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The “School Change” Wizards: What Drives Michael Fullan and his Disciples?

After thirty years, the Canadian grand wizard of “school change,” Dr. Michael Fullan, is still on top and controlling the public agenda. His seminal work, The New Meaning of Educational Change, first appeared in 1983 and today Michael Fullan Enterprises, Inc., is promoting its latest variation, billed as Motion Leadership, while selling over 20 different school change manuals and videos, including the International Handbook of Educational Change. As a “Senior Advisor” to the Ontario Premier and Minister of Education since April 2004, and a former Dean of Education at University of Toronto (1988-2003), he exerts a powerful but largely hidden influence over the school reform agenda in Ontario, Britain, and far beyond.

“Motion leadership,” Dr. Fullan now proclaims, is the latest wave. In his new series of instructional videos, he provides “The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy.” He appears, looking much as he has for three decades, as the rather dour eminence gris of “school change” pontificating on how to translate change theory into practice in public school systems. His latest project, involving six North American school districts and 17 schools, has exported his brand of “motion leadership” from York Region in Toronto’s GTA to Fresno, CA, Sugar Land, Texas, and Honalulu, Hawaii.

While governments come and go, and public education lurches radically in one direction, then another, Fullan continues to hold sway in Ontario, across Canada, and increasingly in the United States. Public education, it seems, is perpetually in crisis, but the architect of many previous change initiatives remains unsinkable. Thousands of superintendents, principals, and leadership consultants now spout his theoretical principles, ranging from “pressure and support” to “ready-fire-aim” to my personal favourite “simplexity.” Vocal critics on the education left now accuse him of the “global privatization” of educational policy-making. 

Three decades after he burst on the scene, Dr. Fullan is not only still standing, but controlling the school change agenda. What motivates Fullan and his army of disciples? And what’s the secret of his longevity and saying power?  Most importantly, why has no one come forward to effectively challenge his hegemony over educational change?

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