Resistance to change can be a very powerful force
Rural living in central Chile
Setting the scene
A few weeks ago I wrote about teens as “agents of change”, and I was delighted to see that because of it I received a HubNugget accolade. Now I intend to add some more information to the same theme.
(See the complete previous article)
In this new Hub I will continue referring to the difficulties created by resistance to change, and I will highlight some details about incorporating teachers in innovative projects, and also about external factors that obviously delay the overall economic development of the smallholders living in our “interior drylands” , who try to subsist under complex geographic and climatic conditions.
Teachers at work
Increasing the amount of teacher involvement
The teaching staff of the New Zealand School at Santa Juana, Chile (where we worked on the project that was the central theme of my previous Hub), was represented by a group of about 40 professionals. The non teaching staff came to about 35, so the running of the school involved about 75 persons in total.
This was a numerous group, and as each member had a particular profile, set of motivations, goals and characteristics, it was not an easy task to achieve the same level of commitment from all of them; in fact I think it would not have been a very realistic goal for the leading team. At best we would be able to achieve some degree of involvement and consider ourselves lucky if we got that far.
A simplistic description of the teaching group would be to put them into three groups, ranging from “very committed” , through “informed but rather indifferent”, to “in outright opposition”.
The leading team was constantly involved in finding ways to interest all the teachers, and to finding the opportune moment to get them to commit.
There is a very good example of ”the opportune moment” with reference to two of the teachers, which I will include in the next section.
La Serena, Chile
Recognizing opportunities for achieving involvement
At some moment halfway through the initial period of our project, the educational authorities requested all school communities throughout the country, that were involved in curriculum innovation, to present status reports at a big general meeting to be held in a place designated by the organizers.
The choice of locality was La Serena, a resort town north of the capital (Santiago), famous for its long white sand beaches, the good weather, and the wonderful food. The city has preserved an old colonial style reminiscent of the Spanish influence, so it is an important tourist attraction at a national and international level. It is also rather expensive, so generally out of reach for people working on a teacher’s salary. All in all, a dream place!
The meeting was to last 3 days, all expenses paid, including the trip there and back, a fantastic experience for many hard working educators.
So we had to designate our representatives; here we ran into some problems, as the more involved members of the team were all women, with family commitments, children at school, or studying for a postgraduate degree and taking tests. They certainly could not run away for 5 days, the necessary period of time to travel there, attend the meeting and travel back. (La Serena is about 800 kms. away from our city of Concepción, and the participants would not be using air travel).
It was obvious that the persons we sent could not be women, so what about the men? We finally settled on two candidates, one of which was “informed but indifferent”, and the other was “in outright opposition”. Not such a good choice! But somebody had to represent the school, so we decided to risk it and offered them the job.
When they received the news, their faces were a picture! They were torn between two sentiments, as on the one hand they really wanted this fabulous trip, and on the other, they were not very well prepared to represent the school project. We offered them all our support and helped them organize the information and construct their presentation. And off they went!
A very short version of their experiences is as follows:
- ·The participants from the other schools went all out and bombarded them with questions, praise and extreme interest.
- ·The authorities were impressed.
- · They worked really hard, as when they finally got to La Serena, the full weight of their responsibility to our school community fell on their shoulders, and they spent numerous hours of the day and night studying up the project and extra details that could come up in the question period.
- · They felt satisfied that they had done a good job.
- · They admitted that for the first time they really understood what it was all about, and seeing it through the eyes of the other representatives, made them change their overall view of what we were attempting.
- · They also admitted quite honestly that up to that moment they had felt that the whole thing was just “some crazy idea conceived by the (new) principal” and therefore not worth worrying about.
As a team we were delighted, and added another ingredient to our own on-the-spot training, as we were also learning as we went along, none of us were experts at leading social change.
As a conclusion, we never really achieved a general commitment from all the teachers, their individual characteristics were too varied, but at least we reduced the “total opposition”, and that was a big help.
Resistance to change is a very, very powerful force!
A Strategy for Reducing the General Resistance to Change
What do you think of our strategy for reducing resistance through participation?
Resistance to change can have important effects on economic development
I will emphasize once more that the geography of the area we are referring to, the interior drylands of central Chile, is really complex as to climate, volumes of water and quality of soil, all of them important factors for smallholder agriculture. In my previous article I highlighted some aspects of the soil, but now I want to refer to the characteristics of the flow of water, or rather, the excess of it during some months and the scarcity during others.
Very briefly, the situation is as follows:
- · The area has one or two good sized rivers, which flow along the bottom of some of the valleys.
- · The rest of the terrain is hilly and beginning to be strongly affected by erosion.
- · Most of the smallholders live up in the hills, where the subdivision of land is very high.
- · The rainfall is very intense during about 3 to 4 months every year, frequently causing floods.
- · The water runs down the sides of the hills, carrying with it even more of the fragile topsoil, and finally washes into the rivers, which are becoming badly silted up.
- · During about 6 months of each year, the sun just beats down, and temperatures can rise to over 35º Centigrade. The soil and the people sit and bake with the heat, at times it is even difficult to breath.
- · By that time, the water, which was so plentiful, has all disappeared somewhere out to sea.
- · Water is fast turning into a scarce commodity due to overall changes in the weather, and ought to be carefully preserved, thus avoiding both erosion and the silting up of the rivers, which in the future will only complicate matters still further.
- · Water is also needed to improve farming through better irrigation.
- · This is a really complex chain of events and not so easy to solve, I would think.
- · The required innovations are expensive, and naturally meet resistance to change head on, thus reducing the possibility of success.
The drylands cover a very big area
A very good example of a successful innovation
Before working in Santa Juana (16 years as principal), I worked in another rural area, where I was principal for 6 years in another school. This was in the Commune of Ranquil, somewhere near Chiilán, and a bit north from Concepción. And this time it was “coastal drylands”, that is, lands facing the Ocean, although not all that near to the Pacific.
The geographic and climatic conditions are similar to Santa Juana, with one difference: the area produces grapes and wine. The summers are even hotter, and the winters can be pretty fierce, where bridges and roads can be swept away, and there is often no electricity due to the wind. It is also colder than Santa Juana, as temperatures drop to below freezing point (-10º Centigrade is not unusual).
While I worked there, I had to live there during the week, as the school is located about 100 Kms. from Concepcion, and the bus trip involves a rather precarious rural transport system. It is much more isolated than Santa Juana is. During my stay there, on about 5 occasions I became marooned in the little town of Ñipas and could not get back to Concepcion at all.
The mayor, who was also my boss in the municipal educational system, owned a large farm close by, and was very involved in the wine and grape production. He periodically invited some teachers to lunch at his home, and I was able to observe and to learn from a really well run enterprise. Both he and his wife were first and second generation Swiss-French, and very industrious and proactive.
They had found a solution to the problem of the water and the irrigation of their vineyards, which I found admirable. As they told it to me, they got some help from some engineering friends, who studied the terrain and located a small valley above the vineyards, into which the rainwater ran naturally. As they described it, every drop of water that ran down the hillsides, was collected in that one place. So they closed the mouth of the little valley with a high but simple wall, into which they installed several outlets at the bottom of the wall, which were in turn controlled by a large wheel that was moved by hand from the top of the wall. The wall itself was quite beautiful, as it was covered with soil that produced colorful flowers.
During the winter rain, a lake was formed in the valley, big enough to swim in or row a boat. They even had some fish there, who kept the water clear from pollution by eating the unwanted insects and minor vegetation that developed in the water.
When the time came to provide irrigation to the vineyards, a collection of medium length plastic tubes were carried out of the warehouse, where they had been stored out of way up near the roof. The various sections of piping were then interlocked to form really long tubes, having first connected them to the outlets in the wall.- As the ground continues to slope down towards the planted area, all they had to do was to open the controls, and gravity did the rest!
I had never seen anything like it, and was properly amazed. As a matter of fact, I still remember it with admiration, as these were not rich people, just hard working producers. And the amount of capital invested in this installation was minimal. Most of the work was done by nature, by gravity, or by hand, and very efficiently too! Maybe this kind of installation is common in other parts of the world, but to me it is still a marvel of ingenuity.
This then, would be my solution for the wastage of water during the rainy period, in all the area characterized as the “drylands of central Chile”. This is a really big area, extending over two regions and involving numerous provinces, communes and small rural localities.
But here is where the strong force of resistance to chainge comes into its own! I am sure that up in the very extensive hilly area, there must be many locations that have the necessary characteristics to turn them into rain water reservoirs, but it is also highly probable that this location would cover ground belonging to more than one smallholder, maybe to as many as three or four. So how would they come to some agreement about the construction itself, and about the ownership of the water? I can imagine them being filled with suspicion and very resistant to taking the initial steps, after all, this is something that has never been done, and there would be no way of knowing just what the benefits would be, at least nothing that could be reduced to statistics and hard facts. All in all, a difficult, if not impossible, innovation to sell!
Resistance to Change has Lasting Effects on Economic Development
Do you think "Resistance to Change" is a fundamental factor in blocking economic development?
I think the main conclusion would be that participation in initiating ventures is a really effective way of getting round the block caused by “resistance to change”.
This element was certainly true in our experience with our two fellow teachers, and I think it would also be true in the case of the smallholders. The problem here is that these isolated groups, for a variety of reasons, have not had much opportunity to practice participation in anything let alone something as complicated as a rainwater reservoir that works by gravity.
The next generation of leaders will have to make big efforts in this direction. This is a goal that the Chilean nation has not yet achieved.
© 2012 joanveronica (Joan Robertson)
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