Fullan on “Motion Leadership”


Fullan_m120x148We recently caught up with Michael Fullan and asked him his thoughts on positive school leadership, this recent Strategic Learning Initiatives study, and the potential to shift focus away from slash-and-burn school improvement strategies.

It was encouraging to see the results of AIR’s report on the 10 Chicago schools that underwent the focused instruction process. Without radical upheaval and with old-fashioned focus on the instructional core, along with external help, these schools improved significantly compared to other Chicago schools.

The AIR report confirms on a small scale what we have found on a very large scale in Ontario, with 4,900 schools. Namely, that with nonpunitive, focused, instructional intervention that develops specific data-informed teaching practices and builds the collective leadership capacity of principals and teachers, you can get greater results in shorter periods of time across more schools and with less grief. Moreover, it improves the whole system, not just a smattering of schools.

I spell out this strategy (and critique existing school improvement strategies) in more detail in All Systems Go. The value of focusing on collective capacity has also been confirmed in our up close work on Motion Leadership, in which we see school and system leaders doing very specific things to cause positive movement in remarkably short time periods.

Fullan talks more about Motion Leadership (1201) from 1:00–3:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 6, 2010, at ASCD’s Annual Conference in San Antonio, Tex.


  1. Being a principal in one of the Ontario schools, I can only agree whole heartily with Mr. Fullan’s strategy. We have focused our PLCs this year on a “Focus for Instruction” strategy that encompases balanced literacy but delves deeper into individual student needs. As a staff, we work together on the focus (curriculum expecation), the robust question, the feedback and the “Take 2” or improved student response to open ended questions. This focused approach ensures that students know what they are learning and with specific feedback and targeted teaching, they are able to improve. We are very please with our results.

  2. Very interesting approach that runs contrary to the “slash and burn” approach that is so prevalent when it is decided that change is needed. Typically “S&B” gives the impression that strong actions are being taken and the poor performers are being weeded out. “A lot of sound and fury signifying nothing”. It has been my experience, in running and turning around global businesses, that most current employees are not trying to fail. Generally the root cause is the need for leadership that has a clear vision and a roadmap to get there,and that is contributed to, understood by, and committed to, by the employees. Each person must feel ownership and accountability for their role and must feel that their contributions are being recognized and valued by others. Lastly it is imperative that they believe that this team can pull it off and will get the support they need from above. Too many false starts causes employees to become jaded and dysfunctional. And the cycle begins again.


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