Michael Fullan – Educational Change

In the second day of the course, we spent time discussing Michael Fullan’s book, Educational Change at the Local Level.  The book was published in the early 1990s, but Dr. Konzal, our instructor, says that he cannot find a better book about educational administration that is more recent. The class members agree that even though the book is over 20 years old, many of the same issues and characteristics of education have not changed. Each group was assigned a chapter to present to the class.

My full notes on the book can be found in a later blog post. I will be posting them to Scribd so I can refer to them later. This blog post is just selected items to reflect upon from the presentations.

The Student – This was our group’s assignment. The surprise was in the studies referenced in the chapter, it showed that only about 20% of the students in any class participate actively in class. And during a school day, only about 1 and ½ hours of time is spent by students cognitively focused on academic learning. The big point of the chapter was that in the 1970’s and 1980’s, students did not have input into what and how they were learning. Researchers saw improvement with the advent of cooperative learning and individual-centered learning techniques. This was before the internet and today education is even more individualized.

The other interesting study from 1980, classified students into four groups, with only the first two groups having contact with the teacher. Most importantly, students change categories to match the teaching style of the teacher.

  • 1)      Attention Seekers – 20%
  • 2)      Intermittent Workers – 36%
  • 3)      Solitary Workers – 32%
  • 4)      Quiet Collaborators 12%

The most interesting chapter was about the Principal. After hearing the group’s presentation, I went back to the class website and read through the chapter closely.

  • Educational Change – Everyone feels misunderstood during the process of change. The role of the Principal has become more complex, less clear, and busier during the last 10 years.
  • Studies of the 80’s and 90’s of how a Principal spends their day – lots of individual meetings, rapid change of activities; spent lots of time with “putting out fires” and not reflective thinking. Too many things to do and couldn’t keep up with the pace and try to be all things to all people. Lots of energy spent to sense of order; maintaining resources; etc. not much strategic learning.
  • Action over words and the Principal is part of the change and involved in the planning despite of lack of expertise in every area.
  • Principals were judged by what they brought to the school. Leaders tend to focus on areas that they are strong at. Good principals spend 41% on program improvement and 34% building management.

In a 1989 study of 1,200 principals, effective ones were engaged in the four strategic interactions with teachers.  Very few (10%) in the various studies were found to be effective.

  • Resource Provider – Mobilize resources and district support to help achieve academic goals
  • Visible Presence
  • Instructional Resource – give advice and expertise to teachers
  • Communicator

Principals are middle managers, with the supporting and interacting with the teachers on one side and appeasing and reporting to the school director and Board of Trustees on the other.

Principals are so busy that they  spend a lot of time managing and not much time reflecting and doing, “transformational leadership.” Managing means designing and implementing plans, getting things done, working effectively with people. Leadership relates to the mission, inspiring, and direction.

Principals do have the freedom to think creatively or in unorthodox ways in running a school. The “system” tolerates both highly innovative principals and rigid, orthodox, “do not rock the boat” principals.

Principals need to spend some time in every department and be familiar with what the departments are doing. If he/she gives the HoD a carte blanche, then he/she is not being effective.

The personality and leadership style differed with effective principals. The important item was the activities they were engaged in. It seems the magic number is over 40% of your time spent improving curriculum/instruction and 30% spent managing. This is easier to do on the elementary level and gets harder in high school.

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