Successful School Improvement: The Implementation Perspective and Beyond

By Michael G. Fullan | Go to book overview
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1: Successful School Improvement
and the Implementation

Remarkably, the history of the careful study of the educational change process is quite young. It is only since the 1960s that we have been able to understand how educational change works in practice. We have come to call the decade of the 1960s the adoption era, because educators were preoccupied with how many innovations of the day were being 'taken on', or adopted. It was a penod of new maths, new chemistry and physics, open education, individualized instruction, team teaching, and so on. Innovations, the more the better, became the mark of progress.

Around 1970, almost overnight, innovation got a bad name. The term 'implementation' - what was happening (or not happening) in practice - came into use. Goodlad and his colleagues' Behind the Classroom Door (1970), Sarason's The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change (1971), Gross and associates' Implementing Organizational Innovations (1971), and Smith and Keith's Anatomy of Educational Innovation (1971), all published at the turn of the decade, exposed the problem. Innovations were being adopted without anyone asking why (change for the sake of change), and no forethought was being given to follow-through. Charter and Jones (1973) captured it succinctly in referring to the problem of evaluating innovations as 'the risk of appraising non-events'.

Implementation focuses on what happens in practice. It is concerned with the nature and extent of actual change, as well as the factors and processes that influence how and what changes are achieved. More broadly, the implementation perspective captures both the content and process of contending with new ideas, programmes, activities, structures, policies, etc. new to the people involved. In particular, the implementation perspective concerns itself with whether any change has actually occurred in practice. It demonstrates a bias for action in attempting to understand and influence improvements at the level of practice.

There are two main reasons why it is important to focus on implementation. The first is that we do not know what has changed (if anything) unless we attempt to conceptualize and measure it directly. We cannot view policies or innovations as simply entering or being generated by the system and somehow


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