Michael Fullan: Coherence aligns the right drivers in action for school districts

Educational leaders Michael Fullan and Joanne Quinn wrote a book titled, Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts and Systems. Their book gives excellent direction on how to move a school system forward instead of trying to fix one teacher at a time. The book is based on “The Coherence Framework,” which is comprised of the following areas:

Focusing Direction—focus is not just a matter of having uplifting goals. It is a process involving initial and continuous engagement.

Cultivating Collaborative Cultures—collaborating is not just about creating a place where people feel good but rather about cultivating the expertise of everyone to be focused on a collective purpose.

Deepening Learning—we must shift to a deeper understanding of the process of learning and how we can influence it. This requires knowledge-building partnerships for everyone engaged.

Securing Accountability—the best approach for securing accountability is to develop conditions that maximize “internal accountability” and reinforce internal accountability with external accountability.

We learned about Coherence last month when Michael Fullan was a keynote speaker at the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB) conference. Iowa school board members heard about the lessons of leading change in school reform, and IASB also provided a study guide for every school district for the Coherence book. IASB executive director Lisa Bartusek summarized Fullan’s premise as “powerfully simple” when she said:

Regular school systems can achieve remarkable and lasting results by focusing on the right things and staying with them. He is critical of many of the education reform strategies used by states and the federal government in recent years, such as punitive accountability for schools or high-stakes individual teacher evaluation. He calls these elements the wrong drivers of change. While accountability and evaluation have a place, they demotivate educators and should not be the lead strategy.

The right drivers, according to Fullan, are about focusing direction, building collaborative cultures, deepening learning, and securing internal responsibility. Leaders who use these strategies can create positive, lasting change. Using these strategies helps to overcome initiative fatigue, arbitrary top-down policies, silos and confusion. Fullan calls this work difficult to do but not overwhelming. 

The Coherence book is a great primer for anyone wanting to lead change in a school system. He recommends selecting three to five major goals and working together as a team on these goals as the key to successful school reform. Fullan believes that the best leverage point to make a difference is at the district level, which he calls leadership from the middle.

Fullan focuses on investing in the people of a district and developing a systemic way to learn together and move the system forward. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as one might think—it is “simplexity.” The challenge is to get started, follow the framework, identify the goals and continually clarify those goals.

Good luck with your journey in making our schools better!

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Educationally yours,

Dr. Tim Grieves
Chief Administrator