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The New Meaning of Educational Change

February 4, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in school change and reform. Fullan has provided a comprehensive overview as well as a host of unique ideas. This was not intended to be a casual read. It is a serious reference. Below one of the review I quoted from other reader.

Why the hell is it that the more things change, the more things seem to stay the same? Educational change expert Michael Fullan takes a crack at this proverbial school reform conundrum in the third edition of his book, The New Meaning of Educational Change. According to him, “Reform is not just putting into place the latest policy. It means changing the cultures of the classrooms, the schools, the districts, the universities, and so on. There is more to educational change than most people realize” (p. 7). Restructuring schools and education has been relatively simple, says Fullan; re-culturing them has not. For change to be substantive and long lasting, improving and strengthening relationships among various stakeholders is the key.

Fullan divides his book into three parts: understanding educational change; change at the local level; and change at the global level. In the first part, he distinguishes between subjective and objective meanings of educational change, but in an awkward manner. Drawing from Dan Lortie’s work on the sociology of teaching, his main argument is that teaching is a lonely profession without a well-developed shared technical culture, which leads invariably to widespread uncertainty, fragmentation, and haphazardness–all impediments to educational change. He does not explicitly describe the differences or importance of either concept, but leaves the reader with the ultimate impression that three dimensions undergird the implementation of change: “the possible use of… new or revised materials… teaching approaches… and the alteration of beliefs” (p. 39). According to Fullan, most educational reforms are ephemeral or shallow because they have grossly overlooked the importance of the third dimension (beliefs), unsurprisingly. He often distinguishes between change and the “process” of change with a 25/75 rule: educational change is 25% structural (ideas), 75% re-culturing (processes).

Fullan uses the last two parts to provide insights about adoption and implementation of policies geared toward educational change through the lens of the various stakeholders involved (teacher, principal, parent, student, school board, etc.). He is careful not to make sweeping generalizations, and has a nose for local idiosyncrasies. His most pronounced clarion call, however, is for the scaling up of whole school reform and professional learning communities (the latter fits well with his claim that beliefs are the hardest dimension to alter). Shared meaning of educational change is only possible through allowing stakeholders more transparency into each other’s roles and promoting more collaboration between groups.

In each chapter, Fullan shores up his arguments with major research studies, and often expresses the findings axiomatically: For example, poorly performing schools showed “little or no attention to schoolwide problems” (p. 121). This is not a bad thing. It just makes the reader think, “Duh!?!?” Somewhat annoying was Fullan’s tendency to whitewash other findings using fluffy, catch-phrases with no meat. For instance, in discussing the efficacy of the principal, he writes: “effective leaders are energy creators” (p. 149). Overall, however, for a book about a complex phenomenon like change, it is highly readable, consistent, and insightful. Those expecting a recipe book about wielding change in schools might be somewhat disappointed; however, those who just need a little inspiration and conceptual insight might find exactly what they are looking for.
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