Leading and learning

Leading from within

For Natalie Croome, the impact of professional development is significantly enhanced if school leaders participate in staff training as learners. It also transforms their leadership style.

The qualities of great school leaders

In an earlier article, I reflected on my ‘magical’ leaders whose approach to teaching, learning and leading have had such an impact on my life. As I look back, these were people who did not supervise us from on high. Although unmistakeably leaders, they were also demonstrably a member of their own teams, and respected them so much for that. They lead from within.

Learning as a leader

If anything there are even more demands on a Head’s time than ever before. With all of the administrative and managerial tasks that school leaders have to juggle, it’s a challenge to effectively lead a team of educators as a learner yourself; approaching Professional Learning authentically and sincerely. So, how can leaders be learners, for themselves and their school communities, while also using their own time more efficiently?

Other leaders

Think first about leaders in other fields. Take the captain of a sports team, for example.  The captain plays the game with the team, is involved in every minute of the game (from within), knows how to do what the other team members are doing, appreciates the special skills of each player and each position. Captains know that they, as leaders, do not need to be the best at everything, because they have their skilled team members, in position, around them. Such captains lead by attending each training session; arriving early, participating in every activity and helping to pack up at the end.  Effective team captains are not above the learning and the practice.  They appreciate constant reminders of what the game is really all about.

How about the lead singer in a band?  They lead by playing the music, as part of the ensemble, exploring ways of making things sound or feel better, with the other band members.  They are open to collaboration on lyrics, timing, arrangement, adapting a song for a new audience.  The lead singer depends on the expertise and support of fellow band members, wants them all to develop their musical skills and is always honing their craft.

Neither team captain nor lead singer would be as effective or impactful if they stood on the sidelines or outside of the action and told everyone else what to do. That might be the role of a manager, a coach, an administrator, but not a leader who learns, a learner who leads, a leader who plays the game or makes the music.

Find and follow the leader

Establishing a leadership style that inspires you to be a leader who finds the time to learn needs thought. In workshops I like to engage participants in an activity that I call ‘Find the leader’. By examining a selection of photos of leaders being learners, we analyse and describe their actions, both as leaders and as learners. Reflecting on our own style, we then ask people to consider:

  • What is one skill you bring as a strength to your role as a leader?
  • What is one skill you bring as a strength to your role as a learner?

We then classify those actions into ones we might like to increase and those we could decrease in our own practice.  Here is an example:

Leadership involvement transforms impact

One powerful way of developing leadership from within your own teams, and something too often overlooked, is to participate in training in which staff are engaged. The potential impact, both deep and broad, of a well-designed, contextualised and flexible Professional Learning programme in which a leader participates can be powerful and transformational for a school community. I recently facilitated a programme for teachers wishing to develop language skills for bilingual learners. This Professional Learning experienced, which focused on collaborative inquiry and was driven by the leaders, as active learners, participating in the whole process, provides a useful case study.

Throughout, the leaders involved behaved as the chief learners and modelled all the practices they asked of colleagues and staff. The research highlighted by Stephanie Hirsch of Learning Forward indicates that this kind of involvement is likely to enhance the impact of any Professional Development programme, and is one of the ‘5 Things School Leaders do That Make a Big Difference for Teachers’

Time saving

It may cost time for leaders to participate in the short term, but in the long term it will make a huge difference not only to the impact of any training. It will also actually save them time as there will be shared understanding of what is needed to implement the programme from the very beginning. Think of all the time saved in inefficient follow up meetings in which the logistical and management implications of the new programme are normally explained by the trainees to the SLT. Think also of all the understanding lost in that cumbersome follow up process!

The power of being a ‘leader who learns’ and ‘a learner who leads’

It is critical that school leaders understand and appreciate the importance of their role as leaders and models of professional learning at classroom, school and system levels. When leaders actively and authentically engage in ongoing professional learning in their school, as learners, they transform not only their own impact on a school, but also the impact of well thought through professional development in which they participate.

Natalie CroomeNatalie Croome is a Cognitive Coach, Designer and Facilitator of Professional Learning and PYP specialist.

She is also the founder of ITeach Solutions and brings a collaborative, inquiry based approach to Professional Learning, which she offers in schools, on-line or on Retreat in Europe and Australia.

To learn more see https://iteach.solutions/

Also by Natalie:

Leaders who learn


Images kindly provided by Natalie