Notes on Fullan (2001) ‘The meaning of educational change’

Below are the notes (not critical review or equivalent) I took on a chapter by Fullan on Educational change for my MA.

Fullan, M. (2001) ‘The meaning of educational change’ in M. Fullan The New Meaning of Educational Change, London: Routledge.

The main message I took from this read is that every school leader should read it because it casts a strong light on aggregated evidence of the impact and implementation of change in schools. In fact, it makes me wonder about leadership and whether to not, like politicians, individuals set out with great intentions and end up conforming to stereotypes through the pressures of leadership.

Fullan sets out his method:

  1. meaning of individual change for society at large
  2. subjective meaning of change for individuals in education
  3. a description of the objective meaning of change
  4. critical related issues of shared meaning and program coherence

There is a great tension in education organisations about reform and initiatives that set out with the best intentions but are not successfully integrated or applied. The reformers are always convinced what they are recommending is the right thing but they have been through an active process of learning about the subject of the reform, but when this initiative is passed on to others, they are not afforded the same time and journey, and often they do not want it.

restructuring (which can be done by fiat) occurs time and time again, whereas reculturing (how teachers come to question and change their beliefs and habits) is what is needed.’ P34

Classroom Press (P33) is a clever synopsis of the pressures faced by the average teacher which presents a reality check when considering context for change and the daily framework the advocates operate in:

  1. immediacy and concreteness: 200,000 interchanges a year;
  2. multidimensionality and simultaneity: carry out a range of operations simultaneously;
  3. adapting to ever-changing conditions or unpredictability: in schools anything can happen;
  4. personal involvement with students: develop and maintain personal relationships.

Stigler and Hiebert’s The Teaching Gap (1999): 231 Videotaped Maths lessons. 100 in Germany, 50 in Japan, 81 in USA. Results showed 89% of USA lessons contained low-level content, with only 34% in Germany and 11% in Japan. Despite proactive reform to address these very standards in USA via a ‘well-developed’ vision of Maths teaching, the videos showed that the reform drive was not being realised  in the classroom and ‘might actually be worse than what they were doing previously… Teachers can misinterpret reform and change surface features.’ P35

Reform can quite easily lead to the dilution of standards within an organisation. ‘Oakes (1999) observes that educators often rush to adopt new structures and strategies without considering the deeper implications…So everybody jumps on the bandwagon and does [the change] without really thinking about the process of change and how do we make that happen?’ P35/6

So, if a teacher is not given the opportunity to understand why change might be important or helpful in achieving their goals, then why will they implement change to their working practices? Why would they be passive recipients of others supposed wisdom

Change in education is really a change in practice; an innovation or new method. Fullan attempts to explain a necessary tripartite structure (P39) for understanding how educational change works. All three must be addressed. They are:

  1. new or revised curriculum materials (materials)
  2. new teaching approaches (behaviour)
  3. alteration of beliefs/or assumptions (beliefs)

Change involves these three dimensions and all of them must apply. Many teachers subject to reform will take on a combination of the three, or indeed none, but even if a teacher does ‘use some of the materials and alter some teaching behaviours [they may not come] to grips with the conceptions or beliefs underlying the change.’ P39

He then argues that ‘real change involves changes in conceptions and role behaviour, which is why it is so difficult to achieve.’ P40

P41-44, Fullan analyses three studies that illustrate the three dimensional structure as necessary. However, he then goes on to argue that ‘changes in beliefs and understanding are the foundation of achieving lasting reform.’ P45. And goes on to contend that there needs to be an ongoing discussion of the within the community of practice.

Fullan concludes this discussion by reiterating that all three dimensions must be addressed – ‘what people think and do – are essential if the intended outcome is to be achieved.’ P46

He concludes the chapter with a prologue to exploring ‘meaning’. P48 ‘The problem of meaning in relation to the content of innovations…that individuals and groups working together have to become clear about new educational practices that they wish (and/or someone else wishes them) to implement.’

This article is an attempt to analyse the process of achieving lasting reform. It reduces the complex and sophisticated discipline of change management into a manageable structure for discussion by establishing three dimensions of educational change that must be addressed. And it insists that this must happen for every individual who is instrumental to that change being implemented: only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. But also, most importantly, Fullan brings our attention to the fact that participants in the change must understand the reasons for change to implement it. Simply adopting the physical materials or behaviours associated with the change is not sufficient to make ‘it’ happen.

Notes on Fullan (2001) ‘The meaning of educational change’