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Educating for a Sustainable Future - Resources

Box 4.1.2: Models of Change

Gearbox Model

Changing any facet of the environment within the immediate vicinity of a school will normally require the assent of a number of groups of people. Some or all of these groups will need to work together as change agents in bringing about environmental modification. The climate in which these groups interrelate can radically alter their capacity or willingness to bring about environmental change.

The complexity of possible relations and interactions where so many variables exist renders any simple, linear model inappropriate. One analogy for the complex dynamics of change is to liken the process to the gearbox of a car, where many wheels combine to convert engine power into forward (or reverse!) motion.

In this analogy the gearbox represents the totality of the various groups involved in bringing about change in an area of environmental concern. The final drive from the gearbox represents any change that results from the efforts of such groups and the lubricant/grit within the gearbox represents the climate in which these groups operate, either facilitating their co-operative working or inhibiting it.

Central to the analogy is a problem or issue which needs to be solved. The numerous cogs represent various groups of people who may be associated with any change which occurs. Initially none of these wheels are seen as affecting change. As change is addressed, one or more of the wheels may connect with the issue and by turning, start to move the central wheel thereby affecting the resolution of the issue. The issue may be more readily resolved if more wheels are engaged and are turning in the same direction. Any negative influences turning in the opposite direction will slow progress or stop it completely.

Sometimes, for movement to begin at all, the positioning of one or more of the wheels to make contact with the central wheel will have to be initiated externally and it may be that this initiator will have to remain as an external mechanic to ensure the smooth operation of the gearbox.


Figure 1. The Gearbox Model of Change






Figure 2: Kolb’s Learning Cycle

Kolb’s Learning Cycle, Figure 2, is a systems model which has been very usefully applied to lesson planning and may have value in analysing change at an institutional level. Otto Herz, Table 1 and Michael Fullan’s New Paradigm of Change each provide eight point lists which are helpful in putting theory into practice.

  1. Start with things that you know.
  2. Start when you feel positive not when you’ve got problems.
  3. Take little steps (you’ll only make little mistakes).
  4. Don’t wait until all your partners are ready to join.
  5. Don’t think that you have to do everything alone - blinkers may prevent you seeing potential support.
  6. Don’t make the sceptics feel guilty - they’ll hit back.
  7. Always examine your own feelings - if you feel good about what you are doing, there is more that can be done.
    If you have reservations, who will follow?
  8. Show confidence to gain support.

Table 1: Otto Herz's Guide to Successful Change


Michael Fullan’s Eight Basic Lessons of the New Paradigm of Change:

  1. You Cannot Mandate What Matters. The more complex the change the less you can force it. Almost all educational changes that have value require:
    • New skills.
    • New behaviour.
    • New beliefs or understandings.
  2. Change Is A Journey Not A Blueprint. Change is non-linear, loaded with uncertainty and sometimes perverse. In the face of unpredictable change, the key to success lies in the creative activity of making new maps.
  3. Problems Are Our Friends. Problems are inevitable and you cannot learn or be successful without them.
  4. Vision and Strategic Planning Come Later. Premature visions and planning can blind. The dynamic systems perspective thus leads managers to think not in terms of the prior intention represented by objectives and visions but of continuously developing agendas of issues, aspirations, challenges and individual intentions. Ready, fire, aim is the more fruitful sequence if we want to take a linear snapshot of an organisation undergoing reform. Ready = direction; fire = action and inquiry; aim = crystallising new beliefs.
  5. Individualism And Collectivism Must Have Equal Power. There are no one-sided solutions. You can’t have organisational learning without individual learning and you can’t have learning in groups without producing conflict.
  6. Neither Centralisation Nor Decentralisation Works. Both top down and bottom up strategies are necessary.
  7. Connection With The Wider Environment Is Critical. The best organisations learn externally as well as internally. It is possible, indeed necessary, for teachers to act locally while conceptualising their roles on a higher plane. They must engage state policies, not necessarily implement them literally, if they are to protect themselves from eventual imposition.
  8. Everyone Is A Change Agent. Change is too important to leave to the experts. It is only by individuals taking action to alter their own environments that there is any chance for deep change.

Fullan (1991)

The workplace is the key. Reform cannot be achieved without working with school sites.

The only solution is that the whole school – all individuals – must get into the change business, if individuals do not do this, they will be left powerless.

Fullan (1992)


Section 4.1
Resources Index