education

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Michael Fullan and his Long-lasting Legacy

Michael Fullan is acknowledged as one of the leaders in teacher education and a major proponent of educational reform in the whole world. He is an icon in the global academic community and holds prestigious positions in esteemed educational institutions in Canada.

The renowned Fullan is a professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto and a doctor of philosophy. He was dean of the faculty of education at the University of Toronto from 1988 to 2003. Fullan has been conferred honorary doctorates from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland and from Nipissing University in Canada (Sustaining Reform, 2005). The pacesetter in primary programs of change in the school leadership and programs for educational improvements is an author of various publications on the subject of educational change.

Michael Fullan is a prolific writer. Some of his outstanding works that have been given awards are The New Meaning of Educational Change, 3rd Edition, Leading in a Culture of Change, Change Forces: The Sequel, Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform , and the What’s Worth Fighting For series. His recent bestselling pieces are The Six Secrets of Change and Motion Leadership. His latest bestsellers are The Six Secrets of Change and Motion Leadership.

As an agent of change in the academic, Fullan has played a leading role as policy mentor, researcher and trainer on various projects in collaboration with and for teachers’ associations, research and development organizations and international agencies both in Canada and other countries. He is at the core of the group undertaking a four year appraisal of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy in England.

Michael Fullan is called the reform architect of Ontario. He enjoys strong business connections which stand to gain directly from his reforms. All of the reforms place greater emphasis on raising literacy and numeracy outcomes through targeted funding, perpetual teacher and principal retraining, escalating interventions and greater accountability for standardized test performance. He runs Michael Fullan Enterprises Inc. and Leadership4Change, and he occupies a place on the board of international advisors of Microsoft’s, Partners in Learning. (Thompson, 2009).

The Need for Change

Fullan emphasizes that ‘effective school leaders are the key to large-scale, sustainable education reform. For some time, educators have believed that principals must be instructional leaders if they are to be the effective leaders needed for sustained innovation. School capacity is the crucial variable affecting instructional quality and corresponding student achievement. At the heart of school capacity are principals focused on the development of teachers' knowledge and skills, professional community, program coherence, and technical resources (Fullan, 2002)’.

As explained by Fullan, the burden lies on the shoulders of the principals since they are mainly responsible for initiating and monitoring the training of teachers so that the latter can be efficient and effective conveyors of knowledge to their students.

Fink and Resnick suggest that school district heads should spearhead efforts to develop principals into instructional leaders who could achieve a large-scale turnaround in literacy and numeracy. They described some core strategies for developing the role of the principal as instructional leader, including five mutually reinforcing sets of strategic activities: nested learning communities, principal institutes, leadership for instruction, peer learning, and individual coaching (2001, pp. 598-606).

The long-term role of principals, then, is to provide instructional leadership for their teachers. With this brand of headship, the teachers can be relied upon to carry out the basic responsibility of imparting to their respective students the knowledge that they deserve and need.

Fullan adds, there is a need for leaders who can create a fundamental transformation in the learning cultures of schools and of the teaching profession itself. The role of the principal as instructional leader is too narrow a concept to carry the weight of the kinds of reforms that will create the schools that we need for the future. Like the business leader, the principal of the future, the cultural change principal, must be aware of the big picture, that of a sophisticated conceptual thinker who transforms the organization through people and teams (Fullan, 2001).

Likewise, ‘the other traits of a culture change principal include the ability to manifest a profound and thorough ethical principle. He or she must be a trendsetter and possess the adeptness to deal with the process of change and realizes that teaching is both an intellectual and moral profession. More importantly the culture change principal should discern that building relationships and teams is the most difficult skill for both business and education leaders’.

To be a successful leader of change, it is advisable to follow the argument that the distinct aspect common to successful change is that relationships get better. Thus, if relationships get better, schools develop. If relationships remain the same or get worse, ground is lost. Therefore, leaders establish relationships with different people and groups. During difficult times, emotional intelligence is imperative. Emotionally intelligent leaders are able to build relationships because they are aware of their own emotional makeup and are sensitive and inspiring to others (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002).

Indeed, sweeping changes must occur in the education sector and when these changes have been implemented, school administrators, principals and teachers must see to it that these gains should be sustained and protected.

As indicated by Fullen, the main point is about a change in the culture of schools and a change in the culture of teaching. ‘Reculturing is the main work of leadership, and it requires an underlying conceptualization of the key elements that feed it. It is the context of the school and district in which they work which means that principals have to be almost as concerned about the success of other schools in the district as they are about their own schools.’

Effective Leadership

In his book, Leading for Change, Michael Fullan affirms that the more complex society gets, the more sophisticated leadership must become.

The contingency model is intended to provide a framework that will conceptualize leadership as a developmental process that will take into account the dynamic and fluid context of the school by linking the most appropriate leadership style to the needs of the school. Preparing leaders to successfully function within a context of change and uncertainty is paramount. Ensuring that these leaders acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to use these various models is imperative (Stewart, 2006).

Just like corporate organizations, educational institutions depend on leadership for continued existence. They have to become learning organizations to endure all obstacles and succeed in their undertakings.

Training and producing effective leaders in educational institutions cannot be limited to inculcating effective traits in people. Organizations and schools should be developed to support the collective form of leadership where individuals feel safe, supported and free to think and act creatively (Stewart).

The conclusions of Arthur Levine about leadership preparation programs were not at all encouraging.

The quality of most preparation programs for education leaders ranges from insufficient to disgusting. The nation’s educational administration programs need to prepare high quality principals and superintendents, who can lead schools and school districts through the profound changes called for under state improvement plans. More than 40 percent of principals and a higher percentage of superintendents are expected to leave their jobs over the next decade which means that the nation faces an urgent need to educate large numbers of highly skilled administrators (Levine, 2005).

Ii is therefore imperative that the state should work closer with school administrators, principals and teachers to overhaul the system that does not seem to function properly. Educational management programs need more refinement if only to ascertain that top-quality teachers, who can perform satisfactorily, are produced in the years to come.

In response to this postulation of Levine is a discourse by Schmoker, ‘the irony is just too much.  Your school, labeled underperforming or an equivalent term, has to develop an improvement plan.  Unfortunately, it is just such improvement planning that currently accounts for a large share of school failure. There are straightforward, proven means for improving achievement in virtually any school setting. But school improvement planning, like its sister, school reform merely distracts us from the hard work of improving teaching (2003).

Perhaps, a very relevant theory espoused by Michael Fullan is his recommendation that Change is needed to develop schools as learning communities.

Collegiality provides the best starting point in the process of teacher regeneration. Moving or learning enriched' schools are what he calls professional learning communities. Teaching needs to be seen as a collective rather than an individual enterprise. This is the reason why it means it is easier to teach in some schools than others. Successful schools enforce, through moral obligations, consistent standards and they are more likely to trust and value others and ask for and share expertise. This is what makes such schools easier to teach, and learn to teach better in, than others. Teachers in such schools are less likely to uncritically conform to impose ideas. They have developed the capacity to self reflect, to examine student performance and act on their own understandings (Fullan, 2001).

Fullan shares to the public, six so-called messages about change which are highly pertinent to the points being discussed in this treatise.

To sum up Fullan’s pointers on change, ‘the first is people should find meaning in reform to generate the desired impact; second, existing strategies will not get us to where we want to go; third, although short-term gains can be achieved by standards-based reform, it is deadly if the conclusion is that schools should do more of the same; fourth, the learning organization/community is more than a cliché; fifth, we need to consider the collective good; and sixth, we have to learn to live with change.

With respect to leadership, Fullan mentions the four aspects of leadership, making a difference in the lives of students; committing to reducing the gap between high and low performers within your school or district; contributing to reducing the gap in the larger environment; and transforming the working (or learning conditions) of others so that growth, commitment, engagement, and constant spawning of leadership in others are being fostered.

Finally, Fullan interpolates that leaders at many levels must be cultivated as people learn in context. An organization cannot flourish—at least, not for long—on the actions of the top leader alone. Schools and districts need many leaders at many levels. Learning in context helps produce such leaders. Further, for leaders to be able to deal with complex problems, they need many years of experience and professional development on the job. To some extent, a school leader’s effectiveness in creating a culture of sustained change will be determined by the leaders he or she leaves behind (2002).

It is also crucial at this point to understand the six secrets of change that Fullan wrote about so as to help in dissecting the elements of leadership and change.

Fullan’s Six Secrets of Change

Secret number one is Love your Employees as much as your customers. Secret number two is Connect Peers with Purpose. Secret number three is Capacity Judgment trumps Judgementalism. Secret Number Four is Learning is the Work. Secret Number Five is Transparency Rules. Secret Number Six is Systems Learn (Fullan, 2008).

Perhaps, one of the most essential secrets is number three – capacity-building undeniably precedes the development of the shared efficacy of the major players to obtain the needed amendments in teaching as well as learning.

Fullan highlights the need to develop the collective effectiveness of a group of the whole system to actually get more reform in teaching and learning and student results. The three parameters are new skills and competencies; resources, ideas, materials and money; and the third is motivation as a capacity. When people are motivated the capacity goes up to get something done (2008). 

Learning is the work is just as important. Professional learning is what goes on day after day.  The indication Fullan considered was ‘the difference between the effective organisations and the less than effective ones as they had cultures where teaching and learning for the adults was a core part of the everyday culture’. Transparency is also equally vital because there should always be access to practice, data, result and achievements. Meanwhile, connecting peers with purpose is about focused peer communication and rising above the top-down and bottom-up difference.

Systems Learn, says Fullan and although this may be abstract, it should be interpreted as being done operationally. Leaders have to be on the dance floor and the balcony at the same time (Heifitz and Linsky, 2002). Systems learn when you get this tri-level support underway, certainly within a school if you think of turnover of heads, school heads, the main problem with turnover is not turnover itself but discontinuity of good direction.  So the issue about systems learning is how you get continuity of good direction, building on it but still that degree of continuity (Fullan, 2008). 

Stepping into leadership roles is worth the risk when your goals extend beyond material gain or personal advancement. By making the lives of people around you better, leadership provides meaning to life.

If changes are effectively put in place, most likely, the necessary educational reforms will be realized.

During the last twenty years, the value and impact of the educational reform movement has been cause for a lot of debates. Many school practitioners and researchers have asserted that one fact remains clear: the role of the school administrator has increased in complexity. In order to meet the challenge of this leadership crisis, leaders from all levels in school districts will need to focus on systemic change to enhance change capacity and sustainability. The time has come to change the context of school in an effort to make the position more rewarding and exciting. The role of the principal is pivotal to systemic school change and student achievement. Fullan shows how moral leadership can reinvent the principal-ship and bring about large-scale school improvement by challenging all who work in education to rethink the critical role of the principal as school leader in the current era of accountability (Normore, 2004).

Fullan adds that in complex societies, producing and sustaining a vital public school system is a tall order. There must be a very competent teaching force. However, this cannot be achieved without leaders providing the guidance and direction. The principals, therefore, play a pivotal role (2003).

Focusing on Solutions

In his advocacies, Fullan broached the thought that a systematic answer is needed to contend with the issues on the improvement of school leadership.

He proposes a tri-level solution that focuses on total system transformation through the conscious, deliberate, reflective actions of the state in tri-level capacity building within a framework of accountability. The school/community is the first of these levels; the district or region is the mid level; and the state or policy level is the third.

While the school/community and the district/region are doing their respective responsibilities, the state has to show the way because system transformation will not come about if the former fails to fulfill its primary role.

Government or state officials must immerse themselves in the knowledge base about change, capacity-building within a framework of accountability and as a result, start to think differently. They have to act differently with respect to whom they appoint as leaders around them, what policies and strategies they formulate, and how they focus and enhance resources. Lastly, the state must radically redefine its relationship with the other two levels by being more transparent, more involved, modeling and leading capacity building at their own level, and helping to lead and facilitate co-determined solutions across the other two levels (Fullan, 2005).

Big scale reforms will not work effectively. It should be a well-organize tri-level reform wherein all those who are involved monitor developments and learning from their experiences as they go along.

Analysing the Views of Michael Fullan

The diverse and enlightening academic viewpoints of Michael Fullan on school reform, school leadership and teacher education have produced numerous leads for much-needed reforms in the educational system of many institutions and caused the transformation of the teaching profession.

I fully agree with Michael Fullan that the teaching profession should be re-cultured or re-created. After all, his credibility, expertise, academic and professional achievements as well as experience cannot be doubted. As Fullan aptly described, ‘the teaching profession still has to come of age. This new professionalism should be collaborative and not independent. It must be open rather than closed, outward looking rather than insular, and authoritative but not controlling. More than anything else, the new professionalism will make huge demands on teachers' own learning to learn about: learning styles, multiple intelligences, how to integrate technology; how to interact with adults 'out there' and how to get more support for their teaching’.

The major points that Fullan raised about school leadership are worth considering and adopting for they are not just phenomenal. His ideas are very practical and can easily adaptable provided that a coordinated and uninterrupted collaboration between the state, school leaders and teachers is formed.

Finally, the new and yet uncompromising manner in dealing with the learning process wherein the individual mind blends with the collective minds should be followed for only through this system can change be attained. There must be an amalgamation of expertise and ideas to bring about gains and educational transformation in the years to come.

There can be no other better description than the one given by the man they call the Agent of Change. ‘Imposed structures and standards will never by themselves be able to gain teacher commitment and ingenuity, but equally, school left alone will either be unable to share effective ideas or become isolated. A delicate balance of top down and bottom up reform will be required but to succeed individual school must not only feel that they are in control of their own development but also feel part of a bigger society transformational movement something that is worth fighting for!'

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