Changing the context
I don’t know how you personally feel about change, but for me it is a double-edged sword. I have the fear of change…not knowing what the future may hold and then I have the excitement of change and what new ventures it may bring. Being a teacher in the rapidly evolving world of education the one thing that is certain is change. Change in staffing, pupils, specifications, assessments just to name a few. This lead me to really reflect on change, what that actually means within the context of a school and how can change successfully be embedded through leadership.
Starr (2011) conducted a study surrounding the principles which demonstrated the intertwined nature of the macro and micro contexts within educational settings. Global or the macro as well as socio-political context have real implications for teachers ‘on the ground’. The Guardian (2014) discussed the work of PISA and how their work has influenced and impacted upon current educational practices and policies and how international schools are making significant changes to improve their global status and ranking. These ideas can be reflected in the structuring of the educational system as well as the significant changes nationally to the qualifications at KS3, 4 and 5 (Morgan 2016). However, the national changes will be determined by teachers at the micro context. With the evolution of new GCSE’s and A levels comes new challenges for teachers across all subjects with regards to new subject knowledge, data tracking and monitoring and making progress in a linear fashion.
These latest reforms are yet another change in education which has seen numerous changes over the last 13 years of my own teaching career. This echoes the words of West-Burnham (2007) that the concept of managing change is an oxymoron and that change ‘is’. Johnson (2001) supports the idea of change as being emergent and states that responding to the specific needs of an evolving environment is paramount to its success. Maguire, Ball, Brown, Hoskins and Pennyman (2012) explain that the specificity and context of the educational setting is central to change events. This may mean that the change may not be universally applicable to other contexts, but should have the greatest impact within the context of the school itself. This is echoed by Gladwell (2000) who believes that understanding the context of one’s own school will enable research to have the greatest impact upon change.
The article “Changing the context” by Fullan (2003) discusses ideas linked to leadership and change. The first theme I identified with was selecting and supporting ‘good leaders’. Fullan (2003) states that the job description of the individual is important, however Crawford (2012) clarifies in more depth that the person employed should have the desirable skills rather than suiting the job description to the person that is already employed. Not only getting the right people on the bus, maybe more importantly the right people on the right bus in the right seats. Harris (2008) supports this claim by stating that staff in a position of responsibility has the responsibility to get it right.
Another theme that is evident in the reading is the idea surrounding one pivotal leader. Fullan (2003) argues that the principal or headteacher has a vital role and will underpin the importance of the context of change. This connects with the idea of heroic leaders as discussed by Crawford (2102) , however Crawford discusses a shift away from heroic leaders and movement towards distributed leadership and enabling more people responsibility and accountability to manage change. Muller and Bentley (as cited in Dempster 2008) suggest that a time will come where there is no hierarchy, but team based work- which I think has its own advantages and disadvantages. Leithwood and Riehl (as cited in Dempster 2009) also believe collaborative work is the future. A shared vision is essential for this to work, but effective leadership can enable this to be a success.
Changing the context is another theme that is evident throughout this article. Fullan (2003) bases a lot of his ideas on the work of Gladwell (2000) from a book called The Tipping Point. Gladwell implies the power of the context is the most important factor; and in order for this to be effective a community should be created which is practical, enables expression and is nurturing of its precious staff. Fullan (2003) also discusses this idea and implies that if we improve the context it can be effective, but that this does not always lead to change. Fullan (2003) suggests an importance of acquiring knowledge to inform the context. The work of Hargreaves (1999) also supports the idea that professional knowledge creation and keeping up to date with new professional knowledge is the key to improvement and change. We need to know as much as possible about our context so if we want to push for change we fully understand the potential barriers and how the impact could look.
Fullan (2003) advocates the ‘Two layered perspective’. He discusses how it’s the principals or headteachers role to sustain disciplined inquiry and action on part of the teachers. This suggests that the principal will have a significant role in molding the leaders of the future. This method of empowering staff is also supported by Harris (2008). Fullan (2003) explains the need to examine the number of principals that are actually doing this which suggests a form of monitoring. He implies a ‘business like’ element without explicitly linking it to education. Bottery (2004) also does this and suggests a need for standardisation and structure. The level five leadership scale Fullan (2003) refers to is based on work done by Collins. He seems to center his research around these two main ideas which have strong business links, and even though his ‘evidence’ is based on thirty years of research, it is still based on how these ideas work in business rather than in education so we can really question whether it is actually applicable to education.
Communication and collaboration are also important themes that are discussed in Fullan’s (2003) research. He implies that collaborative work can waste teacher time and squander resources if not implemented correctly. This statement is disputed by Dempster (2008) who explores the need for an inclusive leadership. Harris (2008) also emphasises the need for planned collaboration within schools. What could be seen as a point of interest is Senge (2006) in an earlier article also supports the ideas of a more collaborative community suggesting whole team involvement being a contributing factor to successful leadership as more people are likely to accept and adopt the change if they feel they have been part of the foundations of it.
The ‘evidence’ used throughout Fullan (2003) article can also be questioned. He bases a lot of his claims on secondary sources, most of which are not directly linked to education. Both the research by Gladwell (2000) and Collins (as cited in Fullan 2003) discuss leadership in fortune 500 companies. Fullan (2003) also looks at the work of PISA noting a study with 225,000 pupils over 32 countries. Once could argue that the large sample size is adequate to formulate the claims made, however one could dispute that within this study alone there are too many variables to consider to make the claims valid. Fullan (2003) continually fails to quantify data or statistics and offers no other supporting evidence. The language Fullan (2003) uses is emotionally loaded in order to engage the reader. However the article does lack clarity and thus the impetuous of the message is lost. At times the statements he makes can be contradictory such as ‘fairly accurate generalisations’, which again highlights the lack of specifics and evidence to support his claims. Most of the studies that Fullan (2003) uses occurred in Canada and the United States, one could argue due to the differences in the education systems of those countries and UK how transferable are the findings and claims he makes?
“Without change there is no innovation, creativity, or incentive for improvement. Those who initiate change will have a better opportunity to manage the change that is inevitable.” William Pollard