The Norman Transcript

February 20, 2013

Education expert cites systematic problems, reform methods

By Caitlin Schudalla
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Internationally-renowned education reform expert Michael Fullan’s strategies for positive change rang especially true with his audience of University of Oklahoma education students, professors and Norman Public Schools personnel Tuesday afternoon.

Fullan is Professor Emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto, has honorary doctorates from six universities and currently serving as Special Advisor to the Premier and Minister of Education in Ontario He visited OU as the inaugural speaker in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education Cathey Simmons Humphreys Distinguished Education Lecture Series.

Focusing on whole system reform, Fullan detailed methods and mindsets which are effective or harmful, and in so doing validated key problems which critics of state and

federal education policies have cited.

“If you think of improving the teaching profession, for example, we put our emphasis on incentivizing and the individual performance, which makes logical sense but doesn’t make sociological sense, because individuals don’t change the culture. We have to focus on people working together getting good results; social captial (collaboration) improves human capital (individual performance) and not the other way around,” Fullan said.

In this vein, Fullan strongly emphasized that implementing change must be non-judgmental and positive, avoiding punishing or degrading measures against those who are under-performing.

“Non-judgmentalism doesn’t mean that anything goes, it means that if you see something isn’t working, you’re not pejorative about it, especially at the beginning. If you are prematurely negative, it turns people off — you can’t motivate people by telling them they’re inept at what they’re doing. You need to have pressure and focus, but not negativity,” Fullan said.

Widespread transparency and non-judgmentalism, Fullan said, go hand-in-hand to inspire strong internal accountability which is a much better motivator and source of pressure to improve than external criticism, scrutiny or penalties.

On general education policy in the United States, Fullan said that, as a result of years of neglecting the teaching profession, the policy attempts have been to compensate with heavy-handed accountability.

“You (educators) are stuck with the policy on paper, but you’re not stuck with the mindset it creates. You can find good things within the policy and use those to maximize the right motivations behind it,” Fullan said.

Calling Fullan a “tremendous” researcher, Norman Superintendent Dr. Joe Siano said Fullan’s remarks against punitive measures were especially pertinent to Oklahoma.

“It appears we have a lot of reforms that have a punitive aspect to them, and it’s important to recognize that there are parts of those reforms that are more effective than punishments. If any reforms are going to work in our state, I’d attribute it to developing that capacity within personnel through a foundation of professional development, as opposed to those punitive measures,” Siano said.

To learn more about Fullan and his strategy for education reform, visit

Caitlin Schudalla


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