Leaders as Learners: Dispelling a Myth

Well, what a week it was at my first BC Principal & Vice-Principal Association (BCPVPA) Short Course (#SC2015) at the University of British Columbia!

With a host of engaging and inspiring presenters, speakers, facilitators, and workshop leaders, the message for all beginning school leaders was obvious: lead by example and ‘talk the walk’.

As part of my own personal (and intensive) learning experience that week, I devoured Michael Fullan’s The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact in just three hours (the fastest that I have read anything ‘professional’).

According to Fullan, a school leader has three main roles:

  1. System Player: understand and support the system (your school district) in which you work, and work to actively support and promote its goals and objectives;
  2. Agent of Change: if a school is going to change in any direction (for the better) then the principal must be willing to do what it takes to help change happen (i.e. provide necessary resources, create opportunities for staff to learn and collaborate together, actively participate in the change, etc.); and
  3. Leading Learner: model learning for all and shape conditions for everyone to become learners in their own right (i.e. ‘talk the walk’).

Upon Reflection

Last spring after three months ‘on the job’, I arranged to have a ’90-day conversation’ with my principal. When she asked about where I felt I needed to strengthen and go with my learning I was blunt (and somewhat embarrassed) that I was disappointed in my teaching. I joked that if a stranger were to visit my classes on most days they would be curious as to what the heck was actually going on among the ‘chaos’. I (apparently) held a very inaccurate belief about my perception of the school leader as master teacher. You know “walk the talk”. Be the best model you can. The perfect instructional leader leads by modeling, don’t they?

Moving Forward

One of the speakers at the Short Course, former Superintendent and current Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University, Bruce Beairsto (@bbeairsto), set most of us young school leaders straight by dispelling a long-held (and unfounded) myth: there is no such thing as a master teacher. Sure some colleagues are very adept at some parts of the occupation (i.e. student engagement, planning, assessment, etc.) but in reality becoming a better teacher is a continuous, adaptive, career-long process. A true professional strives to achieve mastery of their calling, but what makes this a truly unique endeavour is that one never really ‘masters’ the stereotype of the perfect teacher because…well, there really isn’t one. Not sure if that’s irony or not…

Fullan also comes to the rescue and argues that school leaders have a much bigger purpose as the lead(ing) learner in their school. As a lead learner, the school leader, models continual learning in their own development as leaders, teachers, and of course learners. This is done purposefully and with transparency among all staff and students. The lead learner also engages opportunities to be a part of school learning initiatives and helps to “shape the conditions for all school members to learn” (i.e. ‘talk the walk’ speak). 

As a new school leader part of my focus and professional growth plan for the next several years will revolve around modeling continuous on-going learning that will help to inform my practice. And perhaps more importantly, I will strive to support and encourage our teachers to also take risks and become more deeply engaged in their teaching (and learning) practices that will ultimately help support their students through a teacher-as-learner model.

Indeed, the year ahead will provide ample opportunity for our staff to collectively learn, collaborate, and engage as we move forward towards a letter grade-free assessment practice including the implementation of eportfolios for all of our learners. I recognize several opportunities and roles for me to become the lead learner in this very exciting process!

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