The Process of Change and Improvement: Practical Applications of
Fullan’s Educational Reform
Donna Charlton
PhD Student in...
Introduction
Few would argue that schools, students and teachers are not like they used to be. Ineffective
schools recogni...
urban school districts that suffer from high employee turnover and dissatisfaction. He declares
that the “entanglements of...
of complaints, differences in opinion and suggestions. They must implement policies and
procedures they may not fully unde...
Individualism vs. Collectivism
Centralization vs. Decentralization
Education is unique from the perspective that it is, in...
The Wider Environment and Change in Every Man
Fullan espouses that the most successful educational organizations acknowled...
theoretical and is supported by research. As such, current educational policies that are not
consistent with his research ...
Donna Charlton & Dr. William Kritsonis
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Donna Charlton & Dr. William Kritsonis

  1. 1. The Process of Change and Improvement: Practical Applications of Fullan’s Educational Reform Donna Charlton PhD Student in Educational Leadership Prairie View A & M University College of Education Abstract This article discusses some of the most prominent educational practices and how Michael Fullan’s research about the process of change and improvement either supports or conflicts with these practices.
  2. 2. Introduction Few would argue that schools, students and teachers are not like they used to be. Ineffective schools recognize this fact but have done little to implement practices that encourage the alignment of stakeholders, missions and visions. Author Michael Fullan is a primary educational expert on the process of change who has created a framework of guiding principles for school systems and learning communities to follow in order to improve teaching and learning for all students. Fullan has established eight “basic lessons” regarding change and improvement that thriving educational organizations must learn and implement if they are to keep pace with the ever-changing diversity that characterizes twenty-first century learners. Purpose of the Article The purpose of this article is to apply Fullan’s eight lessons about educational change and improvement to current problematic educational issues and to demonstrate how those lessons either support or conflict with current accepted practices. Mandates and the Journey of Change The Weberian model of bureaucracy can best be described as an organizational system whose efficacy is contingent upon compliance, uniformity and expertise. It does little to retain qualified teachers, has a high rate of turnover and discourages the human element that is an integral part of successful organizations. At its best, the bureaucratic model offers incentives as its only reward and, thus, is not an effective system of management in the educational arena. Author Paul Fallon believes that a non-bureaucratic educational system is a more feasible way to manage large,
  3. 3. urban school districts that suffer from high employee turnover and dissatisfaction. He declares that the “entanglements of educational bureaucracy” have facilitated “the abhorrent loss of enthusiastic teachers” and have stagnated student enthusiasm for learning (Fallon, 2007, p.3). He implores school districts to expand their definition of a qualified teacher by requiring affective traits along with the traditional skills sought in good candidates. The overriding message here is that school districts must make a proactive shift in the way that they recruit, hire and retain effective teachers. Satisfied teachers enhance the learning environment exponentially and it is only at this crucial juncture that school districts will realize the level of student academic achievement they seek. As a high school administrator, I have observed many examples of change, reluctant and otherwise, and I firmly believe that bureaucracies within school systems are detriments to the essential purpose of teaching and learning. The process of change, however, is stagnant until all stakeholders accept a common vision for the element(s) to undergo change. This is a prime entry point for Fullan’s first two basic tenets of change: simple changes are easier to implement and change should be understood as a process that takes time if it is to persist (Fullan, 2007). The Weberian model of bureaucracy is diametrically opposed to Fullan’s ideas, yet it is the model upon which many school systems and learning communities are based. School systems must begin the transformation into becoming viable learning communities by abandoning this antiquated system of operation and adopting systematic, substantial changes over time if they are to be successful. Problems, Their Benefits, and Planning The issues that plague school leaders are numerous. High school principals, analogous to the mayor of a small city, may take the prize as the most beleaguered of all school educators. In addition to insuring that teaching and learning are taking place, they also field a constant barrage
  4. 4. of complaints, differences in opinion and suggestions. They must implement policies and procedures they may not fully understand or agree with but must display a common “public face” to support the district’s agenda. One of the most adversarial, yet influential opponents school principals face is the external school community. The principal must forge a relationship with the external community that is inclusive and collaborative. Waddock states that “…many factors well beyond the immediate control of schools significantly influence school performance” (Waddock, 1993, para. 3). External forces or problems can have far-reaching implications as they relate to the school or school system: schools are sometimes unwittingly subjected to the influences, desires and special interests of the external forces that ensnare it. This dynamic can impact school performance on many levels and, as the title of this section suggests, may not always be negative. A skilled principal can turn any problem into an opportunity for collaborative resolution. In the case of external factors, the community/school stakeholders can be invited to participate in the analysis, discussion and resolution of the issues to be addressed. As Fullan suggests, problems are inevitable (Fullan, 2007). The best approach is to be proactive and inclusive when seeking resolution. Fullan also suggests that all stakeholders participate in the process of formulating the mission and vision of the campus. This process includes the external learning community as well. Those who have had an active, inclusive role at the onset are far less critical of failure and far more willing to take responsibility for shortcomings. Additionally, all stakeholders should participate in the planning phases of possible programs as well; this creates buy-in and ownership for all involved which leads to a greater commitment toward success.
  5. 5. Individualism vs. Collectivism Centralization vs. Decentralization Education is unique from the perspective that it is, in a sense, a service industry, but one in which teachers serve an often reluctant and problematic client base. Additionally, teachers in many organizational systems feel that they are viewed as subordinates who may be skilled enough to teach but not knowledgeable enough to participate in decision making relevant to themselves as well as to other aspects of the school community. Ellis states that “motivation is psychologically complex” (Ellis, 1984) and cites studies that support the belief that teachers are motivated primarily by intrinsic rewards, the presence of which depends “on three ‘critical psychological states’: experienced meaningfulness, responsibility for the outcomes, and knowledge of results” (Ellis, 1984). Consistent with this view is the work of Sergiovanni who theorized that, in terms of teachers, job satisfaction is a function of accomplishment, recognition and responsibility (Ellis, 1984). Lastly, Ellis discusses the positive implications of a collaborative approach to school management, accountability and professional development. Fullan’s fifth and sixth tenets of change and improvement underscore these affirmations; he supports that individualism and collectivism are both appropriate and necessary forums for healthy organizations (Fullan, 2007). He further acknowledges the value of homogeneous organizational structure by arguing that organizations cannot be purely centralized nor decentralized (Fullan, 2007). Rather, circumstances within the organization may dictate when each method of leadership or direction would be appropriate. Even in the often delicate balance of power experienced in public schools, top-down leadership is appropriate and mandated if it is, in fact, to support educational best practices.
  6. 6. The Wider Environment and Change in Every Man Fullan espouses that the most successful educational organizations acknowledge the value of the internal stakeholders as well as the external, non-traditional stakeholders (Fullan, 2007). Waddock’s work, through her comprehensive analysis of the external factors that influence the internal workings of schools, supports this (Waddock, 1993). Many present day learning communities have formally recognized their external or community components and acknowledge their value in the scheme of educational efficacy. Servant leadership, a concept first articulated by Robert Greenleaf, the former director of Leadership Development for AT&T, is the theory that the best leaders empower and entrust employee-stakeholders to make crucial decisions and that doing so raises the employee’s level of trust in and commitment to the organization (Spears, 2004). Revolutionary at the time of its formulation, servant leadership celebrates the visionary leader and encourages innovation, collaboration and change. Fullan’s research underscores Greenleaf’s unprecedented findings; he argues that each person within the organization is valuable in terms of implementing change (Fullan, 2007) and speaks of the situational change agent. Change is often something that is so unique to the organization that only those who are part of it can craft an appropriate method to implement it. Conclusion In conclusion, Michael Fullan’s prescription for implementing the process of change and improvement within the educational system amounts to eight critical lessons that should guide learning communities to better teaching and learning for students. These eight lessons either support or conflict with current educational best practices. Fullan’s work has surpassed the
  7. 7. theoretical and is supported by research. As such, current educational policies that are not consistent with his research should be revised to create thriving educational communities that are more effective and responsive to the needs of all stakeholders. References Ellis, T. (1984). Motivating teachers for excellence {Electronic Version}. Eric Digest, 6, 1-3 Fallon, P. D. (2007). Nexus aliquis: in pursuit of efficacy, resilience, and full potential. Adolescence, 42(165). Retrieved September 23, 2007, from EBSCO Host database. Fullan, M. (2007). The New meaning of educational change. New York: Teachers College Press. Spears, L. C. (2004). Servant leadership: a powerful tool for fast change. Leader to Leader, 34, 7-11. Waddock, S. A. (1993). The spider’s web: influences on school performance. Business Horizons, Sept-Oct, 1-10. Retrieved October 30, 2007, from Find Articles database.

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