Leading new, deeper forms of collaborative cultures: Commentary from Cecilia Azorín and Michael Fullan

“How can schools be transformed into collaborative learning cultures? What are the first steps to be taken to initiate the shift towards collaboration? How can collaboration within and across schools be developed and extended?” Those are some of the questions that Cecilia Azorín and Michael Fullan ask in the fourth commentary in a series launched by Corrie Stone-Johnson and the Journal of Educational Change. In a 2021 editorial, Stone-Johnson introduced the series called Back to School in which she invited authors to “explore how and in what ways Covid-19 has shaped—and is shaping—schools and schooling around the world. This week’s post provides an excerpt from the commentary that brings together the ideas and insights of Azorín and Fullan from their work on collaboration and networking. Previous commentaries in this series include: Yong Zhao and Jim Watterston’s “The changes we need post-Covid,” “What can change in schools after the pandemic?”from Thomas Hatch; and “Owning educational change in Korean schools” by  Taeyeon KimMinseok Yang, and Sunbin Lim.

As Azorín and Fullan summarize their argument: 

“From its origin as teaching as a lonely profession (‘behind the classroom door’), collaboration since the 1960s has made halting progress. Some strong collaborative school cultures were established over the decades, but they were limited in three ways: they were in the minority; were mostly intra-school with a smattering of school districts; and they did not become an established part of a new culture. Over the past decade we have begun to see examples of networks of schools, but these too did not represent system change. Recently (mostly in the past two or three years) there is a new and powerful surge in collaboration arising from the combination two forces: first, the growing evidence that traditional school systems have been seen as ineffective for the majority of students having lost their sense of purpose (see Fullan, 2021), and second, that the pandemic has exposed the weakness of the school system, and serendipitously increased the interest in innovation and system reform as we enter thepost-pandemic period (Fullan & Edwards, 2022).

Prior to COVID-19, there was consensus on the need to prepare future generations in environments of collaboration (Azorín, 2022), but it did not materialize in practice. The pandemic has accelerated networking in education as a powerful tool for innovation. Collaboration is needed and the pandemic made this need greater. “Teaching today is a collaborative and social profession” which implies “moving ideas, knowledge, and teaching practices around in professional communities and networks of shared professional learning” (Hargreaves, 2021, p. 142). We see these developments emerging (and, indeed are part of networks ourselves working on this very agenda). We predict that this recent trend will take off in the coming years.”

In response, they describe what they call the “pulsar model of educational change:” 

Azorín (2020a) used the term ‘supernova’ to describe the impact that COVID-19 has had on education and argued that “like the lifecycle of a star, the educational journey of the previous decades has come to an end” (p. 381)

The ‘supernova effect’  has brought with it the potential for an unprecedented pedagogical  renewal and  change that could give rise to the real-time rapid development of new approaches to education.

The initial supernova drive has given way to what we call the pulsar model, where the change forces connect and interact thereby fostering processes of experimentation and innovation in education. Figure 1 shows the Pulsar Model of Educational Change, represented by a lighthouse (light beam) that illuminates the new educational pathways. In short, the Copernican axis represent the centrality of students; the light beam places collaboration at the center of action, and the innovation field concerns the pedagogical and collaborative developments essential for success.”

To learn more, the full commentary, “Leading new, deeper forms of collaborative cultures: Questions and pathways” can be found in the February 2022 issue of the Journal of Educational Change.

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