The wrong drivers


A tweet from my colleague Karen this morning had me watching this video of Michael Fullan, Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, discussing the often-used strategies that do not improve learning in schools before describing the strategies that have been proven effective.

It seems very topical to me at the moment as I have been working on a response to the government's inquiry into 21st Century Learning Environments and Digital Literacy, and thinking also about  recent discussions I've been involved in regarding the future of NZ's education system and the interventions that are being suggested to address issues such as the 'long tail' of underachievement etc. 

Fullan's comments are derived from his paper titled, Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Systerm Form, published in April last year. In this he reports on what countries that have successful education systems have done to achieve this, and identifies four key things that in his view are the 'wrong' drivers:

  1. Using system accountability as a 'stick' – Fullan argues that the various forms of external accountability and judgement that are being promoted at a system level simply don't work, but what does is greater a greater degree of what he calls 'transparency of openness'. 
  2. Focus on indivdual quality rather than team development. Fullan argues that it is the collective that is important in terms of achieving system change in education. 
  3. Over-reliance on technology – on it's own it won't fix anything, but used to support effective pedagogical practice it can be a powerful change agent. (Something I've blogged about before in pedagogically driven UFB and the Promise of UFB)
  4. Fagmented change – rather than a coherent, whole of system change approach. Fullan points to the many examples of systems that focus on just individual elements such as literacy and numeracy in isolation, instead of taking a more coherent, bold approach. 

Fullan does identify five characteristics of systems that are successful in achieving change:

  1. They focus on a small number of core goals
  2. They put a lot of energy into the quality of the teaching profession
  3. They make a large investment in school leadership
  4. They create 'learning working conditions' for teachers
  5. They use data – but in a non-judgemental way.

I see here a two-fold challenge for what is happening in NZ. Firstly, how to get our current government and MoE to take notice of such research and create a vision for change that is aspirational and systemic, Second, how to get wider acceptance from those in the system of the strategies identified by Fullan that work, such as greater transparency and openness, and greater use of data for example, both of which tend to be regarded with suspicion at present because of the perception that they could be used in a judgemental manner. 


3 thoughts on “The wrong drivers

  1. Great post Derek.  I agree on all levels.
    I like this quote from Lieberman and Miller (2004) "The call for accountability is not going to go away. Teachers as leaders are in a unique position to take hold of the issue and draw on their own experience and knowledge to enter the national conversation; they can help to reframe the public discourse from one that proposes an accounting of learning geared to an audience of legislatures and policymakers to one that supports an accountability for learning geared to an audience of parents and communities. In the final analysis, accountability schemes must involve teachers committed to taking responsibility for their own and their students' continual learning."
    Schools and teachers need to make the learning visible to the community.  Too much is done behind closed doors and this is a barrier to both informing the community, and engaging parents in the learning of their child.  I am finding this with my son's school where I am sure lots of good stuff is going on, but it is all very hidden.
    Transparency is the key as far as I am concerned.
    And yes, technology won't change a thing.  If schools and policy makers can get their head in the right place there will be fantastic opportunities though.

Leave a Reply