Change – the Fullan way

Michael Fullan

Spent yesterday working with colleagues from my school and Michael Fullan.

The title of the session was Change – making it happen in your school and system.

Lots of thinkering.

He started with asking us to articulate our goals for change, identify the causal pathways and talk about those and look at the drivers that could get us started. He emphasised the importance of being able to articulate all of these, as a way of clarifying the essential elements of what we are trying to do and why to both ourselves and to others. Clarity of intention and how we intend to get there.

Interestingly, when talking further about what he meant by ‘drivers’, and the difference between good and bad drivers, he mentioned his recent work with the Victorian government, particularly relating to the recent paper released titled Towards Victoria as a Learning Community. An interesting exercise is to read this paper in relation to the list of wrong versus right ‘drivers’ of change below. Right drivers have been shown to produce effective change and involved four criteria:

(1) Foster instrinsic motivation

(2) Engage teachers and students in continuous improvement

(3) Inspires collective teamwork

(4) Affects all teachers and students

 Wrong Drivers


Individual teacher and leadership capacity

Technology (for its own sake…must be driven by changes to pedagogy)

Fragmented Strategies

Right Drivers

Capacity Building

Collaborative work


‘Systemness’ (going from ‘my’ students to ‘our’ students)

More on this idea of drivers can be found in Michael’s paper here.

This concept certainly struck a chord with me as I have seen many of these aspects of change management in my experience and have certainly come to the belief that punitive accountability measures work in delivering effective change in neither adult learners (teachers) nor students. I think schools have largely accepted this in the case of improving student learning and behaviours but have yet to come to this realisation with regard to teachers. There seems to be a culture of managing change by ‘checking the teachers are doing the right thing’ by putting in place various accountability processes. And this is precisely the problem. It manages the change, it doesn’t lead the change…and it will be short-lived and episodic, depending on the strength of the people who put these measures in place and the processes by which this accountability is demonstrated. It also diverts teachers’ precious time and effort into processes that do not directly improve student learning.

Far better, in my view, and affirmed by a number of studies in change dynamics, is to work with teachers’ motivations. The large majority of teachers are motivated to adopt practices that demonstrably improve student learning. (I have blogged previously about this YouTube video on what motivates people but place it here again for reference). If change is to be effective, and lasting, in schools, then the teachers need to believe in it. We must put a causal pathway in place that works with teachers’ beliefs. This may involve what Fullan refers to as the ‘push, pull, nudge’ approach to change, as certain instructive leadership actions may need to be put in place in order to develop teachers’ practices. But this is what good teachers do for their students –they have clear learning intentions, they determine prior knowledge and work with them to develop their knowledge from each individual starting point. We should accept no less for the way in which we work with teachers. Just like our students, we want teachers to internalise a continual improvement approach to their practice, to self-manage this in a professional sense. The longer there are punitive accountability processes put in place, the more teachers are alienated from being leaders of self and thus the more we reduce their capacity to sustain and maintain a positive, upward spiralling approach to professional learning and further development. It’s about teachers wanting to engage in a continual, collaborative and committed competition ..”I want to do better next time..”

Too often I have seen the deficit model of learning applied to teachers, instead of an authentically developmental model. Something at which we would deservedly cringe when it comes to our students.

I was also interested to hear Fullan talk about ‘the moral imperative’ behind change. In schools this MUST be to improve student learning with passion and commitment. Everything needs to be filtered through this lens. He spoke of the prettiest plans being the least effective, almost as if the plan was for the self-congratulatory benefit of those who created the plan, rather than think about the effectiveness of the ‘implementability’ of the plan. Surely the goal is to realise the plan in practice? This means the plan needs to be written from the viewpoint of the implementers. Why should they implement it? How can they easily implement it? Tend towards the ‘skinny’ plan rather than the ‘fat’ plan. What should we focus on? What are the essential elements?

One of the most interesting activities (and quite confronting to share with one’s school colleagues) was to articulate one’s own moral imperative, how closely this aligns with the school’s moral imperative and what my progress was to date.

Fullan said that we have to live with policies but do not have to live with the mindsets that created them. Look for what can be positively utilised in a policy. He made a point about the difference between alignment and coherence. Alignment is about structures, coherence is about mindsets. System coherence then becomes a matter of shared mindsets. Any tool is only as good as the mindset using it. Yet again, this reinforces the idea that we need to work with teachers’ beliefs and motivations, in addition to looking closely at systemic aspects of a school’s processes,  in order to develop this coherence. Do all have improved developmental learning, for both students and teachers, at their core?

So…what works when it comes to leading change in schools?

(1) Focus

(2) Capacity Building

(3) Consistency of practice

(4) Learning from each other (use the group to learn from the group)

(5) Leadership that obsesses with the above four

And the plan to lead this change?

(1) Develop and seek out expertise (purposefully link people together in the community)

(2) Non-threatening climate

(3) Tie it explicitly to learning

(4) Identify what’s working

(5) Use the group to change the group

(6) Link to student achievement and engagement

(7) Leadership that stays on top of the above

“Effective change leaders cause people to act their way into new ways of thinking. The effective sequence involves mobilising new practices that in turn lead to great clarity and commitment. What does work is looking inside yourself and your practice as a full-time endeavour – and at the same time learning to relate to other people’s realities while fostering collective capacity and identity”


About Linda

I have been involved in secondary mathematics education in Victoria, Australia for over 25 years.
This entry was posted in Pedagogy, Systems, Technology, The profession, Uncategorized, Vision and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Change – the Fullan way

  1. Pingback: Making change happen, workshop with Michael Fullan. | ThinkEdu Blog

  2. Linda says:

    ThinkEdu blog also has a piece on the same Michael Fullan session here:

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