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Supportive - Fullan Interview

Page history last edited by andrealangelaar@... 12 years, 11 months ago

The following interview between the Journal of Staff Development and Michael Fullan provides a deeper look at Fullan's understanding of  the Teacher as a Change Agent and identifies his main ideas about what it takes to be an effective change agent in the school setting. 

 

"JSD: When I first interviewed you 10 years ago for an NSDC publication, you said, "We know that the best way for people to learn about new policies and innovations is through interaction with other people." Some types of interaction are more helpful than others, though, and I'd like to hear your views on the kinds of relationships that are most powerful in promoting innovations in teaching and leadership for the benefit of students.

Fullan: It has become increasingly clear from various sources that we need professional learning communities in which teachers and leaders work together and focus on student learning. But they must be infused with high-quality curriculum materials and assessment information about student learning. David Cohen and Heather Hill, for instance, describe three policy levers--assessment, curriculum, and teacher learning. They say if those levers aren't pulled together, schools can't get very far. Milbrey McLaughlin and Joan Talbert found two types of learning communities. In one of them, teachers work together to innovate to improve their teaching practices. In the second type, teachers interacted around their traditional teaching practices, which simply reinforced those things that weren't working in the first place.

This research tells us two things. First, we need far more intensive professional learning within a culture of continuous deliberation. Second, it has to be continually tested by external ideas or standards about best practices. Outside curriculum ideas and student assessment information help ensure that the process isn't too insular.

 

Spread positive deviance

JSD: Virtually all schools have some teachers who produce high levels of learning for students. In addition to drawing on outside sources of knowledge, a powerful way to improve the quality of teaching in schools, it seems to me, is to spread the practices of these "positive deviant teachers" throughout the school.

Fullan: The effective schools research found that classroom-to-classroom differences in effectiveness within schools is greater than school-to-school variation. Professional learning communities internal to a school should reduce the variation across classrooms with more and more teachers gravitating toward the best practices.

Positive deviant teachers can be used within and across schools. They have to get outside their classrooms, though, both within their schools and to link to what's going on in other schools--to learn from other teachers as well as contribute to them.

 

Culture is key

JSD: In the May 2002 issue of Educational Leadership, you wrote an article about leadership for cultural change. Before we turn to what you said, I'd like you to respond to something Roland Barth said in that same issue: "Probably the most important--and the most difficult--job of an instructional leader is to change the prevailing culture of a school. ... A school's culture has far more influence on life and learning in the schoolhouse than the president of the country, the state department of education, the superintendent, the school board, or even the principal, teachers, and parents can ever have." Of course, while the principal, teachers, and parents can have a large effect on a school's culture, Barth is writing about the power of a school's culture to shape professional learning and student achievement.

Fullan: Barth's observation is right on. The question for me, though, is how we get high-quality cultures in schools on a large scale. The two themes we've been interested in since 1990 have been large-scale reform and sustainability.

For the past four years, we have been working in England evaluating that country's literacy and numeracy strategies. Test scores in these areas have significantly increased from 1996 to 2002. While we've acknowledged their success, we've said that this is just a baby step in terms of deeper changes that are necessary. These deeper changes involve closing the achievement gap between high and low performers, developing students' thinking and problem-solving skills, attending to students' social and emotional development, and fundamentally changing the culture of schools.

English policy makers have devised an interesting formulation. Imagine a four-part table. One dimension contrasts teachers who are knowledge-poor with those who are knowledge-rich, which can be termed uninformed or informed. The other dimension contrasts prescription and professional judgment as sources of action. When you cross these dimensions you get a very revealing look at the last four decades of reform.

In the 1970s, "uninformed professional judgment" guided teaching. In the 1980s, "uninformed prescriptions" provided through the accountability movement were a driving force. In the 1990s, England had what it called "informed prescription" because the prescription was based on sound knowledge and curriculum.

"Informed professional judgment" is now the goal in England. We are talking with English policy makers about the kinds of strategies that are necessary to go from the informed prescriptions that have helped them make progress in literacy and numeracy to informed professional judgment that would actually change the cultures of schools. These policies would reduce the unnecessary workload of teachers, create more contact time among teachers to improve what they are doing, and develop more effective leadership at all levels. Invest in leaders

JSD: In your article in that same issue of Educational Leadership, you said that "Cultural change principals display palpable energy, enthusiasm, and hope." It's my sense that many principals today feel more resigned than hopeful because they often feel caught between very difficult problems that require resolution and other people's prescriptions for how they should be solved.

Fullan: Investment in leadership development is important. Getting beyond resignation and the passive dependency that has been created by the prescriptions of the past 10 years requires a different kind of socialization for principals. In England, they have created the National College of School Leadership to develop leaders on a much larger scale. In District 2 in New York City, they deliberately built the capacity of principals through various processes such as intervisitations during which principals developed deeper understanding not only of their own schools, but other schools as well.

 

Improve relationships

JSD: In your article, you also wrote, "The single factor common to successful change is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, schools get better. If relationships remain the same or get worse, ground is lost." I'm curious about what you've learned about affecting the quality of relationships in schools among teachers and between teachers and principals.

Fullan: Through our districtwide training of school teams, we've learned that structural barriers make it difficult for people to have time to get together and that cultural barriers cause teachers to resist interacting with each other in new ways. To address these problems, we offer seven or eight days of training a year for teams that include the principal and two teacher leaders. We provide evidence of the connection between well-executed professional learning communities and student learning. We also provide skills in areas such as dealing with resistance. We teach about assessment, and teachers look at student work. As a result, student learning improves and teachers become ambassadors to teachers in other schools.

 

Limit external solutions

JSD: In your Educational Leadership article, you wrote, "Creating and sharing knowledge is central to effective leadership," and "Principals not attuned to leading in a culture of change make the mistake of seeking external innovations and taking on too many projects." And in the third edition of The New Meaning of Educational Change (Teachers College Press, 2001), you observed, "Ultimately, no amount of outside intervention can produce the motivation and specificity of best solutions for every setting." Many teachers and principals don't see their work as knowledge generation and dissemination and often, for a number of reasons, feel very dependent on external innovations and experts. Yet you are saying that it may be a mistake to seek external innovation.

Fullan: People in schools should not take shortcuts in their search for clarity and solutions. They need to engage with all kinds of ideas to improve what they are doing, but not adopt external programs that foster dependency. I want schools to constantly sift and integrate the best ideas from the field, not adopt external programs.

Whole-school reform models make the mistake of thinking that a comprehensive external reform model will solve the coherence problem within schools. It doesn't work because it feeds into the dependency of teachers and principals. In other words, when schools or districts adopt external models, which in itself is not always a bad thing, they fail to focus on changing the culture of the school, and consequently the models fail to become embedded.

In my view, teaching is an intellectual and scientific profession, as well as a moral profession. That means that schools have to constantly process knowledge about what works and that teachers have to see themselves as scientists who continuously develop their intellectual and investigative effectiveness.

When I look at cases of successful businesses, I see explicit discussion about knowledge development and knowledge sharing. Collaboration as an end in itself was not the goal; what these businesses cared about was whether people in the organization added knowledge and contributed to other people's knowledge development.

The cognitive sciences teach us that if information is to become knowledge, a social process is required. This makes great pedagogical sense. Information stays as information until people work through it together in solving problems and achieving goals. This is why assessment literacy, when teachers collectively focus on student performance and develop action plans to improve it, is so powerful. Changing the culture is even more important because it establishes norms of continuous interaction. So, information becomes knowledge through a social process, and knowledge becomes wisdom through sustained interaction.

 

Build teacher depth

JSD: What have the cognitive sciences taught us about helping educators develop deep understanding of innovations as opposed to skimming their surface features?

Fullan: If you don't have a strategy conducive to teacher understanding, you can't get to student understanding. Part of the problem is that the culture of schools is amenable to superficial rather than deep solutions. As David Cohen, Richard Elmore, and others have argued, teachers need daily, in-depth opportunities to build up the knowledge and capacity to carry out the deeper reforms envisaged in the best curriculum frameworks. This requires a radical change in the norms and working conditions of teachers and administrators and, in fact, the teaching profession as a whole.

 

Assumptions shape practice

JSD: You've written about the relationship between educators' beliefs and their practices. In The New Meaning of Educational Change, you wrote, "The assumptions we make about change are powerful and frequently subconscious sources of action." The same might be said about educators' assumptions about learning, teaching, and leadership.

Fullan: Leaders who are effective operate from powerful conceptions, not from a set of techniques. The key, then, is to build up leaders' conceptions of what it means to be a leader. I've identified five conceptions--moral purpose, relationship building, knowledge generation, understanding the change process, and coherence building. These conceptions can be fostered, but they must be fostered through a socialization process that develops leaders as reflective practitioners. If leaders are taught techniques without conceptions, the techniques will fail. Techniques are tools that must serve a set of conceptual understandings. When conceptions and techniques go hand-in-hand, we create breakthroughs.

 

Leaders must reculture

JSD: You've written, "Educational change is technically simple and socially complex," and "Never a checklist, always complexity. There is no step-by-step shortcut to transformation; it involves the hard, day-to-day work of reculturing."

Fullan: We're talking about a change in the culture of schools and a change in the culture of teaching. We know that when we think about change we have to get ownership, participation, and a sense of meaning on the part of the vast majority of teachers. You can't get ownership through technical means; you have to get it through interaction, through developing people, through attention to what students are learning.

Reculturing is the main work of leadership, and it requires an underlying conceptualization of the key elements that feed it. One of the conceptualizations I mentioned a moment ago is moral purpose. Sustainability is based on changes in the social and moral environment. Moral purpose is more than passionate teachers trying to make a difference in their classrooms. It's also the context of the school and district in which they work. That means principals have to be almost as concerned about the success of other schools in the district as they are about their own schools.

The strategies that have provided some initial success in areas such as literacy and numeracy are not the strategies, though, that will take us to a deeper transformation that will enact the cognitive science agenda of problem solving and thinking skills, reculture schools, and close the gap between high- and low-performing students.

To achieve these ends, we must tap the energy that comes from moral purpose. We are now just at the very early stages of a qualitative transformation that is a revolution in the teaching profession" (Sparks, 2003).

 

 

"Question for Consideration"

 

Which, if any, of Fullan's practical suggestions encourage you to become a change agent in your school? How would you implement them?

 

After posting your comment and reviewing your classmates responses, click here for the next learning activity.

 

Comments (9)

Beth said

at 10:50 am on Nov 5, 2008

"If you don't have a strategy conducive to teacher understanding, you can't get to student understanding. Part of the problem is that the culture of schools is amenable to superficial rather than deep solutions." This quote struck a chord with me. It helps me to understand my frustration and growing resistance to new initiatives and PD opportunities. I realize I am so tired of the quick-fix bandaid approach and the resulting fragmentation of purpose that it creates. I have big ideas that I try to make sense of, and incorporate into my teaching, but I experience a frustrating lack of fit, or lack of opportunities to develop or enhance those ideas within the current structures that exist in my teaching context. I am not resistant to change per se, but seeking the type of change that feels meaningful. My time and energy are finite quantities that I want to direct in ways that make sense and contribute to meaningful growth. How would I implement this? I guess that is a big factor that lead me to start my masters. I am trying to actively seek the experiences and environments that embrace and foster my own depth as a teacher.

lmbell said

at 8:20 pm on Nov 5, 2008

Fullan's practical suggestion about limited external solutions made alot of sense to me. Teachers need to be continually involved in reflective practice. Society and students are changing at a rapid pace. The bait used 20 years ago may not catch the same fish or any for that matter this year. Being actively involved in an "intellectual and scientific profession, as well as a moral profession" means that teachers need to accept change as a dynamic and interesting part of our work. We need to continually "process knowledge about what works", how can we continue to develop best practices to improve student learning. I find Fullan's statement encouraging as I have always reflected on ways to improve learning in my classroom. What should or could the new bait look like?

Carefully listening and supporting teachers in reflective practice is key for them to see the answers to their own questions. School leaders who are skilled communicators can effectively draw from teachers solutions to problems without the dependence on external sources. This community of learners supported by their peers creates a school culture ripe for change and optimum opportunities to improve student learning.

Arlis Folkerts said

at 9:38 am on Nov 6, 2008

Michael Fullan's comment, "If leaders are taught techniques without conceptions, the techniques will fail. Techniques are tools that must serve a set of conceptual understandings. When conceptions and techniques go hand-in-hand, we create breakthroughs." really identifies the heart of curriculum implementation and change. I think back to years of professional development that we, as teachers, had on differentiated instruction. I taught with a "master" teacher who could recite the foundations of DI, talk eloquently about its impact... however, when you looked at her classroom, the students were all in very formalized rows. Rarely were flexible groupings used, or students give choice in assignments.

This situation made me realize that ideals like differentiated instruction, assessment for learning, inquiry-based instruction, technology integration... are manifested in our teaching only if it connects to what we believe about students and learning. As Fullan states, ""The assumptions we make about change are powerful and frequently subconscious sources of action."

Ken Hoekstra said

at 9:17 pm on Nov 6, 2008

Michael Fullan's statement, "Investment in leadership development is important. Getting beyond resignation and the passive dependency that has been created by the prescriptions of the past 10 years requires a different kind of socialization for principals." made me think about the time I spent as a principal and my feelings about not wanting to go back to that area. Site-based management was the new buzz word at that time, and principals were encouraged to discuss all changes with their staff and to reach consensus on all major decisions, although the pricipal was still legally responsible for the decisions. It lead to some harrowing times. Principals are constantly dealing with a multitude of problems and perceptions of how to solve them, from finances to test results to PD focus and accountability, and while trying to manage all of this and maintain direction for the school community they serve, they are overwhelmed by the challenges and retreat into a survival mentality. As such, how can they be agents of change or champions of new directions, when so much other stuff needs to be addressed?

eprevost@... said

at 9:38 pm on Nov 6, 2008

I would like to offer another comment on "Investment in leadership development is important. Getting beyond resignation and the passive dependency that has been created by the prescriptions of the past 10 years requires a different kind of socialization for principals." School Administrators have a very difficult job, yet their financial compensation is minimal. How can we attract the "A" players to these positions when they are being offered the "C" player's wages? Leaders in all other sectors of our society are better compensated than leaders in education. Where is the incentive? Many strong leaders that I know in education, wouldn't touch administration with a ten-foot pole. Something needs to change if we are going to attract the "A" players to this job, and heaven knows we need them!

jproske@... said

at 11:21 pm on Nov 6, 2008

Ken's comments brought to light that principals, like teachers, can also be overwhelmed by the pressures and demands of their jobs and thus have little energy or inclination to support and encourage. In our district we have a high number of administrators taking extended stress level because a few years into the job they simply can't cope with the high expectations from not only their school community but from the board level. Leadership sessions are offered by our board to mentor teachers considering taking on administrative roles which is a form of investing in leadership. Elizabeth's question about what can be done to attractive strong leaders is important given the role these professionals play in effecting change at the school level. After taking the yearlong sessions I was 100% sure that administration wasn't for me. I wonder if anyone else has dabbled in any administration leadership programs?

May said

at 12:24 am on Nov 7, 2008

The comment on external ideas can be applied to my situation. There is a "need to engage with all kinds of ideas to improve what they are doing, but not adopt external programs that foster dependency." If we have teachers take responsibility for learning new approaches and it comes from their ideas after we share the research, then it is more likely to be applied, believed in, and be sustainable. The idea of taking a strategy and applying it may work in the short run, but if we want real change, long standing change, fundamental change, the understanding needs to be there so the application can be applied in a myriad of ways. Our teachers are buying in because the ideas are coming from them, they can see it working, understand why, and are eager to carry on.

eleanor said

at 3:46 am on Nov 7, 2008

I teach in a school where the footprint and classroom / public space layout is very hostile to interactions among teachers. It impacts on two of Fullans' comments: pertaining to relationships ("we've learned that structural barriers make it difficult for people to have time to get together and that cultural barriers cause teachers to resist interacting with each other in new ways.") and and to spreading positive deviance ("They have to get outside their classrooms, though, both within their schools and to link to what's going on in other schools--to learn from other teachers as well as contribute to them.")

Although it seems ridiculous, I began to roam the hallways during my prep period so that I could learn what the other teachers in my school looked like (!), hear their voices, and see what their classes did. I was new to the school and suggested having a teacher photo directory posted somewhere for staff, students, and parents, but there were objections and it never happened. True story: I received a message in my school mailbox signed by 'Judy'. I had no idea in the world who she was, so I asked the teacher in the classroom beside me (over 10 years at my school) No idea. Neither did the veteran teacher on my other side. I did find out who 'Judy' was, and she had been at the school for 8 years. How can we begin to work effectively for our students when we confine ourselves to our own course matter and our own 4 walls?! I make a concerted effort to talk to people I don't know, eat lunch in different places and/or with different people (when I have time to eat!), drop into the special purpose rooms (gym, library, drama) at lunch, after school. It's all I can find time for in school hours, small in scope, but I think it makes a difference, and many collaborations have come out of it, and I know who to ask for help on just about any subject you care to mention.

Sylvia Malo said

at 4:17 pm on Nov 7, 2008

Fullan comments, “Moral purpose is more than passionate teachers trying to make a difference in their classrooms. It's also the context of the school and district in which they work. That means principals have to be almost as concerned about the success of other schools in the district as they are about their own schools.” This comment struck a chord with regard to Eleanor’s situation of teacher isolation and disconnect. Supportive collaboration and change cannot even begin to develop under these circumstances.

The latter part of Fullan’s comment also made an impact upon me and piqued some personal reflection. Circumstances surrounding funding for schools and school-based budgeting have frequently frustrated me; schools within my division often compete and hoard funds because principals feel that allocation of funds is never clearly outlined until late into the school year. Therefore small schools within the division that are financially strapped for cash due to low student enrolment are not helped by the larger wealthier schools. If we are striving to do what is best for students, why is ‘school-based budgeting’ forcing schools to act like small businesses, cutting and chopping away at programming for students? We are not looking out for the collective group, but again working in isolated pockets under the pretence of a collective whole.

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