How can you bring about change in schools? Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn tackle this issue in Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems (2016). The authors begin by identifying the wrong causes of change. “The wrong drivers were external accountability, individualism, technology, and ad hoc policies.” (ix) Think about it—our education reform efforts have all been based in the wrong drivers such as national tests or even site-based independence. In Catholic schools, we see efforts to centralize (external accountability) as well as decentralize (individualism) with mixed results.
Fullan & Quinn offer a coherence framework based on four components: focusing direction, cultivating collaborative cultures, deepening learning, and securing accountability. Focusing direction is based on “consistency of purpose, policy, and practice. Structure and strategy are not enough.” (1). They are talking about culture and the need to build a school’s learning culture around one direction. They describe how school cultures are decimated: initiative fatigue, ad hoc projects, arbitrary top-down policies, compliance-oriented bureaucratization, silos and fiefdoms, confusion, distrust, and demoralization. (4) It’s a question I often ask when I’m considering a new initiative—does this make life easier on the schools? Or does it just make my life easier? We simply cannot become compliance-oriented bureaucracies. Fullan & Quinn argue that you need to use the group to change the group by establishing a clear direction, becoming transparent about your goals, and keeping the goals front and center.
As part of that direction, cultivating collaborative cultures distributes the learning and leadership across the school. It established horizontal and vertical organizations across the school, pulling and pushing people toward change. It’s a culture of change that schools need to embrace and the collaborative groups work to foresee and implement the changes. Deepening learning is the idea that all stakeholders need to be part of the learning process. Knowledge can’t exist at the top of the hierarchy. Leaders need to roll up their sleeves and learn alongside teachers and staff members. At the same time, Fullan & Quinn are arguing that we need to come to a common understanding of how learning happens and what we can do to support the shift toward more collaborative learning environments.
In both the classroom and wider school environments, the authors argue for internal accountability. If students and teachers can take responsibility for their actions (instead of relying on the carrots and sticks approach) then real change will take hold. This is the least-articulated portion of their framework. In the interest of promoting simplexity, the authors fell short of articulating how school leaders can promote internal accountability. However, their arguments about learning, collaboration, and direction establish a strong argument for guiding change in schools.