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Understanding the Educational Change Process

What is the educational change process?

Most change initiatives that end up going nowhere don't fail because they lack grand visions and noble intentions. They fail because people can't see the reality they face. (Senge, 2004, 29)

An important initial understanding in a 1-to-1 technology implementation context is the fact that this is about change and that change is a process not an event. Classroom practice will not change just because laptops are introduced into the resource mix. Classroom practice will not change over night.

Why is this important?

Understanding the complexities of the change process, helping people see the realities they face, is essential in a 1 to 1 initiative. It is also necessary to reach what Michael Fullan refers to as new horizons; the deeper reforms that are required for the twenty-first century. (Fullan, 2003, 3). This is all too often a step that is omitted when we bring our teachers into the innovation process and, as a result, we often see dissatisfaction, disappointment and dismay! Within technology-rich implementations, we look to sustainability as a major challenge, so understanding the complexities of the change process is essential for sustainability, for continuous improvement, to avoid 'project-itis.'

What does the research tell us?

Michael Fullan (2003, 22) offers the following insights into complexity theory:

* Non-linearity: don't expect reforms to unfold as intended

* Unpredictability: surprises will happen as a result of dynamically complex interactive forces

* Interaction or correlation: a key element of moving towards order

* Auto-catalysis: occurs when systems interact and influence each other toward new patterns

* The edge of chaos: when systems avoid too little and too much order

* Social attractors: compelling social motivators-- can extract periodic patterns of order as complex system dynamics unfold

* Butterfly effects: can have disproportionately huge effects

* A complex adaptive system: consists of high degrees of internal interaction, and interaction externally in a way that constitutes continuous learning

Growing from this notion of complexity theory, Fullan suggests the following new lessons for complex change:

1. Give up the idea that the pace of change will slow down

2. Coherence-making is a never-ending proposition and is everyone's responsibility

3. Changing context is the focus

4. Premature clarity is a dangerous thing

5. The public's thirst for transparency is irreversible

6. You can't get large-scale reform through bottom-up strategies--but beware of the trap

7. Mobilize the social attractors-- moral purpose, quality relationships, quality knowledge

8. Charismatic leadership is negatively associated with sustainability

The important aspect of this change understanding is that it does not lie solely in the domain of school or district leadership teams. Over the past decade, the leadership agenda has shifted the focus from administrative leadership to include instructional leadership. In this context teachers also need to understand the complexities of change itself and their role in it. They need to become change agents, and they need what Fullan describes as four core competencies for building greater change capacity: personal vision-building, inquiry, mastery and collaboration. (Fullan, 1993, 2)

Key Questions

1. What strategies can you put in place to enable teacher leaders to visualize the change they are working towards?

2. What structures can you put in place to support the change process in action?


Fullan, M. (1993). Why teachers must become Change Agents. Educational Leadership, 50(6).

Fullan, M. (2003). Change Forces with a Vengeance. London: Routledge Falmer.

Senge, P., Scharmer, C. O., Jaworksi, J., & Flowers, B. S. (2004). Presence. Exploring Profound Change in People, Organizations and Society. New York: Doubleday.