Monday, June 11, 2012

The power of 'postive deviants'.- Michael Fullan recants

This Friday I am attending the book launching of a new updated edition of Elwyn Richardson's book 'In the Early World'. This is , my opinion, the best book ever about creative education. Elwyn has long since retired but his ideas about education are more relevant than ever in this deadening era of standardized teaching. Picture with Elwyn is Margaret McDonald who has completed a thesis on Elwyn's work. Elwyn was a pioneer of creative teaching whose views stood out in contrast to the traditional approaches of the time. His work certainly influenced the teachers I worked with as an adviser. I only hope there still are inspirational teachers today like  Elwyn because it is through the  identifying and sharing  of work of such teachers real progress is made.

If any creative New Zealand teachers read this posting please forward it other like minded teachers - and if you receive this posting add your e-mail to get regular postings

Michael Fullan recants
Surprisingly the Canadian ‘wizard’ of educational reform international educationalist Michael Fullan provides some answers.  Fullan, who has a history of assisting governments impose ‘top down’ initiatives focussed on literacy and numeracy, seems to have changed his mind.  Recently he has changed from assisting governments imposing accountability reforms on schools to a focus on building school ‘capacity’.
In his latest book, ‘The Change Leader,’ Fullan moves away from implementing reforms to the revolutionary belief schools ought to learn from their own experience. He now believes that practice, classroom experimentation, is now the most powerful tool for change. In this Fullan aligns himself behind the actions of scientists like Darwin by saying the theory will evolve through practice and reflection. His new thinking is also in line with the writing of educationalist Alison Gopnik who writes that children develop their theories through their explorations. .
Fullan’s advice for school leaders is to manage people by ‘impressive empathy’ To ‘manage others by creating environments that help them learn and grow’ and that this ‘includes understanding others who disagree with us’. Good advice for politicians. He writes that we all have a need to connect with others and that our brains are shaped by new thoughts and actions.
First practice then theory
Fullan now believes ‘most good ideas come first by examining the practice of others’ and then to ‘try out the ideas yourself’ and, finally , ‘ drawing conclusions from what you have learnt and then expanding on those conclusions’.  This is about valuing school creativity not compliance to imposed requirements.
In the past imposed reforms and strategies have dominated practice. The least we can do, Fullan suggests, is to ‘slow the adoption of bad practices’ including some of his previous advice!  ‘A large percentage of expert advice is flawed’, he comments. This he, he writes, also applies to advice on performance pay which he says ‘constantly fails to improve student performance’. ‘It is better’, he writes, ‘for change leaders to learn to rely on themselves, questioning themselves as they learn'. ’Leaders ‘don’t start by imaging the future’ they ’walk into the future by examining their own and others’ best practice, looking for insights they had hitherto not noticed’.’ This is the essence of the scientific method – once again creativity not compliance.
This paradigm for discovery is the opposite to of what is normally assumed. The sequence from practice to theory is exactly the opposite of how progress is thought to happen. Theories arise through action. Discovery is now to be seen as expert practitioners sharing ideas and influencing each other. The key for leaders is to find the ‘bright spots’, what some call ‘positive deviants’, and to for others to put into practice their ideas adding their own ideas in the process. This is learning by doing, being active, connected ‘seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’ as the 2007 NewZealand Curriculum suggests.
This, Fullan writes, is about ‘acting your way into new ways of thinking, than to think your way into new ways of acting…. It is about finding and learning from practice what works to solve extremely difficult problems ‘.Trying things and keeping what works. Compliance is putting into action predetermined solutions while creativity requires experimenting, new discoveries, and continual adjustments.
New paradigm for educational change.
Fullan’s latest book contributes to ideas that are gaining ascendancy – the importance of creative hands on practice over abstract theorizing and compliance to requirements by those distant from the action. As a result, writes Fullan, ‘over the past fifty years in my own field in education….we have lost the capacity to build effective practice through the teaching profession and its leaders. Instead we have politicians running around introducing ad hoc policies far removed from practice that have no chance of improving practice on the ground.’
From ‘delivery’ to empowerment.
Tapping and sharing the expertise of creative teachers requires a new mind-set and a new set of skills from school leaders. It requires leaders to be comfortable about being uncomfortable because it is impossible to pre-determine in what direction some changes will result. Teachers need to see genuine reactions from their leaders to their discoveries so they will see them as part of their learning process. Creating new idea can be messy and dangerous but there is no other way to gain authentically owned progress.
Educations goal needs to shift from ‘delivering’ of something to empowering teachers and students to amplify their innate and natural curiosity to learn whatever and whenever they need to.   School leaders need to do all they can about eliminating obstacles to achieving this goal. Fullan’s advice to principals is to be a critical consumer of imposed requirements and to ‘examine received wisdom in light of your own practice and that of your peers, and only after thorough consideration of that practice. If practice is going to drive improvement, the leader’s job is to liberate practice’.
Heading in the wrong direction.
The current government seems determined to introduce standardized approaches with their genesis from  a past mass production age rather than implementing personalised approaches for an unpredictable, evolutionary, fast changing world. Rather than the current obsession with the ‘Three Rs’ (literacy and numeracy standards - as important as they are) schools need to focus on the’ Four Cs’: creativity, complexity, choice, curiosity, and collaboration. These attributes align well with the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum’s key competencies.  Countries, organisations, and individuals will be ill equipped if they don’t have what it takes to be creative.
A ‘bottom up’ world.
Today the dominant ‘voices are those those distant from the reality of schools. The challenge for school leaders is to break from old quantitative models and develop open environments that ‘breed ideas’ and work with others to share the creative ideas of their teachers. This was once the way ideas were shared before Tomorrow’s Schools. Thankfully inter school visiting is on the rise again and, thanks to modern information technology, it has never been easier to share ideas.
Future orientated schools need to create the conditions to encourage their ‘positive deviants’ and then let their ideas mate mutate and continually challenge their thinking. The future requires teachers who, in the words of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum, who are busy ‘seeking, using and creating their own knowledge’ so as to break through the inertia of past practices.
 Creativity that enlarges experience needs to be the new norm.


Anonymous said...

Fully agree about the importance of 'positive deviants' - the challenge is how to find them and begin to share their ideas in an era of schools competing with each other.

Really good news about Elwyn's book - let's hope it marks the beginning of a new emphasis on creative teaching.

Bruce Hammonds said...

A new government could set up regional structures and employ people to identify 'positive deviants' and then to facilitate the sharing of their ideas - rather like earlier advisory service. With modern technology this would be simple thing to do.

Ivon Prefontaine said...

Bruce, this an excellent post. I am not as sure about Fullan's work. He ignores the political nature of our schools and I see little evidence of substantial change in his backyard, Canada. He has good ideas, but he is as far removed from the classroom as the politicians. What good does that do the teacher?

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Ivan. Like you I am unsure about Fullan - he has made his name imposing reforms on schools. Like many such 'experts' he 'runs with the hares and hunts also with the hounds'. I have been reading about 'positive deviants' on the web - fascinating. Their ideas can be shared but not imposed.

Allan Alach said...

Interesting to read about Fullan 'recanting.' I went to one of his workshops a few years back and came away rather unimpressed. To me it seemed that his vision was very 'top down' and controlling, and I recall his reactive and negative response to the NZC.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I have the same thoughts about Fullan so his change of heart all the more interesting!

Anonymous said...

I have just had an enjoyable time reading all the fascinating links in your blog - so much has been lost. Your efforts to keep the creative spirit live is commendable!