Motion Leadership: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy


This is actually a skinny book… Michael Fullan – the author of Motion Leadership: The Skinny on Becoming Change Savvy – is a Canadian expert in educational reform, and in this short book (A5 size and about 85 pages) he sets out the ‘skinny’ – the basics, the straight dope – if you like – on how to move people through the change required to improve learning within educational organisations. It’s a recent book – published in 2010 and was recommended to me by someone who should know.

If you have ever pondered the question of how to ‘move’ individuals, institutions, and whole systems forward you might be interested. Fullan has written the book as a precursor to an online product he is developing, but it’s designed to be “the skinny naked truth” on change including eight elements that he has identified. These are:

  • Change problems
  • Change itself
  • Connecting peers with purpose
  • Capacity building trumps judgementalism
  • Learning is the work
  • Transparency rules
  • Love, trust and resistance
  • Leadership for all

I’m interested in this book on a couple of levels. On one level, in our sector – the field of adult literacy and numeracy – we have seen incredible change over the last few years. Whether this change will now slow down or stabilize is anyone’s guess, but making people change is damn hard – as Fullan notes. Not all change is good change, but we don’t always have control over the changing tertiary landscape. So, the book is interesting from that perspective. From another perspective, I’m interested in the idea of the book… What’s the skinny on my business – ALEC? What’s the skinny on my training the NCALNE (Voc)? What’s the skinny on professional development, or teaching literacy and numeracy, or edtech?

At the expense of sounding reductionist, I think it’s it’s generally helpful for non-experts when experts can strip their content down to the naked unadorned facts – the “core unobscured essence of the matter” as Fullan says. This is one of our goals at ALEC, but we’ve never expressed it quite as eloquently.

The basic idea with the book and Fullan’s main thesis is that educational reform and change are something that you just “get into” and that a practice into theory model is the best way to go as it represents the real world of change – perhaps rather than an ivory tower academic approach. Don’t get me wrong, the theory is there, but it’s developed and informed by practical experience. And then refined. I quite like that as a model for literacy and numeracy professional development as well.

Another thing that I like is that Fullan identifies champions of change and tells their stories. As brief as they are, these illustrate the various points he’s trying to make. One example, included the changes set in place by Jamie Oliver with regards to the appalling food served in UK schools. Is there a Jamie Oliver of educational change in NZ? The idea would probably seem odd to the literacy and numeracy Establishment, but why not? Personalities sell change. Wouldn’t it be great to have a few champions of literacy and numeracy with the marketing savvy of Jamie Oliver or the personality of Steve Irwin…?

Fullan’s basic claim is that the skinny is about “simplexity” – something that he says is about this:

  • finding the smallest number of high-leverage, easy-to-understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences.

Sounds like something that literacy and numeracy tutors should be doing… and in many cases are doing, with largely unheralded and perhaps not quite understood results. And if we’re not doing just that – identifying the smallest number of high-leverage, easy-to-understand actions that unleash stunningly powerful consequences in someone’s literacy and numeracy learning, then what are we doing…?

It was helpful to me to substitute “tutor” everytime I read the word leader and think of these in the context of LN teaching and training, and I’m not normally one for the one liners… but here they are any way.

  • You can’t wait for success (with learners), you have to kick-start it.
  • If you want to get anything done (in education), you have to combine assertiveness and humility.
  • The best leaders (tutors) make people (their learners) feel good about working on and making progress relative to a tough problem or set of circumstances (LN skill needs and demands).
  • Assessment for learning prevails in successful schools (PTEs, ITPs, and other training environments) so that teachers can tailor-make appropriate instruction to individual needs.

And this next one’s quite a good recipe for an approach to developing LN as well:

  • To get anywhere, you have to do something.
  • In doing something, you need to focus on developing skills.
  • Acquisition of skills increases clarity.
  • Clarity results in ownership.
  • Doing this together with others generates shared ownership.
  • Persist no matter what. Resilience is your best friend.

A great skinny little book… I feel quite inspired actually…

If you like the sound of this book you can click the image below to add it to your Amazon wish list, read more about it, or buy it.

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