Michael Fullan is one of the architects of the current government of Ontario’s platform on education (here), and has recently written a widely cited paper Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform, which I have previously blogged about here.
While his most prominent work is with Ontario, Fullan has been working, on and off, with school districts and the Ministry of Education in British Columbia for more than twenty years as well. This past week, along with two others very involved with innovation projects around the world, Valerie Hannon and Tony Mackay, Fullan spent a full day working with school superintendents highlighting several key concepts in the context of our work in BC.
From the 2010 McKinsey and Company Report, How the World’s Most Improved Systems Keep Getting Better, two findings were emphasized:
– When capacity is low, the source of new system ideas / action is the center
– When capacity is higher, the sources of system innovation is peers
These findings speak to our work in West Vancouver, and across BC. We have very strong teachers, administrators and schools. We have already taken direction in finding formal and informal networks to improve and develop new practices. In our district, we can point to a series of networks driving innovation. While we have been focussed on enhancing our digital networks through blogs and Twitter, we do have other face-to-face networks supporting innovation.
Fullan also shared a list of key practices that district leaders need to focus on:
- Change in district culture
- Building district leadership
- Small number of core priorities
- Focus on assessment – instruction
- Transparency of data
- Principals as instructional leaders
- Proactive re: provincial agenda
While the list is not groundbreaking, it is a confirmation of the work so many of us are doing here. To begin with, in West Vancouver, we have not been shy about encouraging our best teachers to take on principal and vice-principal roles, and to be our learning leaders — which is supported by Fullan’s list. The final point is also worth highlighting because so many schools and districts have taken up the challenge of personalized learning in BC. Some have personalized the language around it, contextualizing it for their community, but have held to some of the core principles which I often summarize in 10 words when asked to describe the learning we are creating: kids own it, teachers guide it, parents engage with it.
A final challenge that Fullan placed before superintendents was the need for us to engage in cross-district learning and thoughtful, district-government interface. Again, this speaks to the work I have previously described to our principals and vice-principals as being co-petitive (competitive in a cooperative environment). This is really what we want for teachers in schools, schools in districts, and districts in the province. Fullan described it as “mutual allegiance and collaborative competition”.
Over 700 people attended the BCSSA Fall Conference last November, and many more followed online. The dialogue continued in many different ways throughout districts. It is good to be challenged and supported by learning leaders like Fullan, who have track records in very strong jurisdictions. It is also a good reminder that BC is part of a global network trying to figure out where we need to go next with students and learning.