TER #198 – Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration with Michael Fullan – 8 June 2022

00:00 – Opening Credits
01:31 – Intro
04:22 – Kolber’s Corner
12:28 – Education in the News
24:08 – Feature Introduction
26:45 – Interview – Michael Fullan
01:05:52 – Patreon shout-outss
01:06:58 – Episode 200, 9th Anniversary special!

– Steven Kolber on Twitter – https://twitter.com/steven_kolber
– Michael Fullan’s Website – https://michaelfullan.ca/
– Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration – https://www.acel.org.au/ItemDetail?iProductCode=9781071845493&Category=NEWRELEASE&WebsiteKey=20e11af7-b4d0-4ed8-b16e-21ea248da601

Support TER Podcast at www.Patreon.com/TERPodcast

Read more for transcripts


  1. Kolber’s Corner – Retrieval Practice
  2. Michael Fullan interview – Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration

Kolber’s Corner – Retrieval practice

Hello lovely people and welcome to Kolber’s Corner for another month, week, podcast.

So I’m trying to continue in what I think of informally as part of a series of things that change the way that I  teach. And for me personally, you know, people often think, oh, you know, that was the day I became a assistant principal, I, you know, that’s when I got the leadership position that I’ve always been striving for. And that changed my, my outlook, my life, my professional career, in my experience, those things have always been relatively ephemeral. And don’t change things that I necessarily value within myself. But one thing that does is the actual progress, progression in the art and craft of teaching that we we slave away at for five days out of seven, and admittedly, you know, with marking taking up the sixth and seventh day quite often as well. 

So the point being is that teaching has changed, and I’ve changed teaching and teaching has changed me, it’s a very strange triad that I explained quite poorly. 

So the idea here is retrieval practice. And I’ve spoken about this on a previous podcast, essentially Retrieval Practice is, getting students to pull knowledge out of their brain, preferably onto a blank page or out loud as a way to actually, you know, make sure that it’s in there, and it can be accessed. So the easy metaphor is, you know, imagine a thick thicket of corn or some similar high grass. And the idea is that retrieval practice is kind of gowing into that space with a machete carving out a path making quite literally neural pathways between the information and our conscious ability to retrieve it. So the more times you do that, of course, the easier it is to progress to hack and slash through the reeds the corn, the jungle, whatever you want to metamorphose it… metaphor-ise it as, you know, that’s the goal of retrieval practice. And so again, this is something I’ve teaching a new new course English language, it’s a lot more scientific than your average mainstream English, which is focused on skills, you know, rubrics, repetition, improving upon skills that all students already universally have. English language is much more like a math or a science subject, there’s just metal language that needs to be drilled and killed, needs to be understood needs to be able to be retrieved in both exam and non exam type conditions. 

And so as I said previously, for this class, at both year levels, the first 10-15 minutes, depending on how slowly the students move through it, is somewhere between 10 and 16-20, you know, questions that are a mixture of content from the previous day, week month, and that’s probably something I still need to strive to continue to be better at, it’s much easier to do the previous lesson because it’s fresh in your mind. And it’s a little bit harder to kind of do that Ebbinghaus forgetting curve, we know, you really need to bring back those things that you’ve done longer than just a day ago or two days ago, depending on when the classes occur. And that’s definitely something I need to be doing better at. 

But it’s made me realize, so this strategy, this technique has really progressed my teaching, all of a sudden, the students and I can interact around this language, and it’s something it becomes the language of the classroom, which I think is something that’s quite difficult to establish. The important part of a retrieval practice is very hands off, I’d much rather be going through answers, for example, and have a student in the front row or the back row turn to another student and explain something if a question arises, like, Okay, so just to clarify this technique, this thing that we’re talking about, and then have them interact, rather than me, you know, be the sole arbiter of the information. Because obviously, part of accessing to explain that to another student is another way of hacking through that path of, you know, forming neural pathways. But what I’ve realized is that, the 10 minutes, five minutes, whatever it is, at the start of every lesson, is almost not sufficient enough. So, I mean, most of these questions are pretty simple retrieval stuff, you know, what is, you know, it gets a little bit more interesting when you start putting them side by side can compare and contrast how is this one different to this one, and those sorts of things. But what the students don’t necessarily get is kind of a shema, a picture, an image, a, you know, a train map of how all these ideas go together so they can retrieve them individually well, and that seems to me to be quite low on the totem pole, though it is important and it takes a great deal of commitment and repetition to get happening. The next step is to kind of get them forming up schemas. And again, this is something Ollie in his book ‘Tools for Teachers’ is talking about. 

And it’s really important, not for in my experience in his writing, to avoid letting the students do it, which is really difficult to do. Because retrieval practice is you know, basically you get a student give a student a blank piece of paper and get them to record you know, their thinking their memories, their What they can occur, what they can retrieve from their memory from their knowledge of previous things. And then it feels like counter counter to that technique to bring in schemas into sort of, you know, have drawn umbrellas and arrows. And if this then this kind of relationships, causal relationships between them and how they sit within one another, and alongside one another, how they connect. But that’s something that through doing the retrieval, now, my students have that knowledge individually to hand much better. But what I’m still working on and trying to design is a much harder, a much clearer, and a much more difficult way of bringing that together and sort of putting it together in schemas. And so we recently we looked at another teacher’s creation, which was a periodic table of English language terms that was color coded or was shaped like a periodic table. And I think that’s very much the role of a teacher, once the students have that knowledge, it’s then your job to kind of as the expert to the novice, novice, try and make that relationship clear and make the way that all these things fit together really clear and really simple for them to understand. So one thing is to sort of give them the individual blocks, but then, you know, picturing a preschool or childcare setting, you then have to stack up those blocks and show them how they will fit together, get them to zoom out a little bit, and do that bigger picture thinking so. 

So that’s my reflection on kind of how things how my ideas are progressing, but also how there’s simple activity of retrieval has really shown me that that’s useful, but insufficient to do the whole picture. And so I can imagine in six months or a year’s time, I’m then thinking, Okay, what’s the next step after this schema, like, what’s the next step? How do I get them to move on from that and sort of continue to expand their knowledge and what activities and sort of strategies can I use to bridge that gap? So that’s my thoughts. Until next time, keep reading, keep writing keep learning.

Michael Fullan interview – Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration

Cameron Malcher  25:35

This interview was facilitated by the Australian Council for educational leaders.  M ichael Fullan. OC, is professor emeritus at the University of Toronto, and is the global leadership director at New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. For decades, he’s been one of the world’s leading thinkers and researchers in school reform, including school leadership and educational change. And he is a truly prolific writer who has authored a small library of books on a range of topics in this field. Recently, he published the book Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration in conjunction with Mark Edwards. And in this interview, I talked to him a bit about his work in leadership and school change more broadly, but then also about the nature of Spirit Work, and why collaboration is so important to effective educational leadership. So here now is Michael Fullan, discussing his book Spirit Work, and the Science of Collaboration.  Joining me now from the University of Toronto is Professor Emeritus Michael Fullan. Michael, thank you for your time.

Michael Fullan  26:52

Glad to be with you.

Cameron Malcher  26:54

Now, we’re here today primarily to talk about your recent publication, Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration, which you’ve co authored with Mark Edwards. Before we get into the particular look at leadership. There are a couple of questions about leadership, I always like to ask people such as yourself, who spent so much time researching it. And the first is, what is your actual working definition of leadership? How do you sort of identify and define leadership as a construct,

Michael Fullan  27:21

We define it or I divided in to two parts of the same concept. The concept is lead learner. So just that phrase lead learner. And what that means in our research, our practice is two things. One is that the person is modeling learning. So they’re leading, they’re showing what lead, they’re learning about what it is they’re not think they have all the answers. So they’re really learners. So there’s whole part about this, where in a recent book, I call that contextual literacy, which is a fancy word for, they really understand the situation in which they’re in and they keep learning about it. So that’s the one half of it. The other half of it, of lead learner, is they’re producing other leaders, part of their team. So one way to put it as they build other leaders, so they get more things done in the short run, but also when they leave, they leave behind leaders who can carry on perhaps even better than they did. So those are the two dimensions of lead learner.

Cameron Malcher  28:26

And how do you navigate the relationship between leadership as, say, a set of behaviors or qualities like you’ve just identified, and the relationship between those behaviors and, you know, say, positional authority or leadership as the output of someone in a high profile or highly visible position?

Michael Fullan  28:48

Well, our basic I guess, definition of this includes all leaders, anybody who’s in a leadership position. So in that sense, we’re not just thinking of the formal leaders. I mean, we take those into account because they have certain roles. But the main the main part, in fact, our recent work is students as changemakers. So our educational learning is about putting students in a position where they can help lead the examination of global global climate change, they can be local problem solvers, they can learn to be good citizens while they’re students. So a lot of the shift of learning now has gone away from the formal learning of knowledge that includes that but to the better positioning of how do I use this? What do I do? What uh, how do I become somebody who really is going to do better than my, my, my parents and my, with the people that came before me because the world’s not in good shape. It’s not quite that sharp, but you know what I mean, the drift of it is we want leadership to be democratized.

Cameron Malcher  30:05

And so in this recent book, you’ve titled it Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration. Can we start with the second phrase? First, what do you mean by the science of collaboration?

Michael Fullan  30:17

It’s the knowledge we have now from theory and research over the decades really, about what collaboration is and what it is not. So collaboration is clearly when people work together to get something done. But we’ve been studying this for working with it for 50 years to put it literally. But what we have discovered is that collaboration, as a concept does not necessarily mean there’s a good thing, people collaborate to do the wrong thing. They impose things, they collaborate to do nothing they waste time. So it’s not the magic of just the label. It’s a certain definition of collaboration, which is that we have it in the book, which is that people are teaming up to accomplish something very specific. And they’re and two things are happening. One is they’re learning how to work with others, to solve big problems. And the second is that they, they are actually making an impact on the learning. And in our book we could talk about in a few moments, they’re a districts ranging in small size to huge size, and they mobilize the whole the whole district, from whether it’s parents or students or teachers or other leaders. So we think the role of the former leaders is not to be so much in the limelight as problem solvers, just contained, self contained, but really, as mobilizing the system with themselves as leaders, hopefully, they do the right things that way, by mobilizing the system to get something done of a major proportion in terms of solving problems.

Cameron Malcher  32:02

So are you attaching that notion of having sort of positive goals as being a defining part of effective collaboration then?

Michael Fullan  32:12

Yeah, exactly. In fact, the problem with education and other people have written about this is that the original purpose of education either was limited to the those times, or we’ve lost our purpose. So the original purpose was give give students knowledge that they’ll needed society, help sort them out as to where they should be in terms of the kinds of jobs they will get in the future, baby sitting, we’ll get kids in schools out there out not out in the streets, they’re that so that kind of support for that that was the original, some people call it the factory model, we needed a lot of great industrialization, a lot of new workers, so to speak. So that’s, that’s okay for, you know, 50 years ago, or 100 years ago, but right now, we need people who are far more sophisticated about leading and protecting themselves in a complex life making contribution through others. So what shifted is the purpose of learning. And now, and this is what we did in the book, we’ll get in a moment to Spirit work. But the purpose of learning is not to get a bunch of knowledge and find your best job. That’s the narrow definition. The purpose of learning is to be able to survive and thrive in a complex society. We call it the global competencies. But this is the problem with education, the original purpose is still hanging around. And the new purpose has not quite been established enough, even though some people are doing that. And that’s what we’re trying to leverage.

Cameron Malcher  33:51

Well, on that topic, and as you mentioned, the phrase that’s part of the title of the book, Spirit work, when it comes to defining the purpose of effective leadership towards those goals. What is it you define Spirit work as being and how does that manifest in in a leader’s practice?

Michael Fullan  34:08

We used to call it moral purpose. So when, you know, 10 years ago, I would have said, moral purpose is raising the bar, and closing the gap between students that don’t do so well, and those that do better. So it’s about it’s about addressing inequality. It’s about preparing students for a world of change and complexity. So I would have said, That’s the moral purpose. It has very much to do with equality and equity. But now we have set we’re saying well, moral purpose. And we we really came up with this term for the book, because we had identified my colleague, Mark Edwards, had identified a number of districts in the United States. That was the focus of the work, that we’re doing particularly well under adverse circumstances. And we said okay, they really We have a deep care for the students and the parents and the community that we used to call moral purpose. But this is really deep, I guess I’ll say, and I want to put it as Spirit work really means. It’s about humanity, it pushes that just as not just doing better and literacy, and numeracy, it’s about being a strong human being. So once you start to talk about humanity, enough, and you go deeper, you go into evolution, you go into as humanity getting better or worse, what are the issues in the world climate change, equality, all of that, it starts to take the semblance of the human spirit. And we will use that phrase, because it’s more powerful than, I guess I’ll say the worldly notion of doing better in education. It’s more about the future of humanity. And we didn’t want to get too highfalutin about it, other than to say that that’s what was happening. And the leaders, the eight leaders of these districts, they didn’t use the word, spirit, but they did use the word love humanity, all of those things. As soon as we labeled it, they said, literally, haha, this is what we this is exactly what it is. So we don’t we’re not in the business of coining new phrases every year or so but right now, given the trouble of humanity, that world’s falling apart, both socially and physically, we think the moral purpose needs to be elevated into the work of the spiritual work of developing humanity. And that’s kind of where we are right now, in 2022.

Cameron Malcher  36:46

Well, the word that really stands out to me is actually the choice of the word work. Because when you talk about moral purpose, you know, you’re talking about ideals, values, goals, yeah, to embody. When you talk about work, there’s a real sense of practicality to that. So what do you see as the actual work of Spirit work that educational leaders need to carry out

Michael Fullan  37:07

in this work, I’ve wanted to say it in sort of preliminary way, first that I’ve found in doing my own knowledge development, that the 80% of my best ideas come from practitioners, that is people who are doing this, whatever we call it, they’re they’re educating they’re trying to develop a society. So I find the insights to be where the action is. So that’s why we gravitate towards the better action. And that when we when we do that, then we see, in all of these, all eight of these people, they didn’t notice, I mean, I’m sure some of them knew each other, they’re actually spread across the US in a massive country. But they, they, they independently, I’ve got to say, we’re all talking about the same thing we love our students, we need to win this is these are troubled times, we need to do go more than teaching, reading and writing, we need to treat we need to help people be prepared for how to work with other people how to make a difference how to how to work on societal problems, so they, it’s work in the best sense of that, you know, there’s when people talk about work, they talk about alienation work or intrinsic work intrinsically valuable, historically, this is how we’ve done it. So some work is you’re doing it in a Monday way, because you’re working in a factory, but other work, the deeper work, which let’s call it spear work, is about I’m doing something that really is critical to society today and tomorrow. And what could be more critical than taking the lot of students these days and say, What kind of learning should those students have to be a member of the kind of society we have to start to influence it for the better to cope with it even themselves. So all of a sudden this work becomes big Spirit, the Spirit work is really the best way of capturing and how to do it, then B gets us into the collaboration and other things. But there’s no there’s no question that the shift towards the Spirit work is a phrase that we now know from the book, and the the audience of the book and the other people you work with. They they they almost say aha, this is it. This is the this is the kind of Holy Grail. This is the foundation. This is what we should be doing. And then you have to operationalize it.

Cameron Malcher  39:35

So as you’ve said, the book focuses on eight districts across the US and some of the people leading them. How did you go about identifying those districts as the subject of further study?

Michael Fullan  39:47

We were my co author whose name is Mark Edwards. He was a superintendent in North Carolina. I had worked with him 10 years ago. He did fantastic things that but they They also have a network of school districts, there’s, I don’t know, 15,000 districts in the United States. So it’s large. And they, they, they work. As a group, there’s a lot of interaction, there’s a lot of work going on. And they begin to identify among themselves leaders who should be recognized that are doing seemingly better than others. And where did the best leaders what do they do? And that so I wouldn’t say it’s was a scientific sample in the way that we normally is more qualitative. We, we had we, we, we thought these were districts that were on the move, we checked them out, a mark already knew something about them, but we checked further. And I would have to say the proof is in the pudding, in the sense that when we studied them, they turned out to be that good. When we publish, publish them in the book there. Everybody else had around them, I can see why you’ve selected so and so. So we’ve gotten a lot of confirmation and agreement that we didn’t just pick some some people that look good on paper, they actually got the real McCoy. And that’s what we have an S, I’m sure there are another, you know, 1000 more maybe we could find, but these are eight that the size of the districts are different. They range from, let’s say, 30 schools to 200 schools, I think as the largest number, they some are women, some are men, some are African Americans, some aren’t. So the Bourbon Barrel, so we really got a cross section, it’s a qualitative sample, to try to bring out the range of meeting but still have focus to it.

Cameron Malcher  41:45

And when you say that they will performing better than expected or better than comparable districts, what sort of performance are we talking about?

Michael Fullan  41:55

Well, it turned out also that as we started to study them, COVID happened. So they did were all of them facing the enormous challenge of COVID. And I’d have to say they, they even this is one hypothesis we derive from it, those districts that had their act together before COVID did better when COVID came along, because they were good at working collectively. And I think this kind of our, our ability to see what they were doing during COVID made us see that this was, this was a powerful combination of things. So when we, when we when we began, then to get the amount of validity data, we wrote the cases. And when I say the proof is in the pudding, because we put ourselves on the line here, we said these are eight districts, they’re the best among the best in the country. This is the these are the names of the leaders, this is the name of the community, this is what they do. So we put it all out there. And we have had no reaction other than people saying, you’ve got you’ve got on your maybe not all of the right ones. But you’ve got right one. So this is good. So it’s not it’s qualitative, I guess I don’t want to say it scientific, because it’s not really that kind of that but we we selected a range of high quality places. We confirm before we went deep that they really probably were that good quality. We then pulled it out. We described it, we fed it back. And people universally said yeah, these we know these districts, and you’ve got it, you’ve got a good sample.

Cameron Malcher  43:38

So what what did you find? What were the standout things that were common across those districts?

Michael Fullan  43:44

I think one was the, the way in which the leaders manifested let’s take the eight leaders, the superintendents, as they’re called in us, the way they manifested that combination of we, I mean, it’s sounds a little bit awkward to say it’s, they really did love their students in a kind of palpable way. We call it spiritual work, but they were conscious that that’s what they were doing. That’s how they talked about it. So that was one part of it. A second part they were there’s a lot of examples, then of being them being courageous. So you have a leader in Georgia, in in Memphis, Tennessee, actually, who is saying, you know, in COVID is shutting down sports, which is where the equivalent of rugby or football but in this case, it’s American football and saying we have to shut this down now because we because of COVID in order to get different things, being able to manage that with all kinds of opposition, but to be courageously articulate and to get the support to maintain that and development. So these these leaders were had this kind of core of caring for each and every student And that wanting to be at and they said it that way. They were there they were invisible, in and then we say that leaders who are effective participate as learners, they they really do participate. So they showed up, they dealt with tough, tough problems. The students did better than most other students during COVID. They, they already were students that were getting better results under similar circumstances. So we have very concrete examples, I can take Jefferson County, which is in Louisville, 150 schools, and they were on the they were about to be closed down by this state. They were so poor, this is 20 2018. So they had they appointed a new principal. And turned out it was a good appointment, we caught up to that person, his name is Marty Polio. But he came in. And we literally what he did was do the things that exemplify Spirit work and collaboration to take that school district of 150 schools that were he said at the beginning, he said we have 150 independent contractors, we have 150 units here, there’s no system, we’re going to create a system together. So he said positive, he said three things, positive, positive relationships, work on equality, and equity. And the third thing was to do a better job of assessing the real learning that happens. He’d mobilized that system within less than 36 months, they became very successful, we captured it all in real time. So that’s what we see, in these cases there. Each one has to be thought of as degree of uniqueness, because they’re different sizes, or different states or different composition. But they ever there’s no doubt that the Spirit work, and the science of collaboration, individually and together, were really causing this to happen. That’s what we tried to capture and then convey.

Cameron Malcher  47:04

Well, I would like to unpack that in a bit more detail. But first, just because we do primarily have an Australian audience. Can we also just clarify what the role of a superintendent is in the education systems you were looking at? And how does that role relate to school principals and teaching staff? Or how does the superintendent have a direct influence on what happens in schools?

Michael Fullan  47:24

Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, you probably know I’ve, I’ve also worked a lot in Australia, New Zealand for every year for weeks on end. So it is a great question. And the difference to Australia is in. In North America can click a candidate here, as well as the US is that the there are local districts that have school boards, their public, their government, schools and your language, and that these local districts, the locally local school board, are elected by the local population. They in turn, hire the superintendent, and are legally responsible for the schools, the schools might range from small districts could be 10 schools to 150 or 200, as we had we had that range in our sample. So we have then the superintendent has a school board of trustees, they’re locally elected, they hire the superintendent under the general rules of the state. They then point this to the school principals. And they’re, they’re responsible for, for the performance of those schools, whether it’s 35, or 204. What that does, so I think that that’s the predominant system. In Australia. The comparison is you have the three streams, the ones that are similar to what I just described, actually, somewhat similar are the Catholic schools, you have the director, you have 50 schools, 150 schools, and so that that’s similar. But then you also have the government schools, where there’s a director that these are the public schools in our language, there is really, the government schools, run the government school system, so that the employees are really including the regional administrators are reporting to the government. That’s a big difference. And then the third one, of course, are the independent schools, which are in North American terms, private schools, but they received no funding at all, from the government, and they’re smaller in size. So So the big difference, I guess, I would say, is the public school system are locally elected governance for those systems, whereas in your country, they are tend to be more autonomous as an individual school, I would say, but also under the broad rubric of the government schools, the state, figuring out how to how to do that the And we’ve worked with each of the states, they’re very similar structures, I guess I will say. Well, here

Cameron Malcher  50:09

in the public system in New South Wales, where I work, you know, the people who are in kind of a comparable role to the superintendent, having some degree of oversight over multiple schools are often quite removed from daily school practice. So how in this districts that you examined, do you connect the dots between the work of the superintendent and the improvements that happened on the ground in the school?

Michael Fullan  50:35

Okay, it was a good question, I want to start with New South Wales, because the last four months, I’ve been giving sessions on virtual, two clusters of schools, and, you know, the arrangement, but I want to say for the sake of this, this taping, is that in New South Wales, the government schools, typically, if I go from the schools up where there might be 20 schools in a cluster, the head of the cluster has a director, and then the head of the head of the cluster and the director, or the regional directors. And then you have the state. So a line of authority, almost one could say. So I think there’s two things that happen in your case, one is that the line of authority was built into the government system. And you can impose more things that way, don’t mean they’re implemented, I mean, just policy wise, you can impose them more readily. But at the same time, there’s a kind of hidden autonomy that the schools have, because they can’t be run that tightly, because of the system. So I would say I have also appreciate the autonomy that we see in New South Wales. If I’ve now switched to the districts and that we studied, they are there. They’re local. So Memphis, Louisville, city, and San Diego, California, whatever it is, they are run by that local government, which is publicly elected officials. So they it turns out that the themes are not all that different inequality. How do you how do you build school teams? And teachers? How do you get the results NAPLAN in your case, in that the US it’s no child left behind are various kinds of standardized tests. So there’s a lot of similarities. But the basic structure is the same. I don’t think fundamentally, there’s a big difference, I think the agenda becomes the same. That is now when I talk about Spirit work in in Australia, I find a residence there, that’s very strong, in terms of where people are wanting to develop the educational system, both state by state, and to a certain extent, the federal level. So there’s differences if you want to get subtle about the kind of culture, but But actually, the experiences and the needs, and the goals for the future are pretty similar right now.

Cameron Malcher  53:16

And so just to get back to that question, then of the work of the superintendents and its effect on schools. What would you see as the maybe learnable skills or transposable skills out of that context? What if somebody was to read your book or to observe those superintendents in action? What would you be encouraging them to draw from those experiences?

Michael Fullan  53:46

Well, I would say the sharp difference is the, in the US or Canada, that the local superintendent as more authority, so that that person is responsible for the 36, or the 200 schools, and they appoint the principals to school principals. So they’re really running an organization, and they have they have direct responsibility to do that, then I think when we would I would shift to you, I would say there’s less line authority in the terms of that direct way I’ve just described. But there’s another kind of line authority, which is it’s a government agency, the schools are run by the government. So they they can actually impose something more broadly. So it’s a it’s a very interesting comparison because I actually think your schools, school by school have more autonomy. Because of now when I’m talking about this, the US I’m talking about the director with this a 50 schools, that person is hiring the 50 principals or that group is that they are have a line relationship with their so they have a much more of an awkward tunity to pull it together, which can be good or bad depending on what they pulled together. Whereas your degree, when even when you look at the state system in New South Wales, it looks like the state is posing a lot of policy when they when they get around education, but they are operationally they have less power school by school, I think in your case, but the Spirit work and the collaboration I’m talking about is the same point. If you’re a school in New South Wales, you want to be working on that agenda. If you’re part of 20 schools in a cluster, you want to use that cluster for that work to learn together and move it forward. So I have no problem when, because I’ve been doing, I probably I’ve done 30. In the last, last 24 months, I’ve done at least 30 sessions to three hours at a time in schools in the different states, including New South Wales, and the report is instant around the science, learning collaboration, it’s really very, very similar.

Cameron Malcher  56:03

So when we think about this, you know, as work as as a way of approaching work, you know, one of the issues that is, I imagine also very similar between our countries and different systems, is the issue of integrating some of these practices into daily school routines, you know, workload, I suppose, is one way of thinking of it. Do you see this notion of Spirit work and collaboration as being a way of going about other work? Or is it something that is, you know, in addition to, you know, some of the case studies in your book, do seem to involve going the extra mile in a very literal way? And so I’m wondering, how does this integrate with the regular daily work of school leaders, teachers, and superintendents or district leaders?

Michael Fullan  56:54

That’s a great question. I think what’s happening is all over the place, including Australia and North America, is that the purpose of schooling needs to shift everywhere. So before it was NAPLAN, it is NAPLAN NAPLAN, literacy, numeracy, standardized, comparing schools or racking schools. That’s been the context. And so in this way, I’m saying it’s the context in Australia is the context in the US very little difference in that the last 50 years. So now, the work, the innovative work we’re doing, and this is what the Spirit World captures, as well. Is it shifting to academic grades are not the driver. They’re included in that. But what’s more important is students who can be good problem solvers are creative, can be good citizens. And that’s the movement, which we’re part of in more than one country. But let’s stick with us. That’s the movement we see when we work in New South Wales, or Victoria, or Tasmania, whatever. And so I think there’s a commonality about the future now is to shift the old purpose of education, which was academic learning and passive students receiving knowledge, to now a poor locked up version of what does it mean? We have, for example, a partnership with University of Melbourne, where they’re focusing on what they call the new metrics of assessment. And the new metrics are how do you access? How do you assess communication, creativity, problem solving, citizenship? How do you assess those, not just how do you assess NAPLAN, which is narrower, still need to do some of that. But the bigger, more fundamental role for learning is happening. And I think the big context for it everywhere, as is obvious, and it’s threatening is the way in which climate change and social mistrust or inequality has increased steadily for the last 50 years, to a crisis proportion. So the social context, and the physical context of the world puts literally humanity vulnerable to extinction. I want to it’s not even hardly an exaggeration anymore to put it that way. So educational is role, in our opinion is stepping up to be more learning oriented in that kind of very dangerous environment. And therefore, we find that the new things we’re doing, and the new things that are happening in across the Australia are very similar in direction.

Cameron Malcher  59:48

Do you find that to be different? You know, we’ve talked about some of the similarities and differences between the systems do you find there to be any particular structural challenges that you encounter here and a Australia that are different to the US,

Michael Fullan  1:00:02

I think there are a couple, probably one is favorable and one is not favorable than not favorable. One is the way in which funding occurs in Australia, where there is what the three streams of funding that independent schools have, for that matter, I guess I would say a Catholic schools get much more additional money because of the stream of funding compared to government schools, because of tuition and other kinds of favorable circumstances. So there’s a built in inequality. And I’m not really criticizing from the outside, I’ve heard a lot of this internal to to Australia, and Pasi Sahlberg, who you might know, who came from Finland to work. Now he works in New South Wales, the last five years or four years, in his own children, he’s noticed the big difference, how do I find a school for my children? What does it look like? But almost everyone agrees that the financial structure is in Australia favors the independent schools by by default or something, and to a certain extent, Catholic schools, and less so for the government schools. So that’s a macro discussion, there’s been various reports on it, you know, over the years, it has not been resolved. So that’s one difference. On the positive side, I would say your individual schools are more autonomous, even though they’re part of a Catholic system, or, or whatever, like government school, they’re much more autonomous as individuals. So I find when I work there, I find innovation at the school level in Australia, in a way I would not find it in the US, the US, I find it at the district level, but not at the individual school level. So when I, the most impressive thing when we work in Australia, is you get school leaders and school communities that are incredibly, incredibly progressive and productive about these agendas, that I’m talking about equality, climate change the big agendas. And they’re there that way, because they have a degree of autonomy, and then they start to coalesce around groups of schools. So I take my Melbourne example, there are 38 schools, working with the University to redefine how to do assessments, the the innovators are the 38 schools, there isn’t they’re not, they’re not big districts. So I think there’s a certain advantage when you were if you can mobilize individual schools, into the science of collaboration to use that language, which they’re doing now in clusters and your country, you get more innovation, more energy, more bottom up presence than you would in the US where they’re burdened by being in a district if I put it that way.

Cameron Malcher  1:02:57

Well, Michael, as you said, you do regularly do work here in Australia. And you know, the Australian Council for educational leaders who put us together for this interview is one of the organizations you do work with, what do you have coming up with them in the future?

Michael Fullan  1:03:10

It’s hard to say I’ve been a steady member of ACL all the way through we, they sponsored a series of workshops, all through the country that I’ve done before I publish to where our books are shared that way. So what what we are COVID has redefined it has slowed everything down in terms of, obviously, of the travel part. So who I, I guess I want to say it this way. We think that COVID has been as bad as has been, has been, to a certain extent, a silver lining because it’s it’s been an upheaval of the system and allowed us to reshuffle it in the way it should be it should be with this where I’ve been talking about in science, learning and collaboration. So and then the chances for the reformulation of the system are better now than before. And now we’re just starting back into that. So I’m putting it this way that I would say, if I think of my team, which is about eight people, and my partnerships in Melbourne and other places, that we are going to be partnering around the new agenda. And this is why this discussion is is relevant and appropriate, is that the new agenda is the science of learning. And and the the collaboration of of around the Spirit work. And we have great rapport with a number of agencies in Australia, that are same agenda. So I find more in common than ever, what what will be the particular ways in which this will come out? We will be back in I think starting January, let’s say with more regional development and each place I probably work in quite a bit with a few of them. So I think that the agenda that we’re talking about in this book, and the agenda agenda that I hear discussed in a Australia are closer than ever. And so I expect that there will be a lot of joint work around this new breakthrough really, and the way that schooling has been developed historically.

Cameron Malcher  1:05:14

Well, Michael, the recent book is Spirit work and the science of collaboration, I will make sure there is a link to that in the show notes for this episode for those who’d like to read further, and of course, your website. But once again, thank you for your time. And I look forward to seeing you out here in Australia in the near future,

Michael Fullan  1:05:27

very much. Thank you. Great questions, take care.

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