Change Driver 1: Build the Capacity of All Educators
by Cathy Gassenheimer
Michael Fullan, one of the leading education researchers and thought-leaders of our time, has written about four major drivers for whole system reform. The drivers are:
1. Build the capacity of all educators;
2. Engage educators and students in continuous improvement of instruction and learning;
3. Inspire collective or team work;
4. Affect all teachers and students are teachers” (focus and systemic)
Fullan has also cautioned us not to become distracted by some popular reform ideas that he contends have not proven to be effective drivers. See my introduction to Fullan's theories here to learn more about the distractors. I've decided to write an entry about each of his drivers. This is the first!
Change Driver 1: Build the capacity of all educators.
Like all professions, knowledge about best practices is refined over time. To be effective, educators need access to ongoing effective and relevant professional development. In his paper, Fullan suggests that the “right drivers in combination,” which he names as capacity building and group development, can not only ensure more effective teaching, but also greater accountability.
Another of our favorite thought-leaders, Jim Knight, who considers Fullan to be a mentor, underscores the importance of capacity building. In his work at the Kansas Center for Research and Learning, Knight has found capacity building to be critical. Put quite bluntly, he argues that “when teachers stop learning, so do students.” (p. 4) His work and reviewing the research of others like Payne (2008) has convinced him that “the strategy of telling teachers what to do and making sure they do so often by punitive measures is one of the reasons why schools do not move forward.” (p. 7)
Many of you may have read Daniel Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (Riverhead Books, 2009). His book synthesizes research by scientists that conclusively proves we are primarily motivated to do good work intrinsically — that is, because it gives us a degree of autonomy and personal satisfaction — and not because we are rewarded or punished according to the outcome.
Pink provides a caveat: “For routine tasks, which aren’t very interesting and don’t demand much creative thinking, rewards can provide a small motivational booster shot.” (p. 62) But for more complex tasks, particularly those that require creativity, providing people with autonomy or what Pink calls the “deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and the world,” is critical. You can view an interesting brief video about Pink’s findings here.
Fullan agrees: “(T)he key to system-wide success is to situate the energy of educators and students as the central driving force.” He argues that “intrinsic energy derives from doing something well that is important to you and to those with whom you are working,” and he suggests that the most effective policies are those that “make intrinsic motivation flourish.”
Closer to Home
Closer to home, we see the power of intrinsic motivation in our work with educators and students all across Alabama. Students in Tarrant are connecting with other students across the nation on an iCitizen project, not because of the grade they’ll receive, but because they are excited to expand their world view and access more ideas and opportunities.
Among the many schools in our Powerful Conversations Network, teachers are stepping out of their comfort zone to try new strategies, not because they’ll get a raise, or because they might get a bad evaluation, but because they see the opportunity to better reach their students.
As an example, one of the teacher coaches in the Instructional Partners project we're supporting through ALSDE, shared the following story with us:
I’ve been working with a teacher who seemed resistant. Last week, she came to me all excited. She had taken the strategies and format of the last PD session and tried it in her class. During that class, she realized that, contrary to most days, she was not the hardest working person in the room. Her students were. She added that, as she shifted from the role of lecturer to facilitator, she saw a transformation in her students: they were more focused and were taking responsibility for their own learning, rather than sitting passively with glazed-over eyes during her lectures.
This is an example of what Fullan argues should be the norm: focus on building the capacity of educators so they can better engage their students. He further argues that “strategies that do not develop increased capacity (the skills to do something well) are similarly destined to failure. In other words, both strong motivation and enhanced skills on a very large scale are required.”
Alabama policymakers and education leaders would be wise to follow the research-based advice of Fullan and other experts on effective drivers of change. The largest part of the Alabama education budget is educator salaries. Shouldn't we ensure that we also spend money wisely on developing the capacity and intrinsic motivation of teachers and school leaders -- to the point that every student has a high quality learning experience every hour of the school day?
Michael Fullan, “Chosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform,” (Centre for Strategic Education, 2011)
Daniel Pink, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, (Riverhead Books, 2009)
Jim Knight, Unmistakable Impact: A Partnershp Approach for Dramtically Improving Instruction, (Corwin, 2011)
A+ Education Partnership
P.O. Box 4433
Montgomery, AL 36103
Phone - 334-279-1886
Fax - 334-279-1543