Deep Learning - Michael Fullan, Joanne Quinn, Joanne McEachen

Deep Learning's crux is culture. Fullan, Quinn, and McEachen (2018) make this exceeding clear from the earliest pages of the book. Without a culture for change, led by administration and enacted by teachers and students, deep learning cannot occur (p. 15, 26). Superficial changes in status quo look impressive, but rarely consider larger, systemic problems. Initatives are often narrow and focused on specific items for improvement. Culture, when built around learning, will permeate every aspect of the school; stakeholders all have a role to play in culture formation:

Agency at all levels helps to build a culture for learning. Administrators enabled by district leadership can set ambitious visions for growth. Teachers can work together to build innovative, powerful learning experiences for students without restrictive ovesight. Students are given opportunities to explore their interests through the lens of the coursework. Without agency, players in the system are not enabled to work creatively.

Build Culture to Build Capacity

Capacity for change is directly related to the culture of learning present in a school (p. 98). If the culture is restrictive and prescriptive, the capacity for meaningful growth is reduced. Conversely, if the culture is focused on learning at all levels, the capacity for systemic change is increased (p. 120). Investing in a culture for learning lays a foundation for change as teachers and students move forward. Teachers need to look to professional growth and students adopt similar behaviros because of the learning being modeled (p. 29).

Often, honest discussions about practice are interpreted as discussions about persons. A culture for change focuses on instructional methods as they relate to student engagement and curiosity (p 54). Methods are discussed to find successes with students that can be learned from, much like medical or legal rounds discuss methods which can help patients or clients in similar circumstances. This culture for instructinoal discourse can be built through teacher-leaders and administrators working to change the conversation in collaborative environments.

As culture develops and agency becomes the normal mode of work, individual schools enacting deep learning principles start to impact the wider sphere. Systems cannot ignore the transformational shift in learning processes and either start to adopt principles or end the program. Systemic impact, one way or the other, is inevitable as students take control of their learning environment and start sharing their knowledge with the rest of the world.

Setting the state for instructionally-based discussions takes time and practice in groups. Trust needs to be built up over time through norm-setting and building a common lexicon for deep discourse.

Culture Becomes Vision

Culture is more than mission statements or signs on the walls of classrooms. As schools progress toward deep learning, the culture becomes the vision and it is manifested in the behavior of the population. A sense of collective responsibility is created (p. 32) because all participants are invested: teacher-student relationships all the way through teacher-leader and teacher-administrator relationships. Committing to deep learning is not a special project or an experiment. Administrators are no longer admonishing groups of different departments to work together. Teachers no longer feel "programmed" or like they're in a perpetually-changing initiative. As the culture of learning works its way into all players, deep learning becomes the norm.

It's not hard for students and teachers to give up work that has no meaning.

As the culture grows and matures, the fruits of change become more visible. Teacher preparation becomes a team effort. Student work is focused on solving real problems rather than hypothetical situations. Administratos work to support instruction at all levels in partnership with teams. Deep Learning makes visible the presense (or absence) of the 6C's by allowing schools to build a culture of learning where the traits are essential for success. At the same time, the environment allows students and teachers to improve in areas of weakness through repeated opportunities for engagement.

Culture manifests itself in the behavior of those it surrounds. Work in school is redefined; meaningless work is easy to move past because teachers and students see the value in rich questions with ambiguous or elusive answers. There is a collective responsibility held by all to work within and continue to push the bounds of learning beyond the status quo.

Application: Team Polaris

Team Polaris is a group of four freshman teachers who were given permission to set up a school-within-a-school in the 2017-2018 school year. Specific accommodations were made to give those teachers an uninterrupted block of time during the first five hours of the school day to design their custom schedule. Polaris' goal was to build meaningful relationships with all team students and fundamentally change the way learning occurred as a group. I was their instructional coach during this experiment and spent at least one day per week with them to design those new experiences for students.

The team had a goal of implementing community-connected experiences for students with a focus on agency and trust. Early projects had a high volumne of choice available for students and the teachers worked to implement inquiry-based instructional practices, prompting students to make meaning out of the content rather than repeat material back to the teachers.

Student demographics:

They quickly discovered that students didn't know how to approach the freedom being offered, something also seen in other deep learning programs (p. 4). Confusion manifested itself as students not turning work in. Ideas for rectification were discussed by the teachers, myself, administrators, and students. As a group, the teachers recognized their culture was not as clearly defined and students expressed frustration and confusion around what they perceived to be unrealistic expectations. The teachers felt frustrated that students weren't latching on to their grand idea. It was decided that there needed to be a change in implementation.

As a group, the teachers focused on building a culture of learning rather than a culture of choosing. It was made clear to students that their expectation was to see growth in understanding and that work could be used as a mechanism to illustrate growth. Over time, students started to see value in what was being asked of them in classes and were then able to articulate learning in meaningful ways.


The Polaris experiment shows that meaningful change can take place in the traditional high school. Adjustments to schedules were made by administration, in conjunction with the Polaris teachers, to set up a culture of learning with a group of students. Student agency increased as expectations were clarified, which led to greater gains by all and more satisfaction with school in general. A community formed our of classes, where everyone had a role to play for the greater good. This isolated instance is going to serve as a model for our high school merge and graduation pathways launch in the fall of 2020.

I wouldn't say they've reached deep learning status yet. Some projects touched on larger issues, but in general, learning was isolated to the team or to a specific teacher. Moving forward, we're going to continue to work on building culture before anything else, fosting a sense of agency in their students, and setting clear, achievable expectations for all involved in the program. As the teachers learn to work together and grow as professionals, they will begin to translate those behaviors to their students, driving culture deeper.


Fullan, M., Quinn, J., & McEachen, J. (2018). Deep learning: Engage the world change the world. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.