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The Right Drivers for School Reform

April 10, 2012 | Tags: michael fullan, school reform, district-wide reform
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by Cathy Gasseheimer

Readers of this blog know that we follow Michael Fullan’s thinking very closely. So, I was delighted to discover a policy brief based on seminar presentation that Fullan gave in Australia about a year ago: Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform.
 
Fullan describes so well ABPC's own view of the essence of whole system school reform. What he recommends is quite different from much of what has been PRIMARILY emphasized over the past several years as drivers of school improvement.
 
In his presentation, Fullan identified what he calls effective drivers of change, and he contrasts them with “wrong drivers,” by which he means familiar action strategies that (it turns out) don't drive change, even though they may have value.
 
His four effective or "right" drivers, which he argues should be used in tandem, include:
 
1. Capacity Building, which he defines as fostering “intrinsic motivation of teachers and students”

2. Group Work, resulting in continuous improvement in both teaching and learning

3. Effective instruction

4. Systemic solutions, which he says should involve ALL teachers and all students
 
Wait … you might be saying … where are the standards? Where is the accountability? What about technology? Fullan mentions them, but he labels them as ineffective in producing positive change.
 
Why?
 
Fullan says these often-advocated reform strategies are not “forever wrong,” but evidence shows they shouldn’t be the LEAD drivers of change. The good drivers he's identified are more effective because “they work directly on changing the culture of school systems (values, norms, skills, practices, relationships). The less effective drivers alter structure, procedures and other formal attributes of the system without reaching the internal substance of reform—and that is why they fail.” (p. 5)
 
In the spirit of both/and thinking, Fullan makes the point that an ineffective change driver may still have value in the school improvement process; however, his research leads him to believe that it lacks the qualities to be transformative and "will be a distraction" if an attempt is made to make it a driver.

In that same spirit of both/and thinking, we might describe Fullan's right/wrong pairs this way:

capacity building is the driver - accountability is a passenger
focusing on group quality is the driver - individual quality is a passenger
instruction is the driver - technology is a passenger
a systemic solution is the driver - discrete solutions are passengers
 
It's all about changing the learning culture in schools -- for students AND for teachers.
 
Fullan’s thinking is so powerful and so relevant to ABPC's work that we plan to write a separate blog entry about each of his four pairs. In the meantime:
 
What is your initial reaction to Fullan’s “good drivers?” What examples of his good drivers are in place in your school or district?
 
 
 
 
 
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