Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Learning as Leading

Quite often I hear people refer to Principals and Vice-Principals as 'administrators' or 'instructional leaders'. Originally, the title of Principal was assigned to the 'principal teacher'.

When I looked for dictionary definitions, this is what I found.

Administrator - a person who manages or has a talent for managing.

Instruction - knowledge or information imparted.

Teacher - a person who teaches or instructs.

These titles were probably very applicable at the time they were coined but nowadays, these references no longer accurately describe the role of principals and vice-principals.  As a vice-principal, I do carry some organizational responsibilities, but I do not see myself as 'managing', 'instructing' or 'imparting knowledge'.

Rather than focussing on managing, instructing or imparting knowledge, I believe principals and vice-principals must place an emphasis on learning.  I see myself as a leader of learning.  So, how do I do this?
  • I participate in a Professional Learning Community (PLC)  during the collaborative time that we have incorporated into our schedule this year at our school.  One discussion centred around Project-Based Learning.  I am very excited about an upcoming collaborative session that will focus on creating a PLN.
  • I participate in study groups that focus on specific readings and topics. Recently, we have been reading 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn
  • I continue to build my Personal Learning Network (PLN) through Twitter and share my thoughts and ideas to other educators globally through my blog.  
  • I ask questions.
  • I explore new ideas and strategies with staff. An example of this is the use of social media to increase student engagement and facilitate learning.  
  • I encourage students to share with me what they are learning in class so I can learn from them.
  • I listen to students and help them learn from their mistakes.
  • I reflect on my experiences and learn from my mistakes.
  • I listen to students and learn from them.
  • When conducting classroom walkthroughs, I focus on what the students are doing rather than what the teacher is doing.
  • I'm willing to try new things and take risks in an effort to improve student learning.
Most importantly, I am willing to admit that I have LOTS to learn and on a daily basis I'm willing to learn from colleagues, with colleagues, from students and with students.

Schools are learning organizations.  In order to be a healthy learning organization, I believe my responsibility is to model and contribute to an environment where learning is reciprocal and everyone in the organization learns from and with each other


  1. Aaron,
    Thank you for your post..especially the evolution of the role of administrators. In NYC, we are 'instructional leaders'; however, we are not always given a blueprint of how to do that. This is a great concrete list to get any new 'principal/admin/teacher-leader' started on the right path.


  2. What is interesting about this is that as a classroom teacher/specialist in technology I find myself having the same list of responsibilities. The line between administrator and teacher is blurring at our school as we have no one with the title of "vice-principal" but plenty of people taking over responsibility for what a VP might do.

    It certainly has been empowering to have more responsibility.

  3. Hey Aaron,

    I agree with you! I always want to position myself as learning alongside both students and staff. I encourage the creation of a risk-taking learning environment by going out there myself, modelling the risk-taking and thinking out loud about what can be learned when mistakes are made. It worries me when I see admin who feel they need to have all the answers all the time. Leading from that position is precarious and staff, students and the community will clue into that quickly. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    (I signed in first this time! - see, I'm learning from my mistakes)


  4. Hi Aaron,

    Perhaps the title of a "principal/VP" should be "Lead Learner" and then show the way, listen, ask questions, read, research, take risks, write, share as you go about your days and weeks with students, staff, and parents. Sounds like a fun job! :-)

    A challenge for you... perhaps add a complementary bullet to your "I listen to students and help them learn from their mistakes" that says "I listen to students and ask them to helm me learn from my mistakes". That ties in nicely with your 2nd last paragraph. Your passionate view about the role you have shines through in this post. Nice work!

  5. Brian, as I read your comment and went back through my post, I realize that I missed one BIG point. I reflect on my experiences and learn from my mistakes. Diana Laufenberg says it better than I can in her TED Talk. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxtqXtPEcLc

    Thanks for the comment Brian. It is comments such as your that challenge me to improve!