Professional learning communities writ large

by Michael Fullan


This is a short chapter from a book edited by Richard DuFour, Robert Eaker, and Rebecca DuFour, 2005, which emphasises the need to look further than the community of a single school if we are interested in educational infrastructures that will build capacity over a long period.

Learning communities within individual schools are having some success but they tend to be dependent on individuals who lead them. They usually end when these key individuals leave.

Fullan argues that we need a tripartite system where there is a national commitment to fostering capacity building with accountability, as well as regional communities where schools learn from and share with each other, as well as strong learning communities within each school.

A tripartite system such as this will promote consistent focus on the following aspects:

  • coherent conceptualisation of leadership
  • a collective moral purpose
  • a structure that develops effective leadership and capacity building
  • lateral and external partnerships
  • deep, professional learning opportunities
  • a culture of collaboration
  • a coherent focus on all students’ learning
  • enhanced resources.

This chapter will be of special interest for leaders who are looking beyond ‘nuts and bolts’ and towards ways of working collaboratively with other school leaders. Fullan is pushing a moral imperative for educational leaders to share with and learn from others in order to effect sustainable change across the wider educational context.

Reflective questions

  • What examples are there in the New Zealand context of successful sustainable, capacity-building in education that is making a difference to students’ learning? What are their characteristics?
  • What creative and renewable strategies are you developing both within and beyond your school that focus on ensuring that all students learn?

Further reading

Glaude, C. (2005). Protocols for professional learning conversations. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing.

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Roth, G., Ross, R. (1999). The dance of change: The challenges of sustaining momentum in learning organizations. Doubleday.


Fullan, M. (2005). Learning communities writ large. In R. DuFour, R. Eaker, R. DuFour (Eds.), On common ground (pp. 209–223). Bloomington, Indiana: National Education Service.

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