Fullan on School Leadership

Canadian academic Michael Fullan is Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. Here, he writes about the role of school leadership in the context of the self-managing school:

Everyone would agree that the context is changing; few define reform as changing the context for the better. The leader’s job is to help change context—to introduce new elements into the situation that are bound to influence behavior for the better.

How important is context? The recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development PISA study (Programme for International Student Assessment) of literacy performance of 265,000 fifteen-year-olds in 32 countries puts it dramatically: ‘PISA shows … that two students with the same family characteristics going to different schools—one with higher and one with lower socio-economic profile—could expect to be further apart in reading literacy than two students from different backgrounds going to the same school.’

We can’t easily change the socioeconomic profile of the school, but the basic point is nd you have a chance to change people’s beliefs and behavior … Selecting and supporting good leaders is a crucial starting point for beginning to change the context in powerful, new ways. The leader’s job description … is to help change immediate context.

The key to change is new experiences … [T]he role of the leader is to work through a process that does the following:

  1. Helps people see [new possibilities and situations].
  2. Seeing something new hits the emotions.
  3. Emotionally charged ideas change behavior or reinforce changed behavior.

Context is social, not individual. When you look closely at the major strategies for reform these days, you discover that they have (p. 3) individualistic assumptions: what students should know and be able to do and what teachers and administrators should know and be able to do. These are important, but in themselves they will not change situations and systems. You can have the goal of having a credentialed teacher in every classroom, but the effect will be blunted if you do not also focus on changing the culture and working conditions of schools. More important, if you do not focus on the latter, good teachers will not stay long—or come in the first place.


Fullan, Michael. 2003. The Moral Imperative of School Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. pp. 1–3. || Amazon || WorldCat


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