This week in the Leadership 2.0 series we took a look at the Principal Quality Practice leadership dimension, Leading a Learning Community, with our host, Jonathan E. Martin. Early in the presentation, he referenced Mindset, by Carol Dweck. A truly amazing read that I picked up last summer that really has changed the way I look at the world around me, especially in education. A big takeaway from the book was that through a growth mindset, we are constantly being presented with learning opportunities instead of foregone conclusions; a great mindset for leading a learning community. As I reflect this week on what it means to lead a learning community, three words come to mind: Expose, Immerse, and Experience.
As leaders we need to continually expose our staff to new learning opportunities that reflect current best practices. I find it very important that initial learning experiences need to be in the form of informal exposure to new learning. Just putting it out there, or as I like to put it, “planting seeds”, Allows new learning to be presented in a non-threatening way. Our teachers are incredibly busy and they don’t need to be burdened with an overwhelming mass of new information, or mandated learning. I want staff to be excited about learning and want to own the learning process so I try to minimize the learning that I actually force on my staff.
What I do expose them to are usually small and digestible chunks of information. I love the blogosphere for this. It gives me the ability to share concise learning segments with my staff. Whether is a distillation of literature, or someone’s personal reflection on a given topic, blog posts allow for very efficient learning opportunities. In addition to blogs, I will also love to show and share quick video segments. TED is often my best friend, we specially when the learning isn’t necessarily education-based.
Once again, it is absolutely crucial that as leaders, we lead by example and demonstrate the learning that we want for our staff. In the end, our staff are a reflection of ourselves, and our students will ultimately be a reflection of our staff so it is important that we model first. From using technology, to instructional and assessment practices, my vice principal and myself try to demonstrate new learning either directly through our practice or through modelling during professional development activities.
Through modelling, we are also ale to experience implementation first hand prior to staff-wide implementation. This allows us to problem solve around implementation by reflecting on our own experiences. Through modelling, my vice principal and I can empathize with staff when we move to implementation with staff. We can speak honestly about our own experiences with staff and truly learn with them.
Finally, effective learning happens experientially. In education, learning by doing has become axiomatic, and bridging the knowing-doing gap is key for effective staff development. In our division, we are blessed to have regularly scheduled school-based professional development days imbedded in the school calendar. This is valuable time to promote staff learning, if we allow learning to happen.
This year, as an admin team, we are trying to be more purposeful in making these days focused on learning by doing rather than learning by listening. We are committed to minimizing the time we are directly leading staff learning time. Instead, we are working to provide concise individual and collaborative learning opportunities for the staff, and give them the time to actually work on them. We then regroup throughout the day to reflect and provide feedback to each other.
As leaders of a learning community, it is ultimately our responsibility to not just mandate life long learning, but continually expose, immerse, and allow our staff to experience authentic professional learning.