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Do the Same School Issues Keep Resurfacing? You Might Be Focusing on the Wrong Drivers

Updated: Feb 23

If you find yourself implementing different initiatives to solve the same school-problems, you may attribute these challenges to


  • resistance from teachers

  • limited time

  • insufficient funding

  • shortage of resources, both financial and human


While all of these factors are reasonable contenders for reaching short-term, superficial improvement, the root cause of lack reform may be because you have wrong drivers in place.

Embarking on my first course in my PhD journey, I found myself immersed in Michael Fullan's profound insights on educational change. Renowned for his expertise in educational leadership, organizational change, and school improvement, Fullan delves into the complex dynamics of transforming educational systems from the district to the school to the classroom level. He emphasizes the need for purpose-driven change, asserting that successful reform hinges on a shared meaning and vision amongst all stakeholders. For sustainable and continuous improvement, Fullan argues that the right drivers must take center stage.



In his 2011 paper, "Choosing the Wrong Drivers for Whole System Reform," Fullans' insights extend far beyond educational system reform, offering a perspective that resonates with organizational, school, or team-level changes—especially relevant as school funding structures come under scrutiny.


Distinguishing between wrong drivers and right drivers, Fullan characterizes a wrong driver as a deliberate force within an initiative that has minimal chances of achieving intended outcomes. In contrast, a right driver is one that ultimately yields better measurable results for students. 


Fullan identifies the following as the wrong drivers for change:


Accountability: Using test results and teacher appraisal to reward or penalize teachers and schools, rather than emphasizing capacity building.


Individual Teacher and Leadership Quality: Prioritizing individual solutions over group solutions, neglecting the collaborative aspect.


Technology: Investing in and relying on the wonders of the digital world without sufficient attention to effective instructional methods.


Fragmented Strategies: Opting for fragmented strategies or isolated initiatives and programs rather than integrated or systemic approaches to the reform.


Essentially, Fullan advocates for drivers that prioritize intrinsic motivation, continuous improvement, teamwork, and comprehensive impact on all stakeholders.


In his most recent publication, "The Right Drivers for Whole System Success," Fullan outlines four conditions necessary for continuous development:


  1. Capacity Building: Enhancing the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of educators and educational leaders. The objective of capacity building is strengthening the capacity of individuals and the overall school system to bring about positive change.

  2. Group Quality: Fostering collaborative cultures and effective teamwork among educators, administrators, and stakeholders. The objective of group quality is creating a collective and collaborative environment that supports shared goals and responsibilities.

  3. Pedagogy: Placing pedagogy (teaching methods and strategies) and student-centered learning at the forefront. The objective of pedagogy is shifting from traditional, teacher-centered approaches to more interactive and engaging teaching practices that prioritize individual student needs.

  4. Systematic: Implementing whole system reform and addressing issues at a systemic level. The objective of systematic is bringing about comprehensive and coordinated changes across the entire school system rather than isolated initiatives.


The linchpin to successful change lies not just in recognition of right driver policies, but in the individuals who bring them to life—your teachers. In recognizing teachers as right driver participants, a leader fosters a culture of collaboration, intrinsic motivation, and continuous improvement. Teachers, then, become the torchbearers, pioneers, and champions of desired school change.


Consider this: within your own educational community, who are the teachers capable of pioneering an initiative, infusing enthusiasm, and inspiring change? Who embodies the spirit of collaboration, innovation, and commitment to student success? These educators, with their passion and expertise, can play a pivotal role in championing and implementing the transformational programs you seek.


Ultimately, to judge if you have the right or wrong driver’s in place for lasting reform, answer these questions:


Does the current initiative you are using to solve the problem

  1. foster motivation of teachers and students?

  2. engage educators and students in continuous improvement? 

  3. inspire team work?

  4. affect all teachers and students? 


If the answer is no to any of these questions, it's a starting place for effective modifications to your initiative. Your next steps would include gathering your right driver teachers in to a PLC meeting, dedicated toward analyzing the initiative and perhaps, engaging in a 10-5-5- protocol to determine next steps. My dear friend and colleague, Casey Watts, has more on the protocol here.


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