Leadership: what it takes

7th September 2001 at 01:00

The New Meaning of Educational Change (third edition)
RoutledgeFalmer pound;19.99.
Leading in a Culture of Change
Both by Michael Fullan
Jossey-BassJohn Wiley pound;17.95.

It was fear of flying that first led me to Michael Fullan. It was 1983 and I pretended to have flu because I was scared of flying to the United States, but immediately received the consolation invitation, this time for Toronto. There was nothing for it. Suitably fortified, I endured my first
flight and touched down to a kaleidoscope of vivid encounters and experiences, the most significant of which was with the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and Professor Fullan.

To revisit Fullan's influence in The New Meaning of Educational Change , an update on his seminal book 20 years on, is to see the thoroughness of a scholar who is forever learning. Fullan's certainties, unlike those of some of his academic detractors, are always provisional and contingent.

So this third edition is totally different. The intended audience is headteachers, teachers, administrators, policy-makers and academics. Fullan has produced a reference book valuable to all that intended wide audience. It is thorough and comprehensive, covering the whole field of school improvement.

Admittedly, the reader needs to allow for transatlantic differences between the school district and the LEA: the first is a tightly coupled and - when it works - highly impressive system, while the second is so loosely coupled that the LEA impact is hard to detect.

Fullan's new book, Leading in a Culture of Change , is at once straightforward and subtle. It brings into focus all those half-understood, taken-for-granted factors which we all know intuitively but somehow had never quite got round to expressing.

The thesis is quickly explained, embodying three constant and essential ingredients: hope, energy and enthusiasm. Once leaders have passed that threshold test, they need to show mastery of five aspects of their role: "moral purpose"; "an understanding of change"; "relationship building"; "knowledge creation and sharing"; and "coherence making". A simple test of whether leaders succeed is whether there is a perception that more good things and fewer bad things are happening.

You will learn almost all you need to know to be a successful leader in an age of change. I say almost because, being an admirer of Fullan, I felt duty bound to search for blemish. I wondered whether he made enough of humour or explored sufficiently the essential theme of being a learner when leading a community of teachers, or whether he emphasised often enough the differences which context makes. But that is to cavil.

Tim Brighouse is chief education officer for Birmingham LEA

  • Picture: Michael Fullan
    • A longer version of this review appears in this week's Friday magazine

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