Reform needs vision collaboration and public engagement


Educators and policy makers, according to Professor Andy Hargreaves, increasingly recognise that  the old ways for effecting social and educational change are no longer suited to the – fast, flexible, and vulnerable  new world of the 21st century.

In their book The Fourth Way,  Professor Andy Hargreaves and Dennis Shirley, examine the three ways of change that have defined global educational policy  and practice from the 1960s to the present. They then offer a new Fourth Way that ‘ will lead to remarkable leaps  forward in student learning and achievement.’

So what are these ways for approaching reform?

The First Way of state support and professional freedom led to innovation and new social  movements, but also uneven school performance,  inconsistent leadership, and educational improvements  informed by intuition and ideology rather than evidence.

The Second Way of competition and educational prescriptions – in which innovation gave way to standardisation, uniformity, and inequity – led to great costs in teacher motivation, leadership capacity, and student learning.

The Third Way attempted to balance professional community with accountability, but has instead according to the authors, become overly preoccupied with collecting,  analysing and tracking students, teachers and schools  with endless quantities of data. This is now the dominant reform strategy in many regions; short-term, quick-fix  solutions designed to produce instant lifts in achievement  scores prevail over long-term, innovative and sustainable  reforms for the 21st century.

The Fourth Way draws on first-hand and rigorous  research evidence of outstandingly successful practice  from across the world to offer a vision and a plan for  a more successful, challenging, and sustainable  educational future. From top-performing Finland to the impressive achievements of community engagement in  America; from the most turned-around school district in  Britain to a dynamic network of 300 high schools that  lifted achievement dramatically by helping each other  rather than responding to heavy-handed interventions  from the top; and from the conservative-controlled yet  innovation-oriented province of Alberta to union-driven  reform movements in California – this book shows what  works well, why it does so, and what we can learn about forging new and better paths of educational change.

The Fourth Way is informed by a strong sense of history, some of the world‘s most influential policy theory, and the authors’ own painstaking evidence.

Michael Fullan says it is – a powerful ‘catalyst for coherence’ in a field that badly needs guidance. Anthony Giddens, author of the Third Way (remember him?) and intellectual guru for President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair, agrees that the Third Way  has reached its limit and that it is time to engage with the  Fourth Way of educational and social change.( I am not terribly convinced that the Third Way ever gained much traction)

So what, in essence, is this Fourth way?

It is about connecting three distinct elements. First, there must be a national vision and a clear sense of where a country  is going. The focus is not on the country’s rankings. It is about “who we are, what we are and why we are”.  This is the first element that drives the performance that follows. The second is professional collaboration, which involves teachers working with teachers, schools working with schools, and more local discretion for decision making. (again the theme of collaboration crops up) The third is public engagement, which actually means that the government loses control because there is more democratic inclusion of the public deciding the way it is moving as a society. It also means the profession is redefining professionalism. In other words, the professionals gain more autonomy from the government, but also less autonomy from the public, parents and communities over time. Therefore, practice has to be open to public definitions and understandings of what school is like.

The principles of the Fourth Way consist of six pillars of  purpose and partnership that support change, three principles  of professionalism that drive change, and four catalysts of  coherence that sustain change and hold it together.

The six pillars of purpose and partnership include:

• An inspiring and inclusive vision

• Public engagement

• No achievement without investment

• Corporate educational responsibility (this is about corporate involvement, not with control for financial benefit but as a community responsibility. Furthermore, this is a moral community responsibility)

• Students as partners in change

• Mindful learning and teaching (this is about an approach to teaching, which is not just the implementation of a script, or a quick response to an external demand. But it is more about mindful, deeply engaged, critical, and challenging teaching and learning.)


The following principles are at the heart of this argument:

• High quality teachers

• Positive and powerful professional associations

• Lively learning communities


These are the four principles that sustain change and  create the coherence:

Sustainable leadership– It is about thinking about how leaders work with other leaders, and how schools help other schools.

Integrating networks – very often  networks will consist of schools next door, the schools  in the same community, and the schools that may even  be competing with each other.

Responsibility before accountability- is not about having no accountability, but about responsibility before accountability

Differentiation and diversity- Differentiation in diversity involves understanding the different ways students learn and the different intelligences they have, which can help  teachers teach differently



Andy Hargreaves is the Thomas More Brennan Chair in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. The mission of the Chair is to promote social justice and connect theory and practice in education.


Dr. Dennis Shirley is Professor of Education at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College.  Shirley received a contract of $592,000 to lead an international team on a study of the Alberta Initiative for School Improvement in Canada.


The Fourth Way: The Inspiring Future for Educational Change [Paperback] Andy Hargreaves (Editor), Dennis Shirley (Editor)



  1. This is an amazing concept by Hargreaves & Shirley. I suddenly became hopeful of the Philippines stride towards a 12-year cycle of education, which will benefit not only the upper 10% percentile of the student population. The K+12 veers away from “short-term and quick-fix solutions” to a “first-hand and rigorous research-based practice.” Truly from The Third Way to the Fourth Way. But it will certainly take time.

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