A New Paradigm for Educational Reform: Implementing
Organizational Change for 21st
EDUL 7043 Organizational Development and
Change in Education
Loretta A. Terry
PhD Student in Educational Leadership
College of Education
Prairie View A & M University
November 12, 2009
William Allan Kritsonis, PhD, Professor
PhD Program in Educational Leadership
Prairie View A& M University
Member of the Texas A &M University System
Visiting Lecturer (2005)
Oxford Round Table
University of Oxford, Oxford, England
Distinguished Alumnus (2004)
A New Paradigm for Educational Reform: Implementing
Organizational Change for 21st
The traditional top-down approach to educational change ignores innovate methodology used to
implement the complex change concept. Twenty first century school leaders must become the
skilled change agents pushing for change around them and intersecting with other like mined
individuals and groups to form the critical mass necessary to bring about continuous
improvement (Fullan, 1993, 2001). Instead of engaging experts to implement change strategies
at their schools, twenty first century school leaders must become the expert change agents.
“If it‘s not broken, why fix it?” This old adage reflective of people with fear of the
unknown is simply insufficient to address the pressing need to renovate, innovate, and reform
the American approach to educating students in the twenty-first century. Elevating schools to
exemplary levels of academic performance is the prevailing discussion that pervades educational
conferences, professional development sessions, and pedagogic institution’s dialogue. The
proficiency of educational leaders in understanding the dynamics of organizational development
and change within school systems, school districts and schools can significantly impact the
academic success of all students. Inherent in leadership is the ability to accomplish significant
change within an organization that will impact its central core and mission positively.
Do American schools need education reform to produce successful students prepared to
compete in our global society? This is a question that has continued to emerge since the
beginning of the study of educational change and large scale reform that started in earnest in the
sixties (Fullan1993, 2001). Schools are plagued with a myriad of issues that originate from
social, economic, the achievement gap, lack of parent involvement, governmental policy
interveners and escalating violence that are consuming the attentiveness and progress of teachers
and students. Current data from a 2009 report presenting the national dropout rate of students
attending schools in the United States recorded that three and one-half of every 100 students
enrolled in public or private high schools in the later part of 2006- left school before 2007
(Cataldi, Laird, KawalRamani, 2009). The same report documented that approximately 3.3
million 16-24 year –olds in 2007 who were not enrolled in high school and had not earned a high
school diploma or alternative credential (Cataldi et al., 2009). This alarming data amplifies the
reality that reform in the American education system is imperative and needs to embrace a new
paradigm that will avail educators to become skilled agents of change instead of victims of
change (Fullan, 1993). There is also disparity in earning capacity of dropouts and high school
graduates that points to the need for education reform.
Additionally, as the evolving era of technology empowers and magnetizes children at
young ages, schools are competing with technology to maintain an academic focus in
classrooms. Computer games, broadband internet, iPods, blue-ray, Skype, tweeter, text
messaging, cellular phones and other technical devices captivate the attention of the students
more quickly than the curriculum agenda and high stakes test practices. Students who have
access to technology at home are often more advanced in some subject areas than teachers
leading to off task behavior and lack of motivation. Students who do not have additional access
to technology are often left behind their peers and become disinterested, at-risk of failure or
dropping out of school. In order to compete with technology, organizational change must shift
the inevitable forces of change. Fullan (1993) developed eight basic lessons of change that work
in concert as a set to overhaul the systematic complexities and tradition complexity of the
change a new paradigm. The new paradigm will require education reformers to approach change
implementation from the perspective of building a learning organization (Senge, 2006) to
harness understanding and develop the change process.
The purpose of this article is to discuss the implementation of Fullan’s eight lessons of
change in an educational organization. Change is dynamic, vigorous, brisk, futuristic,
revolutionary and it has the power to yield new outcomes if embraced as a non-linear system of
operation. Only principals who are equipped to handle a complex, rapidly changing environment
can implement the reforms that lead to sustained improvement in student achievement
Fullan, 2002). Each of Fullan’s eight lessons of change is interconnected and benefits from the
wisdom of the other seven (Fullan, 1993). Diagram I depicts the lessons of change connections.
Diagram I. Fullan’s Change Education Reform Model
Lesson I: You Can’t Mandate What Matters
(The more complex the change the less you can force it.)
20th Century Federal Mandates
Fullan’s (1993) first lesson in the educational change model asserts “You can’t mandate
what matters” is the polar opposite of the systemic change that has occurred in the United
States’ educational system. Mandates designed by the federal government have been the
Change is a journey
not a blueprint
Vision and Strategic
Planning Come Later
Colectivism Must have
Neither Centralization or
Connection with the Wider
Environment is Critical
driving force behind education reform. In this advanced era of multimedia technology it is very
difficult to comprehend that education reform measures implemented in the past have not
worked as the silver bullet to close the achievement gap. One of America’s abiding concerns
yesterday and today is the achievement gap between rich and poor, black and white, and students
are dropping out of school at unprecedented rates and failing high stakes tests necessary to
graduate from high school (Rothstein, Jacobensen & Wilder, 2008).
As history unfolded in the United States during the era of the civil rights movement of the
1960’s, the educational paradigm changed. Government leaders realized that education
was important for every child, not just for the elite. President Lyndon B. Johnson enacted the
reform legislation to declare the “War on Poverty,” and established the federal legislation
with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), (Laanan & Cox, 2006).
Nationally, high schools are under extreme demands to address the rising drop-out rate by
increasing graduation rate. The number of students labeled at-risk of failure and dropping out
of high school has escalated. According to the most current estimates in 2007, 3.3 million 16-24
year olders had not completed high school (Cataldi et al., 2007).
In the 1980’s and1990’s, the national report titled “A nation at Risk” forecasted the urgency
of education reform that continues to be evident today. The report called attention to the need to
meet the needs of key groups of students such as the gifted and talented, the socio-economically
disadvantaged, minority students and disabled students (Blake, 2008). Children who have failed
the assessments requirements were minority students from lower socio-economic status homes
( Blake, 2008). Ernie Duncan, the United States Secretary of Education, in a recent report,
stated that “reforming public education it is not just a moral obligation, it is absolutely an
economic imperative and the foundation of a strong society” (Mc Quaid, 2009).
21st Century Federal Mandates
The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation enacted under United States President George
W. Bush is a primary example of complex mandated change. The premise of the enactment was
to implement assessment and accountability standards to benefit the lowest performing students
suffering from “bigotry of low expectations” by promoting high standards of accountability for
all students (McBeath, Reyes & Ehrlander, 2008). The NCLB is the reauthorization of the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (Rothstein,et al., 2008). There are many
criticisms pertaining to all sections the adoption of NCLB that began at its inception and
continue to persist today. The NCLB initiative came with much complexity. Education leaders
must be prepared for the complexities that accompany legislative mandates and proceed from a
position of understanding change themselves to facilitate change in their organizations.
The initial step that twenty first century educational leaders should adhere to in order to
implement change under Fullan’s (1992) Lesson I is to understand the meaning of the mandated
change within the context of improvement of student learning. Developing a plan of action to
facilitate the change is closely linked formalized leadership, command and control strategies
(Fullan, 2006). Once the leader understands the mandated reform, he/she should explicate the
reform to the school community openly and honestly to began mobilizing faculty and staff to
establish a commitment to higher standards of performance (Fullan, 2002).
To mobilize teachers, educational leaders should use new strategies for informing them of the
changes. Next, teachers should be invited into a discourse and dialogue to express their
perspectives of how mandates could be implemented in their classrooms. Empowerment an
effective strategy to attain the greatest teacher mobilization results. Some community schools
utilize the site-based management wherein teachers are given the autonomy to participate in
shared decision by creating an opportunity for their voices to be heard. Teachers are on the front
line with the students, teaching, guiding, providing practice, re-teaching and formulating
strategies to strengthen the weakest students. For change to achieve effective meaning in
classrooms, regarding teachers as professionals in the learning environment is a priority. In a
professional teaching and learning environment school administrators must equitable use of
power and authority among all staff. Shared decision making and responsibility are key
ingredients in creating an atmosphere for change and program improvement (Lamperes, 2005).
Lesson II: Change is a Journey, Not a Blueprint
(Change is non-linear, loaded with uncertainty, and sometimes perverse.)
Fullan (1993) advances the second lesson of change with the major argument that change is a
journey, non-linear and loaded with uncertainty. Mason (2008) points out that traditional
managers handle uncertainty by resisting change or by using predictions to prepare for the future.
It is of paramount importance that the complexity of change be understood in order for
educational leaders to know the appropriate respond to change.
Analyzing change through the lens of chaos and complexity theories recognizes that change
is part of an educational system that impacts other systems. When analyzing chaos in an
organization, many researchers believe that human being have a natural ability to act at the edge
of chaos, creating the chaos needed to cope with complex/turbulent environments (Mason,
2008). Although chaos appears to be non-descriptive of school organizations, it is a profound
description. Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that
have been developed over the last fifty years, to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see
how to change them effectively (Senge, 2006). Most systems thinking school leaders
contemplate relationships, human social systems and how one part of a system affects the other
parts to achieve the results. For example, a high school principal may determine that initiating
professional learning communities (PLC) will have an overriding affect on student performance
and teacher collaboration, thereby establishing relationships among teachers to produce and
collectively formulate strategies to improve student performance. The leader analyzes feedback
from the changes to assess how student performance will affect the high stakes test scores and
how the high stakes test scores affect the accountability rating of the school. Fullan offers a
systems thinking idea for effective leaders:
“ If more and more leaders become systems thinkers, they will gravitate toward
strategies that alter people’s system-related experiences; that is, they will alter people’s
mental awareness of the system as a whole, thereby contributing to altering the system
itself.” Considering the interplay between identity, information, and relationships in your
setting will yield deeper sensitivities to the interconnections that are sometimes visible
and invisible. Although not always apparent, these underlying threads contribute
significantly to any leader’s effectiveness” (as cited in, Klimie, Ritzenhein & Sullivan,
The second step in the twenty first century change process, is for leader to become system
thinkers, Leaders can achieve system thinking by seeing a framework of wholes instead of
separate parts, seeing interrelationships instead of disconnection (Senge, 2006).
Lessons III: Problems are Our Friends
(Problems are inevitable, but the good news is that you can’t learn or
be successful without them.)
Problems are not uncommon for implementing educational change. The issue with problems
in analyzing education change is how do school leaders create opportunities from problems.
According to Fullan (1993) the third lesson of change is premised on regarding problems as
friends. Mason (2008) asserts that the key issues to managing complex and turbulent
environments is to accept the unpredictable nature of systems, accept that they cannot be
centrally controlled and accept that change is an inevitable occurrence that provides
opportunities. Essential to the growth of educational leaders is the ability to manage of conflict
and problem solving under extreme pressurized conditions.
One of the biggest problems plaguing school reform is the absence of good data tracking the
performance of students, teachers and schools over time (McQuaid, 2009). After reviewing the
results of a long term study that revealed that only 3% of African Americans and Hispanic
Americans male students who graduated from Chicago’s schools never attained a bachelor’s
degree, Arnie Duncan, Secretary of the United States Department of Education began to focus
on mentoring and intervention at the high schools (McQuiad, 2008). Out of the revelation of
these appalling statistics about minority male students, clearly a problem and the solution
emerged. Student data contributes to improving education decision-making. Data for
continuous improvement alerts educators as to what is working and what should be reorganized.
Educational leader of the twenty-first century must approach problems with analytic positive
solution thinking. Often times, a solution lies within the problem.
Lesson IV: Vision and Strategic Planning Come After
(Premature visions and planning can blind.)
Fullan (1993), poses the critical question of how can vision be shaped? The answer to this
question is one that emerges as the implementation of change progresses in the organization.
Some organizations embrace the leader’s vision or the vision of a selected group of people. This
strategy does not produce commitment to the vision but instead generates compliance
Fullan, 1993). Shared vision is vital for every organization, to accept ownership of the vision
cannot be achieved in advance of learning something new (Fullan, 1993, p. 30). Beach (2006)
clarifies what vision is not because many organizations confuse the vision and mission or
presume that the mission statement is the vision of the learning organization because it provides
the energy and focus for learning (Fullan, 1993).
The process of how the organization arrived at the vision is called into question. This process
is tense, time consuming and complex. To focus the vision of the organization to reflect
ownership by the group, it should be determined whether or not the vision will shape or reshape
the goals of the organization within the context of change. In other words the group must attain
vision agreement. Beach (2006) stated that vision has four elements: goals, priorities,
requirements and implications. These elements are not incorporated in the vision statement but
rather are expounded in plans derived from the vision (Beach, 2006, p. 56). This is a key point of
clarification in building vision that needs underscoring that plans come after vision. Twenty first
leaders must be equipped to build vision. Good vision will come after, meaning that “good
vision is going to spontaneously arise from within an organization, survive the political gauntlet,
and achieve the consensus that is necessary for it to become the rallying point” (Beach, 2006 p.
Lesson V: Individualism and Collectivism Must Have Equal Power
(There are no one-sided solution and groupthink.)
Twenty-first century leaders must have the ability to balance individualism and collectivism.
Paradoxes provide the seeds for learning under conditions dynamic complexity (Fullan, 1993).
Allowing teachers to hold fast to their individualism at the same time encourage them to
collaborate within groups where sharing is the norm is a paradox of major proportions.
Teachers who become part of school’s learning organization need to feel that they are valued and
that their contribution will make a difference.
Leaders must have the ability to draw the line of balance by encouraging collaboration with
group, at the same time incorporating nurturing, encouraging creativity and innovation of the
individual. Groups are filled with people who are diverse with individual ideologies totally
different from the consensus. Learning organizations are based on the premise that everyone is
learning from each other, under change complexity theory (Fullan, 1993) people learn from
others with differing perspectives. An effective organization requires new norms of collegiality.
Learning organizations must have healthy respect for some degree of diversity and individualism
as well as for group activity and group effectiveness (Fullan, 2006). The twenty first century
leader must know how to attain the best from individuals and the group collectively.
Lesson VI: Neither Centralization or Decentralization Works
(Both top-down and bottom-up strategies are necessary.)
Fullan (1993) argues in lesson six that control at the top as many reform-minded leaders have
formed their organization, is an illusion. Senge submits the contentions that:
While traditional organizations require management systems that control people’s
behavior, learning organizations invest in improving the quality of thinking, the
capacity for reflection and tem learning, and the ability to develop shared visions
and shared understanding of complex business issues. It is these capacities that
will allow learning organizations to be both more locally controlled and more well
coordinated that their hierarchical predecessors (as cited in Fullan, p. 37).
Leaders of the twenty first century should focus their energies on improvement of the practice.
Improving the practice pertains to leaders descending from their ivory towers and rolling up
their sleeves to investigate what is working, what needs improvement in the organization and
enlisting ideals and support of faculty and staff to discover solutions. Improvement cannot be
judged solely by periodic assessment of teaching and learning during a forty-five minute
period. Improvement of the practice of teaching and learning is continuous. One form of
leadership involving change, innovation and improvement of the practice from a decentralized
position is based on the characteristics of generative leadership. Klimek et al. (2008) collectively
expound on the generative leader to shape the future of schools today with their definition:
Generative leadership is an approach to leading within organizations—and organization,
from family to school or large corporation that recognizes and taps the collective
intelligence and energy within an organization to generate productive growth and
effective solutions. We see generative leadership as a fusion of three foundational
elements: generativity, living systems principles, and brain/mind science. In practice,
these foundational elements are woven together inseparably (p. 2).
In sum, generative leaders interact with the living system stimulating its intrinsic
intelligence creativity, and innovation as the cornerstones of effective school culture ( Klimek,
et al., 2008). The commonality of Fullan (1993, Senge (2006) and Klimek et al. (2008) is
systems philosophy. Twenty first century leaders are charged with responsibility of utilizing
and decentralized management of schools from the systems perspective by viewing all parts as
interrelated and needed to improve the organization.
Lesson VII: Connection with the Wider Environment is Critical
(The best organizations learn externally as well as internally.)
Schools must be collaborative internally, but they also must be linked to the outside (Fullan,
2006). Internally, teachers should look for opportunities to collaborate with other teachers to
develop a learning society by working with students and parents (Fullan, 1993). Leaders who
are change agents advocate the school becoming the hub of teacher collaboration. For schools to
became a center of inquiry and for professional community to develop, collaborative culture that
supports deep change need to be created (Sergiovanni, 1998).
Schools should connect with the wider external environment to establish a connectedness for
the benefit of student learning. Within the external community of most schools are a myriad of
resources and resourceful people. The proficiency of twenty- first century educational leaders in
understanding the dynamics of the political power structures and power people within their
school communities can significantly impact the academic success of all students. Sanders noted
that the schools are overwhelmed by the social and emotional needs of children, need additional
resources to successfully educate all students and both human and material resources are housed
in students’ communities (as cited in Epstein and Associates, 2009).
Commencing with the government and extending to the neighborhood community
meetings, there are people who have influence, the power to change and support improvements
of communities and schools. To galvanize power people to use their power and influence to
provide resources, solutions to school issues there must be an understanding of (a) research to
identify power people are (b) discovery of steps to win their support (c) develop strategies to
work through the bureaucratic power structures to establish partnerships (d) establish forums or
activities to connect power people with the schools or community organizations and
(e) persistent collaboration to keep the importance issue in plain view. “Community
collaborations can be developed to enhance school’s curricula, identify and disseminate
information about community resources, and support community development efforts” (Epstein,
2009 p. 32). Twenty first education leaders must become knowledgeable about the external
environment surrounding their schools and establish relationship with external people of power
and influence for the benefit of their schools and students.
Lesson VIII: Every Person is Change Agent
(Change is too important to leave to the experts.)
The snapshot of the twenty first century America reflects changing demographics that is
reflected in students who are culturally, linguistically, ethnically, and economically diverse.
Some may view this change as challenge rather than an opportunity. Educational leaders are
change agents who are prepared to build capacity in others. Building capacity means policy,
strategy, or action taken that increases the collective efficacy of a group to improve student
learning through knowledge, enhanced resources, and greater motivation on the part of people
working individually and together (Fullan, 2006).
Educators as change agents must change their individual way of thinking and doing
things to accomplish the desired result of successful schools. Radical change often involves a
collective, internal, and emergent process of learning and sense of a different way of thinking
and doing what matters. Radical, revolutionary change emerges when leaders empower teachers
to develop professionally and collaboratively. Formal leadership generated by a system are
operating under the old paradigm (Fullan, 1993). The traditional top-down approach to
educational change ignores innovate methodology used to implement the complex change
concept. Twenty first century school leaders must become the skilled change agents
to pushing for change around them and intersecting with other like mined individual and groups
to form the critical mass necessary to bring about continuous improvement (Fullan, 1993, 2001).
Instead of engaging experts to and implement change strategies at schools, twenty first century
school leaders must become the expert change agents at their schools engaging the school
community in continuous improvement. The new era of change requires
a new paradigm for twenty first century leaders to follow as the diagram in Figure II illustrates
the relationship of all components to the central idea-- the new paradigm of change consisting of
(a) building a learning community that understands the meaning of change, (b) sharing decision
making (c) implementing systems thinking, (d) approaching problems from solutions thinking,
(e) building vision from within the organization (f) balancing individualism and collectivism, (g)
connecting the external community with the school, and (h) becoming the school expert change
agent with empowerment of others.
Figure II. New Paradigm of Change for 21st Century Leadership
The irony of implementation of Fullan’s eight basic lessons of change is that
realistically change should not be forced but the forces of change propel opponents to reach for a
new way without losing the old way. Darling-Hammond eloquently summarizes the quest 21st
Build a Learning
“I argue that reforms that rely on the transformative power of individuals to
rethink their practice and resign their institutions can only be accomplished by
investing in individual and organizational learning- in the human capital of the
educational enterprise: the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of teachers and
administrators, s well as parents and community members (Darling, p. 675)
There are opponents to change in every organization who want things to remain the same. To
move an organization to the forefront of success, the ideology of the keeping things the same
must be abandoned. Systems thinking and viewing organizations from within and the
interconnectedness of all components as comprising the whole will have overreaching impact.
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