idealistic notions of professionalism,
workplace decisions have emotional properties of various
intensities. One’s core beliefs about what it means to be an
effective teacher are tied to issues of self-identity and
fulfillment. When a change is proposed that might interfere
with these deeply held notions, or other personal agendas
such as financial and familial concerns, emotional
responses are inevitable.

Fear is the most prominent emotion comprising
personal filters. People fear organizational change for a
variety of reasons. Teachers fear changes that highlight
inadequacies in skills or training, not wanting to appear
incompetent to leaders, peers, parents, or students.
Ironically, teachers fear looking too competent, as the
norm is egalitarianism. To buck the culture means to incur
the wrath of others and to be ostracized.

Organizational members often feel frustrated by
change. One of the primary reasons for this emotional
response is perceived time constraints. Teachers almost
unanimously filter information based on frustrations over
time (and corresponding compensation issues). As one
educator complained, “We don’t have the time structures to
be able to do everything that is on the plate…[we]still have
only 7.5 hours (in the school day), and you can’t jam it all
in” (Downie 2003, 138).

People filter change initiatives through feelings of being
overwhelmed. Teachers express a general feeling of being
overwhelmed by the many changes that are being put forth
and feel that they cannot do what is expected. Even one
who usually embraces change can become so overwhelmed
by changes that he or she will resist. As one educator
noted, “This is becoming too much for me. And I used to
like change. Go figure.”

Stage Three: Coping

The third stage of the weathering process is coping. In
this phase, organizational members respond to changes
based on the outcome of sizing-up and filtering. Coping
behaviors range from resistance to acquiescence. People
may engage in more than one coping behavior with respect
to the same change initiative. And, as weathering is a
recursive process one may repeatedly size-up and filter an
initiative. Reinterpreting the situation may lead to a shift
in coping strategies based on altered circumstances or
perceptions. Recycling through the weathering process is
common as the organization revisits the initiative,
especially with regard to lengthy rollouts and multifaceted
programs. Coping is a set of behaviors that fall under two
categories: resisting and acquiescing.

Resisting

Organizational scholars frequently cite resistance as a
major issue in their studies. In this study, interviewees
almost universally mentioned resistance to change as a
relevant factor. In discussing resistance one interview
subject noted,

When I was a new teacher, I constantly rode the
crest of the wave…Yahoo! Here we go. I came in
with the business mentality of, if you don’t change,
you die. In teaching there is more of a let’s wait
attitude. There is a huge elephant saying, “everyday
that we go forward, we lose. We have to be careful.”
I think that everyday we hold back, we lose. These
two diametrically opposed forces can balance each
other out so that nothing happens.

The statement captures important elements of
resisting. The behavior is in stark contrast with an eager
embrace of change; rather than propelling an initiative
forward, resistance slows the rate of change. Resisting is
not anti-change per se. Although resisting includes
sabotaging behaviors, the concept also incorporates
behaviors that include incremental, partial, and careful
movements toward change.

Finally, the quote depicts resistance as a force. In fact,
the notion of “resistance to change” was introduced into
the organizational theory literature by Kurt Lewin (1951),
who used the term as a systems concept. As Dent and
Goldberg (1999) argued, Lewin’s original conception—that
resistance is a force impacting all organizational members
equally—has grown to be considered a psychological
concept. That is, organizational studies tend to portray
resistance as a personal, leadership versus staff
phenomenon. According to Dent and Goldberg, this
popular conception is inconsistent with the dynamics of
change. The grounded theory methodology enabled the
author to consider the intricacies of behaviors that
participants commonly referred to as resistance. i The
following paragraphs explain the various types of resisting
behavior that emerged in this study.

Sabotaging

Sabotaging is a type of resisting that seeks to hinder
the change process so that it will be easier to endure.
Sabotaging differs from other resisting behaviors in its
aggressive stance toward the change initiative and is
similar to nay-saying during the sizing-up stage. The
behavior is usually motivated by a sense that the imposed
change will negatively impact the individual’s personal
working environment. Additionally, sabotaging may be
directed at organizational leadership and structures rather
than the change itself. In sabotaging, there is an extreme
disconnect between the organizational member’s
perceptions of acceptable change and the leadership’s
vision. Rather than mere avoidance of the change or
waiting it out, sabotaging takes the offensive. When
sabotaging, one attempts to exert influence over an
imposed change through behavior calculated to derail or
stall implementation of the change.

Sabotaging, in the context of the weathering process,
is a covert behavior. It is hidden from view of the
leadership; working openly against an imposed change
risks severe repercussions such as dismissal. Such behavior
would run counter to the purpose of weathering, which is
endurance and survival. On the other hand, sabotaging is
well-known to colleagues, who often respond with aversion
to individuals who engage in the behavior. They are labeled
“saboteurs,” with a focus on the perceived personality type
rather than the behavior.

Hiding Out

Hiding out is primarily an avoidance strategy. While
overlapping with some forms of sabotaging, the specific
intent is different. People hiding out do not attempt to
influence the change initiative, but only seek to protect
themselves. Hiding out allows organizational members to
fly under the radar and go about their business. That
business might very well include implementing the imposed
change. However, hiding out enables one to implement
changes without being seen, so that frailties and
imperfections remain unexposed.

The isolationist culture prevalent in schools (Fullan,
2001) is a breeding ground for hiding out behaviors. The
two primary reasons teachers cite for hiding out are a lack
of respect and a lack of time. They grow accustomed to
not being trusted to exercise professional judgment. Thus,
they do not want to open the door to work with others who
seem to display superior knowledge such as specialists or
coaches. This is also because of time constraints involved
with change. Hiding out behaviors create an invisible shield
that teachers hope will protect them from unwanted forces
of change. Teachers persist in using the same methods and
materials for decades. This has become a part of many
school cultures so that even those who are not opposed to
change will engage in hiding out if it suits their interests.
One respondent admitted, “If I disagree with a change, I
shut the door and do what I need to do.” The behavior is
reinforced and recurring; teachers can take refuge in this
isolationist culture.

Biding Time

Biding time is closely related to hiding out. However,
while people hiding out may be engaged in implementation,
biding time avoids the change, waiting until it goes away.
Consistent with hiding out, people choose this behavior
when their personal and/or professional needs, goals, and
visions do not align with those of the leadership. They wait
for a change in the leadership or in organizational
priorities. It takes less energy to wait it out than it does to
negotiate. Teachers are reinforced in their reliance on the
fleeting nature of organizational change, which is a
constant in education. Teachers know that more change
will always come and feel that it is “lightweight”; they can
ignore some of the changes “without the threat of
repercussions” (Peligian, 2004, p. 96).

Biding time is a skillful strategy. One develops a knack
for knowing when and how to bide time. An experienced
teacher noted that “you become savvy about what is going
to be an enduring change and what will just slide by. Some
stuff you just ‘forget’ to do because no one brings it up
again.” A constant cycle of change creates an atmosphere
where biding time becomes an important alternative. When
one program is replaced, said a veteran teacher,

We know it will come back again but with a different
name… [We] become cynical, and that’s not a good
role model for younger teachers, who are seeing
everything for the first time. But we say, ‘Here it is
again.’

Changes in leadership elicit biding time behaviors.
There may be a long line of leaders who are not change
oriented, then there is a “shock to the system” when
someone joins the organization who expects rapid change.
Organizational members know that biding time and hiding
out
are both viable options because after leaders depart,
changes often fall by the wayside.

Illusioning

Illusioning is a coping strategy that contains elements
of both hiding out and biding time. One illusions in order
to keep the truth hidden. But, unlike hiding out, illusioningincludes an overt act of pretense to create the illusion of
compliance. One is able to achieve similar results to biding
time through illusioning, but, through partially complying to
create an illusion, one is positioned for success if the
initiative takes root.

In the teaching context, such illusions include bulletin
board displays of student work to create the appearance
that a new curriculum is being used regularly when, in fact,
the teacher relies primarily on the replaced curriculum.
Another form of illusioning is slick “dog and pony shows”
during principal observations. Peligian (2004) cited an
excellent illustration:

Nancy resisted by accommodating and partially
complying with some of the teaching practices. She
displayed the point system from the curriculum on a
wall but used it occasionally. When the director
came into the room, Nancy acted like she was
following the curriculum but as soon as the director
left the room, Nancy continued teaching her way.
(p. 85)

Illusioning also takes place at meetings, where one
skillfully chooses words and actions to convey an illusion of
compliance. The communications can be characterized as
“vaguing out” (Glaser 1998), as people dodge detailed
questions with generalities.

Deflecting

Deflecting ii is another coping behavior that, like
illusioning, is an active means of protecting oneself from a
change initiative. Through deflecting, organizational
members attempt to redirect actions and communications
that would bring attention to their noncompliance with a
change initiative. This is accomplished in a variety of ways.
Some, when confronted with change talk, bring up trivial
details or try to shift the focus to a rehash of past
decisions. Deflecting has the effect of derailing the
communication and also soaks up time so that the real
business of change cannot be addressed. This “agendacontrolling”
iii ploy is common in teacher staff meetings,
where the principal has a limited time to address many
issues and collective bargaining agreements do not permit
meetings to spill over the allotted time. One of the typical
deflecting behaviors is to bring up scheduling conflicts
when trying to arrange a meeting or event that would push
an initiative forward.

One teacher, who embraced a particular change,
decried the deflecting behavior of co-workers: “Everyone
bitched about the curriculum. They nitpicked the guide we
developed [for a new program]. They scapegoated so they
wouldn’t have to do it.” Such behavior is similar to
illusioning, in that people pretend to have a particular
concern, when the underlying reason is one that they do
not want to divulge. They deflect the conversation to areas
that stay away from exposing their true beliefs and
intentions. Teachers often do not discuss the real reasons
for decisions about a change initiative. They vocalize
concerns about an initiative’s impact on students, when the
subtext is actually, “this is going to make my life difficult.”

Bargaining

Bargaining is a coping strategy that requires tacit
agreements between an organizational member and a
leader. For example, there are unspoken agreements
between principals and teachers as to changes that can and
cannot be ignored. Through bargaining, teachers are able
to exercise the freedom to do what they want as long as
the students are learning. The principal must agree that
the ends count more than the means of getting there.
Bargaining is intricate play-acting through which the leader
pretends to be treating all organizational members equally,
but in reality has struck bargains with individual members.
Bargaining is co-illusioning in which both parties protect
themselves from the consequences of open disregard for a
change directive. In schools, principals turn a blind eye as
long as a teacher is willing to put up a show. A veteran
teacher noted,

People close the door and do what they want. They
put on a performance when it’s time to be
evaluated. They have time to prepare and know
when it’s coming. As a principal told me, ‘you play
the game when the game is needed, then you do
what you need to do the day after.’

Some teachers strike bargains by taking on leadership
roles. They resist changes by making themselves
indispensable in various ways, currying favor with the
upper hierarchy. As one teacher noted, “They establish a
name for themselves outside of the classroom, like as a
coach or sponsoring a club. They volunteer to fill this need
and the principal won’t chastise them for not following the
new programs.” In this way, when a change comes around
that the person decides to resist, the person has minimized
his or her risk of being reprimanded.

Acquiescing

Organizational members also choose to endure a
change initiative by acquiescing. This may seem
counterintuitive, for the outward behavior of acquiescence
resembles one who has embraced change. But, rather than
signaling that one is thriving, acquiescing is merely a sign
of resilience in the face of change. iv The individual chose to
acquiesce, despite feeling the weight of pervasive change
and despite defense mechanisms that might have urged
resistance. People acquiesce to endure the change (which
they might believe to be merely a flavor of the month) or
to at least get through the initial negative emotions. Those
who acquiesce have determined that their professional and
personal filters are best served by following directives.
Acquiescing is a defensive mechanism, a sort of white flag
that leads to implementation without full buy-in.

By the Booking

By the booking is an extreme form of acquiescing. One
decides to follow the change directive to the letter. In
“crossing all the t’s and dotting all the i’s” one is able to
construct an air-tight fortress. Going by the book is playing
it safe; one feels under the pressure of pervasive change
and copes by doing what is required. By the booking is
usually accompanied by overt questions such as, “Exactly
what do I have to do and when is the deadline?” There are
two conflicting motivations for going by the book. The
principal reason for by the booking is a fear of
accountability. However, one may choose this strategy in
order to undermine the initiative by following the letter but
not the spirit of an initiative.

Some people choose by the booking in order to be
absolved of the responsibility to exercise professional
judgment. Especially when there are gray areas (which
some will use to exercise freedom), those going by the
book choose the course that is most black and white. Thus,
a teacher, rather than attending to hints that it is okay to
pace the curriculum as he or she sees fit, will go by the
book and follow a pre-determined pacing schedule, even if
the teacher disagrees with its utility.

Good Little Soldiering

“I can’t do it all. It’s impossible. But I try.” Such are
the sentiments of a respondent who regularly engages in
good little soldiering. It is a strategy that differs from by
the booking in two significant ways. First, while by the
booking
has an undercurrent of “resisting-by-doing,”
good little soldiering is a good faith effort to meet leadership
expectations. Second, good little soldiering embraces
professional judgment. That is, although rules-following is
highly regarded, there are times when one must exercise
judgment in order to meet the spirit of the change
initiative. This is what leaders expect. Thus, unlike one
engaged in by the booking, good little soldiering anticipates
that one will disregard the minutiae of a directive if it would
interfere with the overall vision of the leadership.

Good little soldiering is the only option that some
people have for coping with the implications of pervasive
change. Although one may disagree with the initiative on
professional grounds, and although the changes may create
personal hardship, one chooses good little soldiering out of
a sense of organizational duty: “I accept the changes. My
job depends on my ability to follow the rules that are set by
the state, the district, and the school.”

Good little soldiering is closely aligned with bargaining.
That is, one engaged in good little soldiering uses that
acquiescence as leverage to later strike a bargain. In that
way, one may alternate back and forth between bargaining
and good little soldiering. The account balance of good will
is a factor to be filtered along with other factors.

Despite appearances, good little soldiering is a
weathering behavior. As teachers who have tried the
behavior indicate, acquiescing in spite of apprehension or
disagreement with the leadership may eventually build to
the point of resistance. Those who are continually in the
thick of change efforts can experience burnout as they
endure the stresses of pervasive change.

Discussion

The theory of weathering change contributes to the
ongoing discussion of implementing school change. The
study indicates that even educators who agree with
reforms and who value improved student learning find
themselves engaged in weathering if the environment is
laden with change. Thus, even when coping strategies
includes partial compliance (e.g., illusioning), substantial
good faith compliance (e.g., good little soldiering), or full
compliance (e.g., by the booking), implementation is not
necessarily the central consideration. Rather, “getting
through” is often the focus, which displaces both psychic
and physical energy away from the business of instituting
and sustaining change. Unless leaders and change agents
learn to recognize and address weathering, this
phenomenon will continue to derail reform efforts.

On the other hand, this study does not address
weathering pejoratively; grounded theory does not label
and thereby judge people, but instead names behaviors
and links patterns of behavior together to form a coherent
explanatory theory. The theory then provides a measure of
understanding, predictability, and control. Weathering
behaviors are neither positive nor negative in themselves.
But recognition of the underlying patterns can help change
agents to formulate interventions that take into account
the reality of weathering.

This author encourages researchers to utilize the
grounded action (Simmons & Gregory, 2003) approach to
develop effective interventions to address the underlying
problems that give rise to weathering. Grounded action, an
extension of grounded theory, offers a systematic approach
for generating an operational theory directly from the
explanatory grounded theory. An operational theory is a
set of predictions about outcomes that would arise from
implementation of specific action steps. The theory is
presented as an action plan which can take a variety of
forms, including program designs, policies, and procedures.
The explanatory theory must be compared to relevant
components of a social or organizational problem in a
specific action context so that the intervention emerges as
relevant to that particular context.

Future research (whether using grounded action or
other approaches) should consider the leverage points that
weathering change provides at various stages of the
process. For example, one might analyze measures to
diminish weathering at the outset of an initiative (and
increase thriving) in an organization by taking steps to
reduce apprehension. To address sizing-up,researchers
might investigate alternate rituals and structures for
communicating change that would promote positive note
taking and cue taking by organizational members. With
regard to filtering, principles of adult learning suggest that
interventions might focus on mental models (Senge, 1990)
and critical reflection (Brookfield, 1995); in this way,
people would be encouraged to revisit their personal and
professional filters.

The theory of weathering change applies not only to
teachers and schools, but to other organizational contexts
as well. Although most of the data in the study are from
the educational context, this study compared data from
other organizational contexts to add variation to the
theory, thereby enhancing its applicability, with
modification, to other substantive areas. This ability to be
generalized outside the initial unit of inquiry is a hallmark
of grounded theory, setting the methodology apart from
other naturalistic forms of inquiry that are descriptive
rather than explanatory. Armed with a theory that explains
underlying patterns of behavior, change agents are more
likely to develop interventions and programs that are
relevant and workable for participants in the action
context.

Endnotes

1 The author considered not using the term “resisting”
in the study because of its pre-existing connotations in the
literature. However, inasmuch as the term was uttered by
many of the participants (in vivo), it was important to
reflect this language in the study. The behaviors explained
in this section center around what participants considered
to be resistance.

2 Patnode’s (2005) grounded theory of shoring-up also
identified deflecting as a protective behavior engaged in by
politicians to redirect attention and buy time.
3 Regalado-Rodriguez’ (2001) grounded theory study of
organizational change identified “agendacontrolling” (96)
as a behavior through which individuals attempt to shift the
focus of an undertaking.

 

4 Although the study found incidents of “thriving” with
respect to change, that concept fell outside the scope of
the theory of weathering. But inasmuch as people both
thrive and weather with respect to organizational change,
discovering connections between the two concepts could
prove fruitful for understanding the full panoply of change
responses.

Author

Michael A. Raffanti, Ed.D., J.D.
Faculty Mentor
Teachers College
Western Governors University
Mailing Address:
1021 E. Harrison Street
Tacoma, WA 98404
mraffanti@wgu.edu
2535731262

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