Research Thomas Timar

Support for Systems Transformation: Three-Year Project to Promote Systemwide Change for Improved Teaching and Learning
February 2013

Armed with a grant from the Stuart Foundation, the UC Davis School of Education’s Center for Applied Policy in Education (CAP-Ed) is partnering with Dr. Michael Fullan, professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, to implement his Whole System Change program in four Northern California school districts. The aim is nothing short of revolutionary. (Project leaders are evaluating the results.)

Fullan, an international expert on leadership and change in education systems, has developed and implemented throughout Ontario a program that tackles one of the greatest challenges facing district and school leaders: how to change the central focus away from the technical and managerial concerns that too often take up much of districts’ organizational energy and resources to the core mission of teaching and learning.

Stagnant and declining student achievement requires everyone in a system, from the district superintendent to the classroom teacher, to be committed to change, according to the whole systems approach. Everyone must agree on a guiding focus (e.g., increasing literacy) and then work in concert to design, implement and sustain the change they seek.

Implementing the program in four districts and 75 schools, Fullan and his team of researchers will work with district and school leadership and teachers annually over a three-year period to facilitate design of a strategy for improvement and assessment of student outcomes. Superintendents and senior leaders will also gather annually for four one-day institutes to focus on the role of senior leaders in designing and supporting change across their districts. School leadership teams (a principal and three to five teachers) will also meet four times a year to provide ongoing professional development and sharing of ideas and results from each site. During the year, on-site “capacity teams” trained to coach and promote sustainable change over time will facilitate work at each site. CAP-Ed will study the process and what was learned in order to inform other educators seeking a way to transform their systems.

“This is a huge experiment, creating an alternative model for how schools can sustainably keep a central aim on supporting high quality instruction for every student while maintaining well-managed organizations,” said Thomas Timar, professor of education and CAP-Ed director and principal investigator for the project. “Ultimately, we are proposing a new model of school improvement based on district-level collaboration and networks, rather than on top-down mandates.”

According to Timar, CAP-Ed’s analysis and dissemination of examples of positive change from the project also has the potential to influence statewide policymakers to think differently about how professional collaboration at the district level can contribute to high quality instruction.

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