Next up on the read it and return it list is Change Leader: Learning to Do What Matters Most, by Michael Fullan (2011). This book was cited in something I read and I happened to be wandering the education stacks (yes, some people still do this) and I picked it up. I was curious about the first chapter: Practice Drives Theory: Doing is the crucible of change. Definitely in my court.
“All the best concepts to be deeply experientially grounded.” (p. xi) This book comes after Fullan worked on whole-system reform, engaging with practitioners and policymakers to change large, complex education systems. “The most effective leaders use practice as their fertile learning ground. They never go from theory to practice or research evidence to application. They do it the other way around: they try to figure out what’s working, what could be working better, and then look into how research and theory might help.” (p.xii)
- “Doing is the crucible of change” (p.3)
- “Effective change leaders … walk into the future through examining their own and others’ best practices, looking for insights they had hitherto not noticed” (p.11)
- adaptive challenge (require new discoveries and behavioral change) vs. technical problems (we know the answer, solution just needs to be applied) (p.17-18)
- “balance between capacity building and accountability interventions” (p.19)
This book reminded me how practicing leaders think about change. There are these guiding principles (like use practice as a learning ground) that orient the work, but it doesn’t actually describe the work of leaders. One of the challenges that I will face with my dissertation is that I will be observing the work, not participating, not fully immersed, not building the same social infrastructure as participants. I will need to find a way to get a window into the practice as an observer and how I can triangulate it.
I struggled in the book to find a good definition of practice as more than just the mechanical actions of a person. I see it as patterns of action that are driven by individual, social, or historical meaning. (This is paraphrasing from Communities of Practice.)