Teacher as Lead Learner

Throughout my educational journey, I have come across many authors who influenced my ongoing development as a teacher and a principal. By far, one of the most influential is Michael Fullan. Not only is he an expert on education reform, he and I share a deep and abiding commitment to the idea that all children can learn. Because of this, I was excited to hear him speak in person this summer at the BLC Conference in Boston.

While familiar with his concept of Principal as Lead Learner, I was struck by the passion with which he spoke of the importance of this role that day. In his book The Principal: Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, he describes this role as the most central of the principalship. He describes a Lead Learner Principal as “one who models learning, but also shapes the conditions for all to learn on a continuous basis.” (p.9) I was struck when he elaborated saying that a principal with five years of experience on his/her resume with no new learning during those years, is five years behind the teachers he/she serves.

This past week, as I sat alongside Quabbin’s 3rd-6th grade teachers learning about Writer’s Workshop, I was struck by the power and importance of teacher as Lead Learner as well. In each small learning community, teachers are the Lead Learner with their role being to model this for their students and instill in each child a commitment to life-long learning.

In addition to modeling this core value, it is so important for educators (teachers and principals) to remember what it feels like to learn something for the first time and work to apply it. Whether it is the K-2 teachers learning how to teach phonics with Fundations or lifting their Writer’s Workshop lessons, or it is the 3-6 teachers learning to implement Writer’s Workshop for the first time, teachers are faced with learning something new. When applying their learning in the classroom, they will make mistakes along the way, but, just like a student struggling to learn how to multiply two digit numbers for the first time, they reflect on what happened, persevere and learn more about their teaching each and every day.

This weekend, a friend of mine shared that her school’s motto is “When teachers learn more, students learn more!” I am excited to work in a district that holds this belief supporting our learning with 10 early dismissals for Professional Development as the research shows that student learning and teacher efficacy are enhanced with increased time for teachers to learn about and collaborate on their practice. I am greatly looking forward to learning alongside Ruggles teachers this year and am confident we will see a return on this time in the classroom, with the children.

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