How educational leaders can actually change the system, says Michael Fullan

Why are some leaders successful and others not? This is the big question that was at the center of a recent conference by Ontario researcher Michael Fullan, presented online by the Association québécoise du personnel de direction des écoles (AQPDE).

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A collaboration of Martine Rioux and Audrey Miller, from École branchée, and AQPDE, represented by Marie-Ève Gagnon, from the Navigators section, and Nancy Sirois, from the Patriotes section.

Why are some leaders successful and others not? This is the big question that was at the center of a recent conference by Ontario researcher Michael Fullan, presented online by the Association québécoise du personnel de direction des écoles (AQPDE). The École branchée attended and presented a report produced in collaboration with Marie-Ève Gagnon and Nancy Sirois.

Michael fullan is group director New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. The Ontario researcher is recognized for his numerous works and publications on educational leadership. A former Dean of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto, he advises local policy makers and leaders around the world on educational leadership. He also contributed to the implementation of educational reforms. 

A three-part conference

Mr. Fullan's lecture was divided into three parts. He first presented the characteristics of nuanced leadership, which he believes define successful leaders. He then discussed the conditions necessary to lead the change in an environment. Then, he highlighted the work of the global partnership project New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, which aims to change current models in education to promote more meaningful and sustainable learning among young people. 

“We are definitely looking for new models in education. We know what doesn't work, and the students know better than we do what might work. We should be inspired by them. I wish the changes in education were the most important changes of our decade! This is one of the great messages he sent to his audience.

1- What is nuanced leadership?

While from the outside all styles of leadership may be the same, the most successful leaders appear to have certain characteristics that Mr. Fullan explained. 

1- Curiosity about what is possible (being open to all possibilities);

2- The ability to see under the surface (consider a situation as a whole);

3- Connection between humans (knowing how to connect people to their own humanity and to those of others);

4- The instinct of concertation (being determined for the group to succeed);

5- Humility, courage and commitment (fully engaging in the system for the good of humanity);

6- Action based on in-depth knowledge of the context (taking the time to understand in order to act accordingly);

7- Awareness of the fact that any new context automatically “dequalifies” (engage relentlessly in one's professional development and be on the lookout for changes).

Change leadership: Foster the establishment of a common vision and goals by participating as a learner within a group in the definition and continuous redefinition of goals.

During Mr. Fullan's lecture, the importance of management adopting a learner posture came up a few times. “Success comes when you take part in a collective process as a learner. You have to learn to be an expert and a learner at the same time. This means that the leader knows how to listen to others, is ready to recognize their good ideas and to take them into account in order to readjust. He also knows how to provide the group with the benefit of his expertise when relevant and necessary.

2- How to lead the change?

Of course, as Michael Fullan has mentioned, we can expect change in education to come from higher organizational and even ministerial levels. However, in his opinion, the notion of leadership in a culture of change in the school environment first requires building internal responsibility in each school if we then want the external responsibility (coming from the larger system) to really have an effect. 

To do this, he recommends that school administrators rely on precision in their expectations of teaching staff, but avoid prescription: we cannot impose something on someone who does not see the good. based. 

Aim for collective efficiency and look elsewhere

He also insists on the importance of developing collective effectiveness among teachers, “collaborative professionalism”. But be careful: as he reminds us, we must also learn to collaborate in an efficient way, otherwise, we can also make mistakes even when collaborating. However, researcher John Hattie has highlighted the fact that the collective effectiveness of teachers is one of the most important factors influencing educational success.

In addition, Mr. Fullan encourages management to actively participate in discussions with teachers in order to identify with them what works, in addition to fostering connected autonomy among staff members, that is to say to remain self. -self, to contribute to the learning of others, while learning from them as well. In addition, he mentions that we must never forget that collaboration must be integrated into the culture of the school - indeed, informal collaboration (which is experienced outside of organized meetings and learning communities) is just as important. important than that experienced in “formal” moments. 

Finally, the leader who wants to participate in the improvement of the system cannot remain only in his school, estimates Mr. Fullan. He must see his role beyond, as a member of a large network. “You have to go outside your work environment to forge other links, to go in search of ideas where you don't always expect to find them. For him, someone who only focuses his attention on pedagogy in his environment and never goes elsewhere can not be as successful as those who are inspired otherwise. Networking must be seen as a fundamental part of getting out of the box.

3- New pedagogies for in-depth learning

“It's easy to criticize a system; it's more complicated to create a new one! », He expresses. Yet this is the ambition of the Deep Learning Global Partnership, about which he spoke at length in the last part of the conference. He said about 80 % students find today's schools boring and out of touch with their aspirations. 

“Training workers should no longer be the raison d'être of an education system,” he says. This is why deep learning is so interesting in her opinion. “We finally have an answer to this problem. Thanks to this approach, we really see the students coming back to life, and the parents buy into it too! " 

At the heart of the deep learning approach are six overarching competencies. 

  1. Communication
  2. Critical thinking
  3. Collaboration
  4. Creativity
  5. Character
  6. Citizenship

The interest of the program led by Fullan and his collaborators is the possibility of measuring the development of these skills, which are intended to be complete, succinct and conceptually exclusive. 

Digital technology and innovation as educational accelerators

In terms of teaching practices, we focus on the co-development of learning rather than on traditional transmission. And we integrate digital technologies. “If pedagogy is always the engine of learning, digital technology can be the accelerator,” he explains. “We can see the link between one and the other much better since the pandemic” and we see the emergence of learning partnerships between and with students, teachers and parents. 

A dozen countries are currently carrying out experiments with a view to transforming systems in depth. In Canada, the Anglophone school district of Newfoundland and Labrador, which covers the entire territory and has approximately 63,000 students in 250 schools, has embarked on this transformational process. 

“This deep learning framework is proving its worth. Of course, certain conditions must be met for it to work, but the fact remains that this group is building a new alternative to allow students to find their place in a complex world ”, summarizes he does.

In conclusion, Mr. Fullan mentioned that the pandemic has definitely created “a new taste for urgency and innovation”. It provides an opportunity to drive change “for real” in the school environment. “Transform to change the system. Don't wait for others! ".


We invited two school administrators to give us their comments on the conference and what struck them the most. Here they are in turn!  

The testimony of Marie-Ève Gagnon, director, member of AQPDE, section of Navigators

"Be right at the end of the meeting, not at the beginning ..." - Michael Fullan

Tell you how I find the writings of Michael Fullan interesting. My colleagues who know me well know that its Coherence Framework model has strongly influenced my professional practice in recent years by serving as the backdrop, among other things, to a project to deploy the Digital Action Plan (PAN) in my center. Services.

Listening to Mr. Fullan talk about leadership for change in nuance is equally captivating. His words allow us to make links with our daily lives as a leader and to take a reflective look at our practice.

Big question at the start of the conference: Why are some leaders successful and others not? 

At first glance, many leaders look similar from afar, but up close, we notice certain characteristics that distinguish them: their nuances. 

In addition to possessing various aspects such as curiosity, in-depth vision, determination, courage and humility, the nuanced leader must accept that newness disqualifies him. This means that in a new context, he must automatically relearn, and do so in a humanist and benevolent aim. He is both an expert and a learner, especially when he walks with his team.

The power of nuanced leadership lies in depth. Unlike those who act on the surface, thus taking technical actions, nuanced leaders work with key principles that lead to adjustable actions. These allow the development of a culture of change which must be accompanied by internal responsibility (accountability).

The goal being to develop the capacity rather than to intervene, conditions must be put in place in the team: specificity, transparency, non-judgment, trust and interaction. To lead the change, we must aim for precision, avoid prescription and focus on the effectiveness of the group and collaborative professionalism. 

Learning and leading go hand in hand. Showing adaptability by combining strengths is essential to collaboration… because collaboration is not always a guarantee of success, it is not magic!

The collective effectiveness of teachers is an important influencing factor according to John Hattie (1,57). The leader must participate frequently and specifically in meetings, he must help the group to learn and do so around shared convictions. It is good to keep in mind that what happens between meetings, in daily activities, is sometimes more important than the meeting itself. 

For learning to progress, well-being is essential. The leader must support his team on an emotional level. It is also necessary to leave a certain degree of autonomy while having the concern to contribute to group learning and to learn oneself. This is what defines connected autonomy. You also have to go outside of your environment to be able to develop the inside.

I come back to the sentence from this conference which had the most impact for me… The challenge of “being right at the end of the meeting, and not at the beginning”… co-constructing one's knowledge and learning from others … For me, nuanced management looks like healthy and benevolent management!


The testimony of Nancy Sirois, member of AQPDE, section Des Patriotes

Leader of leaders

Inspiring, this Mr. Fullan! He was able to lead us on the tracks of new leadership, where humility and courage are essential, where the leader participates in the development of the group through his presence and his contribution and where the mission becomes larger than life in a real job. collaboration. The ultimate goal is to “foster deep learning so that all learners contribute to the common good, meet global challenges and thrive in a complex world”.

It was the first time that I had heard of nuanced leadership and connected autonomy and I admit that I liked it. Two new names that refer to this ability to work with others… as in the days when we weren't going it alone and where we were more concerned with the people around us! New terms that invite real collaboration visible on a daily basis, in meetings and between meetings, one where all the players learn from the others and where each one enriches the group, one which puts the emphasis on pedagogy and strategies.

The nuanced leader approaches precision and avoids prescription. He does not only work with his ideas, but especially with those of the group. He starts from concrete details with his team to build, rather than starting from big theories to dig. In a spirit of collaboration, he will ensure that ideas translate into actions and that the actions chosen are validated and supported by research and literature in order to optimize the impact on learning and motivation of young people.

I understood that we are the system, that we are part of the change and that the transformation starts from each individual, from small, medium and large teams. We have to go and see what is being done elsewhere and elsewhere, it is the school in the next town, the service center next door, the school system in another country, the world! I am ready!

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About the Author

Martine Rioux
After studying public communication, Martine worked as a journalist for various publications, before pursuing her career as an interactive communications consultant at La Capitale, a financial group, then at Québec Numérique, an organization she took over as general manager before making the jump. as political advisor in the office of the Minister for Digital Government Transformation. Today she is the online Editor-in-Chief and Special Projects Manager at l'École branchée. Her dream: that everyone has access to technology and can use it as a tool for learning and opening up to the world.

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