Learning is the work

by Michael Fullan


Read the article online 

Also has a short video of Michael Fullan talking about Learning is the Work.

Learning is the Work is a powerful article by Michael Fullan on the benefits of collaborative work in and between schools. It is also about well-led teams of teachers working to build individual and collective capacity to raise student achievement. It is a useful article for those building understanding about effective collaborative practices.

Fullan frames his article around what makes professional learning successful in terms of classroom and school improvement. He says it is the learning that happens on the job, day after day, rather than what happens at workshops and courses, that is the “work” of change and improvement. While it might be “easier” to go to a workshop or course, the learning that occurs at school with colleagues is much more powerful in terms of underpinning sustainable pedagogical change.

He points out that the research has been clear and consistent for 30 years – collaborative cultures result in better learning for students. Within collaborative cultures, teachers: 

  • focus on improving their teaching practice
  • learn from each other
  • are well-led and supported by principals.

Fullan outlines his work on whole-system reform that is about building collaborative cultures within and across schools to close the achievement gap for all students.

Fullan links his thoughts on collaboration to three “big ideas” that underpin across-school professional learning communities (PLCs) that have made a difference for diverse student populations:

  • The first and biggest idea is that the purpose of schools is to ensure that all students learn as distinct from simply being taught. This requires the development of shared goals and visions.
  • The second idea is that helping all students learn requires a collaborative culture and collective effort.
  • The third is that all schools will be able to monitor their effectiveness with a results orientation.

For groups of schools (he recommends clusters of 3–8) to work successfully in this way requires: a focus on learners, purposeful evidence-based exchanges between teachers, strong leadership, team work, external facilitation, and system-level support. When peers work together in a focused, deliberate way to improve measurable outcomes, Fullan calls this, the “moral imperative realised”.

Reflective questions

  • Consider the professional learning that teachers in your school undertake. How does it connect to Fullan’s ideas that learning is the “work”?
  • Consider what model of teacher collaboration is currently in place at your school. To what degree is it intentional and focused? How are teachers learning from each other?
  • Share thinking about the idea that “there is no greater motivator than internal accountability to oneself and one’s peers”.


Fullan, M. (unpublished May 2011). Learning is the Work.  http://michaelfullan.ca/topic-video-learning-is-the-work/

Elmore. R. (2004). School Reform from the Inside Out. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.        

Fullan, M. (2011). The Moral Imperative Realized. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press; Toronto: Ontario Principals Council.

Tags: Collaborative practices

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