Stratosphere - A Book Review



"The teacher as change agent is crucial, or we will get aimless multi-tasking" ~ Michael Fullan


If educational technology is an area of interest for you then Stratosphere by Michael Fullan is a book that you should consider reading. This brief review provides my thoughts and impressions of the book but by no means is it a comprehensive review. It is a very quick read that will provide many areas of thoughtful discussion with your colleagues as you move to more meaningful integration of technology in your school or district.

In typical Fullan style, he uses his knowledge of change, without being too verbose, to set a framework for the use of technology in the classroom. He cites the work of Mark Prensky, Tony Wagner and John Hattie to illustrate the need for a new pedagogy, one in which students are partners in learning and teachers act as change agents. The clear message throughout the book is that the primary driver is pedagogy. I'm sure those of you, like myself, who have been preaching about the power of technology will appreciate this message coming from someone with the stature and respect as Fullan. How many times have you heard yourself telling others that technology is not just something else to "add-on", that at the heart of any great instructional practice is the pedagogy. Technology integration is no different. 

Fullan starts with four criteria for integrating technology and pedagogy:

  1. Irresistibly engaging for students and teachers
  2. Elegantly efficient and easy to use
  3. Technologically ubiquitous
  4. Steeped in real-life problem-solving 

I think Fullan has checked all the boxes here. However, everything he writes in Stratosphere is not all roses. He talks about the change in Ontario, specifically about raising the graduation rate from 62% in 2003 to 82%, as being "fairly easy to do". I'm not sure that is the message that many of the administrators, teachers and support staff would say about the job they have done supporting students on their road to graduation. There was certainly a lot of hard work to engage at-risk students to the point where they graduated. Maybe designing the strategy and framework to help increase graduation was "easy" for him, but the reality is that it was the teachers that did the real grunt work of getting kids back on track. Kids that probably really didn't want to be there. Did putting a Student Success Teacher (SST) in every high school in the province help? Absolutely! But the connections made by those SSTs with students were the difference maker. Maybe I am being a little too harsh to Fullan here but I think there is going to be a lot of hard work if we are too move into Fullan's Stratosphere of integrating technology. Throwing money at this issue is not the answer.

Fullan has given us a great framework with a solid philosophy but it's the teachers in the classroom that are ultimately going to be the change agents. So how is this going to happen? Is it happening in schools already? Fullan gives some insight into these questions when he describes Park Manor Public School's Accelerated Learning Framework. As a school they have developed a "Digital Rich Learning Without Limits" mantra that guides everything they do. Their model is especially encouraging because they are a "normal" school, with standard resources and no privileges. Their standardized tests scores have demonstrated a dramatic increase since they implemented the framework in 2009. In grade 6 writing for example they have gone from a 44% to 77% success rate. Of course the increased scores are not totally attributed to the use of technology. It was a result of focused attention on success criteria and exemplary pedagogy. Technology accelerated and deepened the learning. 

So what can the rest of us learn from Fullan's ideas and what is happening at Park Manor P.S.? Fullan tells us that technology and pedagogy must be integrated around the rules of both students and teachers because this is the essence of focus for the future of education. The solution he says is really about 3 things:

  1. Make it all about learning
  2. Let technology permeate
  3. Engage the whole system

Sounds easy right? Do you have any ideas on how we can get to the Stratosphere? If you've read Stratosphere, or have any thoughts about my post I'd love to hear them. 

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  • I too agree with Fullan in his book Stratosphere. It sounds simple on paper like so many of the descriptions in books that I have read this summer. Although I agree that teacher's in classrooms are the change agents, I also feel that it is not teachers that need to read Stratosphere. I think it is system leaders that need to read it. Change can happen in individual classrooms and schools, but for change to really happen is has to have a system push behind it. I can only be a change agent in my school to the point where my system will allow me to be.

  • David Fife

    Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I totally agree with you. Without a whole system push it will be difficult to change. Of course we will most likely always have those that do not want to change but we as a whole must push on because we know it's best for kids.

    Thanks again