Fullan Positive Pressure

Fullan, M. (2009). Positive pressure. Springer International Handbooks of Education, 23(1), pp. 119-130.

Summary: The author identifies five kinds of negative pressure that inhibit change, and five kinds of positive pressure that foster change. Through the use of a case, he illustrates the concepts of positive pressure.

Five Kinds of Negative Pressure:

  1. Blind sense of urgency (which leads to burnout and cynicism)
  2. Pressure without means (This identifies the current pitfalls and the potential but offers no path or theory of action of how to achieve the desired goals).
  3. Punitive pressure
  4. Groupthink
  5. Win-Lose competition


“Negative pressure is ad hoc and extraneous to the system culture (p. 120).”


Punitive pressure doesn’t work if “…the person doesn’t have the capacity to do what needs to be done (p. 121).”


“When there is an unfair playing field, when certain groups do not have the capacity to be competitive, when some people are left out, competition actually increases the gap between high and low performers (p. 121).”


Five Kinds of Positive Pressure

  1. Sense of focused urgency
  2. Partnerships and peers
  3. Transparency of data
  4. Nonpunitive accountability
  5. Irresistible synergy

“Participation is made more meaningful and powerful through the use of horizontal peer learning strategies – within schools, across schools, and across districts (p. 122).”


“(Transparency of data) exposes not only results, but practices that produce the results. It generates specific, precise, visually clear images of what works. It is accessible for all as it takes all the excuses off the table (p. 123).”


“Finally, positive pressure is never piecemeal. The only changes to alter the course of inertia (because it is embedded culture) is to attach the cultural core itself in order to create a new replacement organic culture with positive pressure and support seamlessly built-in (p. 123).”


A Sense of Focused Urgency

“In all cases, it is a sense of deep dissatisfaction with the status quo and a corresponding ambitious but manageable focus (p. 124).”


“Focused urgency maintains and even gains energy (p. 124).”


Partnership and Peers


Transparency of Data

“Transparency as can be seen is a pressure point. What makes it a positive pressure is that it is used largely nonpunitively, and the information is readily and easily accessible, not just for learning outcomes, but also as a route to learning about the practices that produced the results (p. 126).”


Nonpunitive Accountability


Irresistible Synergy

Integration of the other four positive pressures creates synergy


“Through purposeful action people become more skilled, as they become more skilled they become clearer (skill produces clarity), and as skill and clarity combine they generate shared ownership (p. 128).”