Understanding Resistance to Learning (3260)

As I read through chapter 16 of the Skillful Teacher (Brookfield 2015) I related a lot of what I was reading to a couple of important things I have picked up along the way in terms of managing self and discovered some new learnings.

When it came to the idea that we (as teachers) can become annoyed by a student who is struggling or even pushing back on material that we are very connected to, that we can see this behaviour as resistance rather than discomfort or disinterest. I was very interested at Brookfield’s recommendation of experiencing or reflecting on an experience of a time where you yourself took a class or participated in something that either scared you, felt was above or outside of your comfort zone and logged what those experiences looked like and how you behaved as well as what you were looking for from the teacher, or what things the teacher did to make you feel both comfortable or uncomfortable in that experience… this  really gives new meaning to walk a a mile in their shoes.

When it came to Brookefields description of the trap of conversional obsession, I found myself relating to the lesson being conveyed here… sometimes the challenge of winning over the conversion of 1 student or employee can be so tempting that you become blinded to the fact that you have others you are responsible for. At worst you can even allow your classroom management and experience of the group be impacted by 1 or a handful of students.

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There are two techniques that I was immediately reminded of to address the scenario he described here.

  1. Recognizing when you are in the Grip: this is a model I learned about in an MBTI personality type course. This was a great way for me to recognize when I was under stress, what I was looking like inside and on the outside and how to manage it. When not managed or acknowledged one enters “The Grip” and this is a place that can take a long period of time to recover from; while in the grip, your inferior functions have control over your actions and reactions.

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(Above is the book on understanding your MBTI in the Grip as well as an excerpt for my personality type ESTJ when in the inferior function)

2. The second strategy that could be employed I take from Brene Brown: In the video below at about the 0:30 to 1:30 mark she talks about people “pissing you off on purpose”, Brene continues in the video to review what it looks like to “BIG” setting boundaries, staying within your integrity, and the generosity to extend the most generous assumptions about someone.


This is not to say that we have to give someone a pass for poor behaviour, but we can try and understand what is driving that behaviour and looping back to the beginning of this post, thinking about what it is to be in their shoes. The trick, of course, is again not to be consumed in converting… but to me, there is nothing wrong with reflecting on it and having awareness.

For some students, it is the discomfort of conscience awareness of incompetence that is driving their resistance, the fear of failure or even the perception of having to struggle to learn and concern what parents, classmates, and friends may think.

Much of the remainder of the chapter I found correlated with Malcolm Knowles Andragogy and requirements for an adult learner to be successful. Teachers may experience pushback or resistance if the content is not properly explained as to why it is important for the learner, how it will be applied and the immediacy of the importance of the learning. Some ways to mitigate this would be using a student-centered approach, allowing them to have some say in what is happening as well as ensuring the lesson plan or activity pass a review for correlation between the content delivery and the Andragogical principles in Knowles theory.

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