Are you a change leader?

Professional Inquiry: What makes the change leader effective?

Activity: identify key learning for you

Michael Fullan has written a number of books about educational change. In Leading in a Culture of Change (2001) Fullan focused on a framework of change that had five components:
  • Moral purpose - wanting to make a positive difference to the lives not only of children in your own school but within the system (e.g. all schools in the district). He argues that the best principals show commitment to the bigger picture, of wanting to close the gap between the best and least performing schools. Leading change also means being concerned about the development of other leaders.
  • Understanding change and being an expert in the process of change. Fullan suggests six guidelines for understanding this process: (a) innovate selectively and with coherence; (b) it's not enough to have the best ideas - you need to work through a process where others assess these ideas and making commitment to them; (c) acknowledge early difficulties in implementing change - the implementation dip; (d) address concerns; (e) reculturing is what you are aiming at; (f) it's always complex and never a matter of a checklist.
  • Relationship building - leaders need high levels of emotional intelligence and the ability to be a consummate relationship builder. For example, it is about energizing the disaffected leader.
  • Knowledge creation and sharing - information only becomes knowledge through a process of sharing. This is why it is important to focus on relationships and developing professional learning networks / communities. knowledge creation and sharing fuels moral purpose.
  • Coherence making - effective leaders of change always focus on making connections and creating coherence. Leaders of change enjoy exploring hard to solve problems and creating meaning and coherence.

Click here for a summary of Leading in a culture of change and here for a really helpful workbook that accompanies Leading in a culture of change. The workbook has a number of scenarios you could use in considering how change is brought about. Both documents are useful to sharing in a group using protocols such as A paragraph, sentence, phrase, word  or Cover Story or Jigsawing.

Click here to read a paper by Michael Fullan on Principals as Leaders in a Culture of Change.

In The Six Secrets of Change: What the best leaders do to help their organizations survive and thrive (2008) he dealt with six interrelated aspects of leadership. These six secrets define what a learning organization looks like.

  • Love your employees:A great school leader does not just focus on the students but also on the staff. “I won’t change the wording of the secret – loving and investing in our employees in relation to a high‐quality purpose is the bedrock of success.” Investment means valuing them, and providing rich professional development so that they can continuously learn. How do you value and support your staff and their commitment to student learning?
  • Connect peers with purpose:this is all about creating purposeful learning environments for staff with the school leader focusing on improvement. "Leaders have to provide direction, create conditions for effective peer interaction, and intervene along the way when things are not working as well as they could.”  The goal of the leader is to create a "we-we commitment". How do you foster and nurture quality peer interactions?
  • Capacity building prevails: “One of the ways not to develop capacity is through criticism, punitive consequences, or what I more comprehensively call judgmentalism.” Leaders should focus on bringing about improvement when they see ineffective practices but must not fall into the trap of being judgmental or to label and categorize weakness. Making people feel fearful does not motivate them to change. Capacity building and not judgementalism is the key.
  • Learning is the work: Teachers need to consistently learn how to improve their performance. Teachers need to make a science of performance.It's about nailing down practices that work so you get consistent results, which allows you to free up energy to work on innovative practices to get even better results. Teaching is a precision craft. The job itself is the subject of professional learning. How do you and your staff learn on the job? What are you currently focusing on? How can your learning be tracked and measured so that it is something all can learn from?
  • Transparency rules: Have focus and targets. We measure ourselves and we are open about what we are doing. Be open about results and act on data. What is the focus of your school's improvement efforts? How is your data being reviewed, shared and discussed and with what impact?
  • Systems learn: Schools should not be dependent on one particular leader. Leadership needs to be grown throughout the school. There is a quality to effective leadership: it projects confidence and talks about the future; it maintains a healthy dose of modesty; it takes credit and some blame; it is specific about what matters most.

Click here for a summary of the six secrets of change by Michael Fullan.

The following You Tube video provides an overview of the book:


In Change Leader (Jossey-Bass, 2011) he presents a seven-part solution in the form of seven interrelated competencies. He grounds his findings in growing research on the how the brain works: our brains can be reshaped. Through neuroplasticity we can learn how to be better leaders.

  • Practice driven leadership – the effective change leader actively participates as a learner in helping the organisation improve. They learn about what works through reflective doing. By examining your own practice and results and identify what might be lacking; look in the laboratories of other practitioners in similar circumstances who seem to be achieving success; deliberately try these practices out; if it works, draw a conclusion – your new theory – and do more of it, learning as you go. Such deliberate focused practice is purposeful, action-oriented, and reflective. It’s about finding and learning from practice that works to solve difficult problems. To what extent do you use practice to deepen your knowledge about what works and learn the craft of change? Would those who report to you and your peers call you a participating learner in the life of your school?
  • Be resolute – effective change leaders combine resolute moral purpose (the ability to focus on a small number of core priorities and stay on message) with impressive empathy (the ability to understand where people who disagree with you are coming from and thus figure out how to relate to them).  Fullan comments that “if you want to have any chance of changing a negative relationship you have to give other people respect before they have earned it.What is your track record of building relationships with people who initially disagreed with you?
  • Motivate the masses – the key question is how do you get people to change their minds? It is a matter of giving people new experiences and developing skills that they end up finding intrinsically fulfilling. It’s not a marketing vision that convinces people to change, it is the actual experience of being more effective in accomplishing something which causes their motivation to increase. But this starts by developing relationships with them first and then seeking small early successes to celebrate, and thus building social capital. Under your leadership, how much have you and your people actually accomplished – and did people mark progress as proof that they can and want to do more?
  • Collaborate to compete – Fullan argues that people are hardwired to influence and copy one another. When bringing in change ensure that people can work in a collaborative way so they learn from each other.
  • Learn confidently – change leaders are more confident than the situation warrants but also more humble than they look. They are humble because they recognise that they are also learning (Dweck’s growth mindset theory) and success is not expected every time. Do you have a good balance between confidence and humility?
  • Know your impact by always looking at the data so you know what impact your change is having as you go, and be willing to use data to learn. Is your school inundated with data, or is what you use nicely integrated with your actions and assessment of progress?
  • Sustain simplexity – This allows you to tackle complex problems without feeling overwhelmed.

Michael Fullan provides the following sample checklist for Change Leaders

  • Do I have a small number of core priorities?
  • What am I doing to communicate with organisation members both initially and especially on an ongoing basis?
  • Have I stopped to see if I am practicing impressive empathy in relation to potential naysayers?
  • Have I spelled out the norm of speaking up when there are persistent problems, and provided opportunities for people to identify problems?
  • Are we gathering data that are simple, ongoing, and used for quick feedback on how well things are going? Are our data helping us focus or are we drowning in it?
  • Have I specified when the team needs to meet periodically to discuss progress and problem solve? In the past six months, have I stopped to acknowledge mistakes publicly, and to learn from them?
  • Do I regularly practice reflective techniques to get to know my inner self?


Fullan, M., Change Leader (2011) can be accessed by clicking here.


Reflect on a change that you have brought about:

  • What went well?
  • What challenges or obstacles did you face?
  • What lessons did you learn? Write these up in the form of Top Tips.

Activity 2: Change Leader

Use the Jigsaw a document or book protocol to carry out focused reading of Michael Fullan's Change Leader. Individually read a different chapter and capture the essence of it by recording on a piece of flip chart paper:

  • THE BIG IDEA: Provide a short one paragraph summary of the big idea.
  • Sentence: Record a sentence that was meaningful to you and helped you gain a deeper understanding of the text.
  • Phrase: Record a phrase that moved, engaged, or provoked you.
  • Word: Record a word that captured your attention or struck you as powerful.

As a group carry out a gallery walk to piece together the different chapters.

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