Saturday, June 29, 2013

What does it mean to be the "Lead Learner"?

Image from Thornhill Primary School

  When people hear the word "Principal" I am sure that most picture someone sitting in the principal's office, waiting for students that have been kicked out of class.  As our roles change, the term principal no longer seems to fit.  I have found "Lead Learner" to be an ideal role title that I strive to achieve each day. "Lead Learner" is a term that I have often read from others on Twitter, although I believe this term was first coined by Principal Joe Mazza (who calls himself a Lead Learner, not a principal).

Doug Reeves states that “expertise is not developed based upon the mystical ability of professionals to get it right the first time. Rather, it is based upon the willingness to try techniques, get feedback that is honest, accurate, specific, and timely, and then improve performance" (Elements of Grading, p.69).  As administrators and “lead learners” of our schools, we need to model and nurture this idea for it to become a “way of life” in our buildings.  If teachers see us in their classrooms only with the “evaluator’s hat” coming into their classrooms with a “gotcha” each time, then they will not be as willing to try new techniques, they will just continue to perfect the techniques that they know and have already been using for years (whether they are effective for student learning or not). 
By acting more as a "Lead Learner" we are not only "talking the talk" by telling our teachers to continue their professional learning, but we are also "walking the walk" by continuing our professional learning and being transparent about it.  What does a Lead Learner do?
  • Join teachers to outside conferences they attend to help support their implementation of new things learned. 
  • Start/join teachers in a faculty book study. 
  • Join a Twitter book study...#Educoach will start chatting about Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess on July 10th. 
  • Read professionally and share what you are learning with teachers.  I also like to be the Lead Reader in my building by having my email signature include "I am currently reading:______" and update this with each new book title I read. I also have a sign on the school library door that shows what I am currently reading so that all students see me as a reader. (These ideas were from Donalyn Miller)
  • Share your professional learning/reflections in a blog.  In addition to my personal blog, I also share a weekly post on my staff blog called "Monday Musings." In this weekly post I share reflections on something I am reading, learned or reflections on what is happening in our building. 
  • Connect with other educators outside of your building. Twitter is one of the best tools to build a Professional Learning Network (PLN) to see what others are doing, learning and sharing.  You cannot search on google for something that you don't even know is happening on other schools, but you can often learn about it from what other educators are tweeting. 
  • Be a resource finder. If there's something that a teacher wants/needs to improve on or learn more about, find resources to help support them.  Learn about it with them. 
  • Have "No Office Days" where you are actually teaching in classrooms, not just observing. 
  • Listen/reflect on feedback given to you from teachers and use it to improve. 
What else do you see Lead Learners doing? What else should they do?


  1. This is my first year as Lead Leader (Head of Junior school = USA associate principal). I started faculty reading clubs. They have been really valuable. Two things I am pushing to make part of the culture:
    1. Teachers read and discuss professional literature
    2. Meetings are for professional development, planning, or analysing student work.

    If we want to make learning a priority, we need to shelter time for learning and minimise the 'nuts and bolts' conversations that can happen via email.

    The exec team is also talking about blogging about our PD - we're just debating the format :)

    It's so fun to see others doing the same sorts of things!

  2. Great post, Jessica!! It' so important for anyone who dares to call themselves a leader to continue to grow and learn. I love your suggestions for how to become a "Lead Learner." Joe Mazza is right!

    I can't wait to join the #educoach study of Teach Like a PIRATE in July!

  3. Jessica, this post should be shared with other administrators. Your suggestions are full of potential and could benefit many schools. It's important to convey that opportunities for professional growth can occur outside of the school/district. Some educators might not be aware or haven't taken steps to explore the options included in your post. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great post, Jessica. I agree...modeling the learning portion of our job is truly important. If we are going to lead learning organizations then we really need to lead in a fashion that promotes our continued growth as well. Nicely done.

  5. Great ideas! I love the idea of being "Lead Reader." One of the most frustrating things in educational consulting is when an educator says, "For years, I've been struggling with _________" and an Amazon search shows 25 books written on that subject plus 30 journal articles published in the last year. Getting educators to read can have a huge impact on schools. I started blogging about books I've read on the subject of leadership and I apply them to school principals. Check it out at



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