Leading Quality Change with Michael Fullan | Knowledge Seminar series

Michael Fullan
Image source: Wikipedia

This post is a summary of the key points from Michael Fullan’s recent Knowledge Seminar, hosted by the Ministry of Education.

Fullan kicked off by referencing Professional Capital as Accountability (newly published) and other publications and work such as ‘Stratosphere’ – check out his home page for full works.

He argued that:

  • Accountability reform can be counter productive, and that capacity building is more effective – the better driver. Evidence of high yield pedagogy matters but only if it is practice driven. It must be safe to learn collectivity.
  • Get to the doing of improvement.

Motivating for change

Fullan is in the practice of bringing about change, with Andy Hargreaves and others. He is in consultancy with the Minister of Education, NZ. NZ is a great case to bring about system change, in a space of (only) 2500 schools. We need to build relationships on a large scale around a compelling agenda.

Fullan referenced his evaluation of the work in 1998-2002 to change literacy/numeracy in 20,000 UK primary schools. Conclusions were:

  • Early success in the first few years – investment in capacity building was successful alongside a clear focus
  • But: punitive accountability and obsession with targets were negative influencers and distractors. Don’t have targets that you obsess on – have them to aspire to. Progress towards the target must be on growth of capacity, not judgementalism. Look for schools who show greater rate of progress, not rates of achievement.

Change leadership is causing people to become motivated to put in the effort to get results when they are not motivated in the first place – because it works. It’s done through creating a change process that is worth buying into because it gets results – through building relationships. In the UK, there was not enough relationship building to create buy in, hence the short lived success.


This is, in his words, the smallest number of key things you have to get right – and how you make those things gel with the politics and pressure. Small things, in Canada after election, improved literacy achievement and numeracy, High School graduation, reducing gap between low/high performers and brought about increased confidence in the system.

And the people leading need to convey goals AND strategy. The aim was to develop a strong relationship with the sector and capacity building around the goals – and we are going to be non-judgemental, look at it without attitude.

Focus on whole system means focus on:

  • pedagogy
  • causal link to measurable student learning – “Know thy impact”
  • involve individual & social learning
  • collaborative strategies
  • ALL schools, 100%

See: Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform

Effective drivers for change

The wrong drivers for change are:

  • External accountability,
  • Individualistic strategies (human capital can be consumed),
  • Digital (you can’t buy your way into the future)
  • Ad hoc politics –

….whereas the right drivers:

  • Internal accountability
  • Collaboration,
  • Pedagogy and
  • systemness (individuals committed to more than their own role, contributing to the betterment of the system). cf Tower Hamlets

3 keys for maximising impact

Fullan cited the NZ BES Leadership, in particular the degree to which the principal participates as a learner which had the greatest effect size. Modeling, creating learning culture and being part of it, visibly. An effective leader is a:

  • system player
  • change agent
  • leading learning

It’s your job as a principal to improve your school – and contribute to the betterment of other schools.

“Effective change processes shape and reshape quality ideas as they develop capacity and ownership with members.”

He cited work in ACT (Canberra) in which a peer-coaching model motivated teachers over a three year process. The model wasn’t mandatory – but it was “voluntary but inevitable”. Process was good but was proved by the doing of it. “Being right is not a strategy for change. You have to take the people with you”

He cited: “Professional Capital” book. Best results in schools had social capital, not human capital.

Professional Learning Communities: What if you had teachers interacting with each other to learn less than effective methods?! Decisional capital is the ability to work together to make effective decisions about pedagogy for improvement (not accountability). Professional capital is collective efficacy.

>> Videos – Fullan

School cultures

  • Talented schools improve weak teachers
  • Good collaboration reduced bad variation e.g, ineffective teaching. Teachers alone have a licence to be creative in isolation or be ineffective.
  • The sustainability of an organisation is a function of the quality of its lateral relationships. Principals as leaders of learning should make themselves dispensable after five years.

New learning

Exciting innovative learning experiences for all students has to be

  • Irresistible and engaging
  • Elegant and efficient
  • Technologically ubiquitous 24-7
  • steep learning curve, authentic learning

New Zealand’s system

Schools that work together get better results, and get better results collectively. Fullan explored the characteristics of effective networks. Increased capacity grows confidence to reach out to communities beyond the schools. He asked:

  • What can Wellington do to improve the community of schools? How much progress are we making at a system level?
  • What do great networks need to be better?
  • What are we learning that works? What are unintended consequences?

Image via Wikimedia Commons – Change

One thought on “Leading Quality Change with Michael Fullan | Knowledge Seminar series

  1. Posted on behalf of Rebbecca Sweeney:

    nice summary Karen. Fullan has been saying these things for a very long time to the world and to the NZ policymakers. I like his thinking which is aligned to the thoughts and actions of others such as Claxton and Ken Robinson. I prefer the way Claxton talks about system change as he uses a more inclusive, people focused approached in his language. For example, while I know that Fullan knows this, change happens from the ground up – but using the term “buy in” implies otherwise. Dalton and Anderson have been talking about the baggage of buy in for a long time. I am more and more interested in people who can write and analyse to reflect the complexity of system level and school level change using language and structures that are inclusive and “human”, not intellectualised or formulaic. Kaser and Halbert do this well too. Fullan means it but I want him to say it better because I think language is important to reduce confusion around the “how”.


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