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Opinion & Essays - June, 1994 Issue #28 

by: Michael Fullan
Dean of Education at the University of Toronto 

(Comments excerpted from his keynote address at the Chicago Conference, March 19?22, 1994 of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development <ASCD>, found in their publication UPDATE, Volume 36, #4, May 1994, p. 2). 

"...many of the assumptions underlying 'systemic reform' efforts are just plain wrong. Real reform will not come about by top?down mandates or efforts to plan change on a massive scale.... Real reform will come about when individuals, guided by a clear moral purpose, join together to work on the issues meaningful to them." 

Grounding his remarks on 'chaos theory,' Fullan said "Efforts at systemic reform generally miss the mark in several ways..." 

First, "change is not 'linear' or able to be mapped out in advance. 'No matter how well we plan it...it will not unfold in a linear way; there'll be surprises, there'll be detours, there'll be unpredictable things that happen for better and for worse...' Successful change agents 'are those poised to learn as the surprises occur.'" 

A second common mistake "is assuming that major change will result when an organization develops a common mission and then attempts to 'implement' it.... This results in 'a paper product that's held deeply by a few people, but not by the system as a whole.' Vision at the system level 'is suspect,' but 'personal vision and moral purpose are essential, and they are the building blocks of shared vision.'" 

Third, most reform efforts "often rely on top?down mandates to get things done. Yet, 'you can't mandate what matters'.... One can mandate 'anything that can be implemented and monitored through strong surveillance.... What we can't mandate are moral purpose, skills, motivation, and commitment.'" 

"Systems in general are best for maintaining the status quo, not for generating breakthroughs.... 'Systems have a good track record for keeping things the way they are....Systems don't have a good track record for changing things. Individuals have that track record.'" 

"'If we wait until top management gives leadership to the change we want to see, we miss the point. It's individuals, working, first of all, despite the system, and secondly, connecting with other kindred spirits, that will begin to develop the critical mass that changes the system.'" 

Copyright 1994, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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