Our system has been very fortunate to have been working with Michael Fullan over a period of five years. Given Fullan’s vast experience and the demands on his time, it never ceases to amaze me how generous he is with his time when he is present. To sit around the table and explore issues in depth is a privilege we don’t take lightly. It is perhaps at these times that we get some real depth in our own professional learning. I don’t think we can ever take these opportunities for granted and I hope in some small way this post is a way of sharing Fullan’s thinking.
Fullan spent time explaining how the moral imperative (raising the bar and closing the gap for all students) can be realised. For us, the moral imperative is giving every child the best possible schooling we can provide as a developed nation and this schooling is embedded in our Catholic faith and traditions.
As Fullan says:
‘This work is driven by the moral imperative by raising the bar and closing the gap for all students, and doing so for the whole system – not just for some schools, but for all students; not just for some districts but all districts; and not just a one level but all levels. We call this ‘whole system reform’.
In sum, the big difference between effective and ineffective school systems – and all organisations for that matter – is the ‘collaborative or shared depth of understanding among members about the nature of their work’. You can’t get collective depth from a workshop, or from episodic team meetings. You can only get shared depth one-way – making learning the day-to-day work.’
Realising the moral imperative is about recognising the right and wrong drivers for change. Fullan explained that professional development is a commonly confused wrong driver. This happens when educators attend workshops, conferences and take courses, which bears little relationship to classroom and school improvement. Instead, the right driver should be ‘professional learning’ – the learning that happens ‘in between workshops’ on a day to day basis with school communities. Learning becomes the work of teachers and students.
Other ‘wrong drivers’ include teacher appraisal, merit pay and leadership competency frameworks. Wrong in so much as they do not tackle the day to day culture within schools and systems. Fullan says the right drivers: capacity building, group work, pedagogy and ‘systemness’ are effective because they work on changing the culture of school systems whereas the wrong drivers focus on changing the structure. One works on the internal, the other on the external.
As we know, real change comes from the core – from teachers and leaders working collaboratively; critically reflecting on practice to improve student learning outcomes. Every teacher and leader has a responsibility not only to their own school community but to the system. One for all; all for one – the moral imperative in action.