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Michael Fullan is familiar to many in education (for those not familiar, here is a list of freely available articles).  He has long been an influential reformer in Canada and is currently  Special Advisor to the Premier and Minister of Education in Ontario.  Fullan’s May 2011 paper, Choosing the wrong drivers for whole system reform, tackles a topic many educators are looking at as we look beyond class, or even school reform. In his paper, Fullan lays out four criteria which, he argues, must be met by the drivers for change and reform at a district or system level:

  1. foster intrinsic motivation of teachers and students;
  2. engage educators and students in continuous improvement of instruction and learning;
  3. inspire collective or team work; and
  4. affect teachers and students — 100 per cent

His examination of the wrong drivers is compelling.  He suggests his list of the four wrong drivers of change have a lot of appeal and will be hard to dislodge:

  1. accountability (vs capacity building)
  2. individual teacher and leadership quality (vs group quality)
  3. technology (vs instruction)
  4.  fragmented strategies (vs systemic)

Fullan says, “The four wrong drivers are not forever wrong. They are just badly placed as lead drivers. The four right drivers — capacity building, group work, pedagogy, and systemness — are the anchors of whole system reform.”

All four of the ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ drivers are worthy of consideration, but I was particularly struck and reassured by his view of technology as a wrong driver, and rather instruction and smart pedagogy that must be the driver supported by technology.  Fullan says, “Technology as solution is the more seductive partner.”   He argues what we have been arguing in our district, “Teachers need to get grounded in instruction, so they can figure out with students how best to engage technology.”  Of course, it is often simpler to discuss who has what tools rather than the pedagogy.  Fullan, is clear that technology should not drive system change, but is also clear that we should “go all out to power new pedagogical innovations with technology.”

Key leaders can make a huge difference at this critical juncture. Jettison blatant merit pay, reduce excessive testing, don’t depend on teacher appraisal as a driver, and don’t treat world-class standards as a panacea. Instead, make the instruction-assessment nexus the core driver, and back this up with a system that mobilizes the masses to make the moral imperative a reality. Change the very culture of the teaching profession. Do so forcefully and you will find many allies. It is time to embrace, and relentlessly commit to the right drivers.

In a presentation last week, I discussed the changes we have seen in reform and focus in British Columbia.  We moved from a system of school accreditation, to district accountability, to where we are now, considering system-wide reform.  And this system-wide reform in British Columbia does not have us standing out there alone — there are similar conversations in other high-performing jurisdictions from Alberta and Ontario, to Finland.

Fullan’s list, while not breaking a lot of new ground for educators, is a good reminder of what should and shouldn’t drive our changes.  The challenge is making them, in appropriate combination, come to life.

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