Leadership: Key Competencies for Whole-System Change

  • by Lyle Kirtman and Michael Fullan

    Karen Rue Review by retired superintendent Karen Rue
    We are practitioners by choice. While degrees on the wall attest to being grounded in learning theory, school administrators are doers. That’s why Lyle Kirtman and Michael Fullan’s book, “Leadership: Key Competencies for Whole-System Change,” is so compelling.

    Kirtman and Fullan illustrate, with startling clarity, how to use the right drivers for system success while developing seven core competencies in ourselves and in our teams.

    “Ironically, what looks like a quick route to success (the wrong drivers) actually slows down achievement,” the authors write. “By contrast, the four right drivers work because they develop new capacities and cultures.”

    The authors, citing Fullan’s 2011 work, ask us to consider the following right drivers:
    • Capacity building, not negative accountability. A focus on accountability will stifle our ability to create cultures of excellence. We must move to capacity building.

    • Teamwork, not individualistic strategies. Group quality — not individual quality — allows the culture to use everyone’s talents to obtain sustainable results.

    • Pedagogy, not technology. Technology is wonderful, but only if it changes the way we think of instruction.

    • System policies, not ad hoc policies. Fragmentation and constant discrete initiatives will never create sustainable results.
    Importantly, the authors remind us that we are not alone in our work. They share examples of education leaders in school systems across the United States who are successfully engaged in transformational work.

    “Leadership, Key Competencies for Whole-System Change” offers a powerful path forward for education practitioners. As the authors state: “While the superintendent sets the tone for the district, the superintendent cannot do it alone. He or she must be able to develop a strong leadership cadre throughout the district.”