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Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration

Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration

Foreword by Margaret J. Wheatley, A Joint Publication with AASA, The School Superintendents Association

November 2021 | 160 pages | Corwin

Spirit is the essence of character—of what it means to be human. Finding hope in the power of collaboration underpinned by ‘spirit work’-- the care and love of students as learners-- Fullan & Edwards capture how some school districts are creating a deep learning environment for all. 

COVID-19, racial inequity, polarizing politics, mass misinformation, and myriad other challenges have made the future of education seem bleaker than ever. Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration speaks directly to leaders' hearts and advocates for the development of two qualities that will bring back hope for the future of education: "spirit work" and the science of collaboration. Spirit work centers love and care for students, staff, and communities as the impetus for creating a positive culture, while collaboration is the vehicle for manifesting that spirit work. Through powerful case studies and vignettes, the authors show how spirit and collaboration represent revolutionary potential for education. Readers will find

  • A lifeline amid overwhelming conditions.
  • Hope for themselves and the future of education
  • Practical ideas for building cohesion throughout school communities

We cannot allow our best advocates for children to be consumed by today’s challenges. Spirit work and collaboration can pave the way to a brighter future.

Foreword by Margaret J. Wheatley
Part I: The Challenge of the Century: Transforming Learning
Chapter 1: The Prospects for Radical Change
Rapidly Declining Global Trends


Innovation and New Ideas


Chapter 2: Spirit Work
Spirit Work

Spirit Construction


Chapter 3: The Science of Collaboration
The Growth of Collaboration

Collaborative Cultures

The Promise of Collaboration


Part II: Early Signals: Districts in Action
Chapter 4: East Coast Districts (United States) in Action
Ithaca City School District (New York)

Virginia Beach Schools

Rowan-Salisbury School System (North Carolina)


Chapter 5: South Central Districts (United States) in Action
Shelby County Schools (Tennessee)

Jefferson County Public Schools (Kentucky)


Chapter 6: West Coast Districts (United States) in Action
San Ramon Valley Unified School District (California)

Highline Washington School District

Chula Vista Elementary School District (California)


Part III: The Future of Spirit and Collaboration Work
Chapter 7: A New Tomorrow
The Worry List

Could It Be Almost Tomorrow?

System Change: It Is Time for Society to Help

Conclusion: Students as Evolutionary Changemakers

About the Authors

It’s never been more important to learn from leaders who lead by example and from their heart, soul, and spirit. The eight models of work and collaborative science captured by Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards represent some of the best and brightest thinking in school system leadership. As the nation works diligently to navigate through the COVID environment, enacting change that best suits the unique circumstances in every school community is essential in today’s public education landscape.

Daniel A. Domenech, Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association
Executive Director, AASA, The School Superintendents Association

I love this book! Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards provide readers with new and creative ways to approach the challenge of educating students in the current period by showing how spirit work and collaboration can advance learning and increase support for students. Timely, thought provoking, and inspiring, Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration will be a tremendous resource for educators searching for ways to make education more meaningful and transformative in the years ahead.

Pedro Noguera,
Dean Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

Our current social and political climate is rife with distrust, suspicion, cynicism, and tension. Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards provide important insights into how schools can navigate these contemporary challenges. Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration offers much more than tips and practical advice; it provides us with a healthy reminder that such an undertaking necessitates reflection, persistence, love, courage, and the audacity  to envision new possibilities for collaboration in schools.

Gerardo R. López
Professor, Michigan State University, Editor-in-Chief, Educational Administration Quarterly, Past-President, University Council for Educational Administration

Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards have penned a must-read for all educators. They demonstrate the power of collaboration regardless of where a district is in the country, its size, or its demographics. Schools do not just improve; positive change does not just occur. The real work required to transform education, preserve democracy, and ensure the survival of our planet is going to take a lot of deeply committed people collaborating, seeking solutions, and finding answers. Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration is a fantastic guide for that task.

Terry Grier
Retired Superintendent, Houston Independent School District, Educational Leadership Consultant, Wilmington, NC

We live in complex times. That is certainly not a new statement, but what we hopefully have learned is that there is not a better time to move forward in a better way, where we are more inclusive and thoughtful in our actions. In Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration, Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards do not just inspire us to want to go deeper with our practices and be more human in our interactions—they use real examples to help show us how to do it.

Peter DeWitt,
Leadership Coach, Author, Education Week Blogger, Moderator of A Seat at the Table

Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration captures the essence of what school leaders need to make learning more transformational for students and to make our relationships more inspiring and fulfilling. Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards tap into how to operationalize spirit and collaboration by giving examples that get results from eight exemplary superintendents from diverse systems across the United States. Read, discuss, and apply this practical and universal wisdom.

Patrick Sweeney
Leadership Coach, Retired Superintendent, Napa Valley Unified School District, CA

True to what we have come to expect, the authors raise a new concept, spirit work, within constructs with which we are familiar—relationships,
trust, collaboration, well-being, and pedagogy. Delving into the science of collaboration and sharing illuminating examples gives deeper meaning to the old proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration offers direction and hope in a time when it is badly needed.

Laura Schwalm
Retired Superintendent, Garden Grove Unified School District, CA, Chief of Staff, California Education Partners

Buckle up for a moving and instigating read. Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards present major global and social threats to our very existence as humans. Their solution? The unqualified need to provide every student with the true, right, and just education currently enjoyed by only some. We learn from and with actual school districts audacious enough to invoke the power of the human spirit and collaboration as drivers of radical change in education. Through these real-life examples, we are fortified by what we desperately need at this moment in history—learned hopefulness.

Robin Avelar La Salle
Founder and CEO, Orenda Education Sierra Madre, CA

By connecting these two new phenomena of spirit work and collaboration, Michael Fullan and Mark Edwards present educators with what they describe as a revolutionary potential for future learning, highlighting ways in which spirit work can be a force that drives not only self but collaborative efforts for change in school districts. Spirit Work and the Science of Collaboration introduces an alternative to traditional ways of thinking about system change and expands our ideas of learning and transformation.

Ann E. Lopez
Professor, Teaching Department of Leadership, Higher and Adult Education, Director, Centre for Leadership and Diversity, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, Co-Editor-In-Chief, Journal of School Leadership

The authors make a compelling case for why both spirit work and collaboration are important elements for transforming learning in significant ways. This book is uniquely written, using real examples to describe the behaviors of leaders that result in the conditions that foster both elements.

William Hite
Superintendent, The School District of Philadelphia, PA
Key features
Leaders will find:
  • A much-needed lifeline in the midst of overwhelm and exhaustion
  • Hope for themselves and for the future of education
  • Practical ideas for building a stronger sense of cohesion and culture throughout their school community

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ISBN: 9781071845479

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