Michael Fullan needs no introduction to many of us in education, but some of our newer delegates at uLearn who have just entered the teaching profession might not know him so well. Fullan is professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and has been around for many years in the school improvement and reform space. He has many, many publications to his name. Over the years, among other things, he has acted as a conduit between the people who work on the ground in education and those who work in policy and politics. He often refers to Principals and leaders in the system as “the middle” and has worked tirelessly to help the middle to understand “the top” or the policymakers - and vice versa.
In his keynote, Fullan outlined his more recent work that emerged from his 2011 research dissemination on the “Wrong Drivers” for whole system reform and from his two more recent books, Stratosphere (Fullan) and Coherence (Fullan and Quinn). Fullan explained that he and his colleagues have worked from the bottom up over many years so that everything they write and design, is based not just on theory and research but also on their experiences.
Fullan’s keynote began with explaining three innate human behaviours have driven his focus on new pedagogies for deeper learning:
He explain that humans are innately wired to connect, create and to help humanity:
- Wired to Connect: from babies we are mimicking things around us, we pull faces like our parents even before we know that we have a face!
- Wired to Create: we then begin to create, tapping into the incredible reservoir of creativity and connectivity that can often be suppressed as we get older. For example, we often see ideas pour out of 7 year olds but how many children do we know who were “inventors” at 7 but no longer did this beyond age 13 or 14?
- Wired to Help Humanity: children gravitate towards being good. This example of a toddler helping a man shows how innate our desire to help. Children don’t just think about human issues, they get involved to solve them.
Fullan explained that life and education can either amplify these innate characteristics or suppress and eradicate them.
From his years of research and experience, New Pedagogies for Deep Learning has emerged. This framework is designed to liberate and cultivate the three innate human qualities above. It takes the best from school improvement and reform about whole system change strategies and puts these together with the power of technology and futures thinking in education.
Fullan explained that the best from school improvement and reform encourages the “middle” to take a lead in transformation in education. He explained that we must work not for accountability but to get results and this comes, in part from:
- Staying with your agenda
- Not obsessing with targets
- Building capacity
The role of leadership in this is described by Fullan as Breakthrough Leadership:
- Respect and reject the status quo: it is necessary to reject it if it is not good enough - acknowledge what works and what doesn’t
- Be an expert and an apprentice at the same time: don’t hide your expertise but at the same time know that you have something to learn - from students too. Be balanced, be both.
- Experiment and commit: try things in new ways but stay with the problem - commit to getting it right even when you make mistakes (adapted from Martin and Osberg)
When considering the power of technology and the future of education, social media is ubiquitous and therefore weakens hierarchies. It opens up lateral solutions. Fullan argues that concentrated connection is the new power and that new power is held by our young people:
Fullan outlined that the education professional development system is broken: He argued that instead we should be focused on professional learning whereby:
- teachers experience their deep learning within their practice (the work itself doing the learning - experiential)
- teachers engage in inquiry and research into their practice
- teachers work together in transparent ways
- teachers are treated non-judgmentally, and trusted as a profession.
To enact effective professional learning at a cluster level (Fullan talks about District Wide Learning) there are eight lessons that we can learn from. These are summarised in the following big ideas:
- Students as change agents - Learners can cause pedagogical change, organisational and societal change.
- Professional capital of teachers (Hargreaves and Fullan) focus centrally on the quality of the group to do specific things (social capital), and on ability to generate and use evidence to drive learning (decisional capital) - we have in the past focused a bit too heavily on human capital.
- Coherence: simplexity - take complex things and make them simple
So how do those of us in “the middle” lead system wide change and transformation? Fullan outlines that leadership from the middle looks like:
- It looks like schools (and services) working together - better partners, better connections (top down change doesn’t work, bottom up either).
- The glue is the middle. This looks like a two way partnership with the top. Partnership means you don’t do what the top tells you to do - instead you exploit the good things in policies to create your own version of it. (Experience and evidence shows us in Aotearoa that those who have this mindset do better and get further than those who spend all their energy fighting things that are outside of their circle of influence). The middle is not stuck with the policy mindset of the top - they are only stuck with the policies!
- Leading from the middle also looks like enabling teachers and learners to come up and work with the middle.
Fullan went on to explain leadership from the top - what should our policymakers be focused on? They are notoriously ineffective at implementation and this is a worldwide pattern, so they should focus on the following to help build an effective system:
There are many more points to be made from Fullan’s keynote and many things to dissect in this post. Some key questions for educational leaders “on the ground” might be:
How will you take the agency that you have in order to truly lead from the middle?
What will you need to change in your own practice and leadership approach to enable agency for learners and teachers and true partnership with them and with policymakers?
How do you ensure that you’re not obsessing with targets and assessment in order to make room for the things that really matter in educational transformation?
Rebbecca Sweeney, CORE Education Ltd.