Leading for learning

Being a school leader comes in many different forms but the most recognizable is the school administrator. This is the person that the community, teachers and students see as being the school leader, in some way or another. Tonight on Plurk, there was a good discussion about whether a principal needs to have teaching experience, how much, in what areas and other such things. My own views of on this subject have come from working with several administrators in different school settings and listening to what teachers have said in relation to being an effective school administrator. 

You have to teach

My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that you need to be a teacher for some time before making the leap to school administration. It’s through teaching, being in a classroom with students, that you learn and develop the skill and art of teaching. I spent a few years being a classroom teacher, 10 to be exact, before I made the move to administration. During those years, I went from being a mediocre teacher who really didn’t have a clue about what to do to being a good teacher. I never considered myself a master teacher by any stretch. I worked with a few of them in my journeys and can tell you what they do and how they do it. But just as I was honing my skills, I decided that maybe, if I wanted to exact change in education, I needed to move into administration and bring about some sort of change that would help teachers. Thus, I began my admin adventure by beginning a master’s degree while I was a grade 7 homeroom teacher. During this time, I would take what was being introduced in classes and see how it worked in reality, in the classroom. My whole constructivist view of learning took root as I began to move away from the “stand and deliver” and began to listen to what students wanted in their learning and include them in some of what was happening in the classroom. Having implemented several new curriculum, been a pilot teacher, had an intern and held several other positions in the local teacher association and at the provincial level, I realized that bringing about any meaningful change was going to require some changes at the administrative level. 

Some type of world experience

I didn’t get into teaching to become an administrator. Actually, my venture into education wasn’t the normal route or the route that I often hear. I didn’t know I was going to go into teaching until after I had finished my first degree and, because of marriage, needed to find an occupation. As I’ve stated in a few posts, I spent a few years in the work force developing a painting business that was profitable and really helped to put me through school. I realized during this time, that I didn’t want to spend my life painting but wasn’t sure what else to do. After marrying a teacher, I decided that I could do that and the road to today began. 

I didn’t have any teacher that inspired me and I don’t have any moment or story about a teacher that influenced me. However, once in university, I realized that I really did love learning and figured maybe I could help youth to learn to love learning. However, it has been what I learned while carving out a niche for my painting company that I’ve relied upon during my teaching and administration that has been the most unexpected part of what I do. Because I’ve been in the “real world” outside of school and have returned there a few times during summer to paint, I can talk to some of the ideas that students have about work and being away from home. I have experience trying to build a business base and knowing what happens when things go wrong in business that have helped me in conversations with many students. I’ve done more than “just be a teacher.” 

Accept you don’t know it all

Over time, I realized that to be an effective administrator, I need to work with the strengths of the people around me and allow them to use them and develop them. I don’t know it all and won’t, no matter how long I do this job. I’m always learning and I have so many sources to explore in that learning. As an administrator, I’m always looking for learning opportunities. I’ve taken several online classes through Harvard Graduate School of Education, been involved in different division and provincial PD initiatives and just looked for different ways to increase my knowledge in areas that I know I need development. I’ve learned to accept criticism and take on the mindset that if people aren’t happy with what you’ve done then there is something to learn from that situation. “Take the sand and make it into a pearl” is how I look at these things. 

Realize that learning doesn’t stop – EVER

Learning is lifelong. This goes with the above idea. I must be open to new things and new ways of doing things. I need to keep myself up to date on what is being written and what is being discussed in various areas of education, from pre-school to post secondary. I don’t need to be an expert in all areas but I do need to know about them in order to make decisions that are based on some type of information. Whether it’s the use of technology, brain-based learning, Professional Learning Communities or  collaborative teaching strategies, my role as a learning leader is to know about them. Some of them I need to develop my knowledge about so that I can lead my staff while others I need to know enough so that when people begin to discuss it I am familiar with what is going on. I leave it to other people to know more than I do because that is their role. I have to trust them as professionals but know enough to see that something might not be going as it should. 

Not taking myself too seriously

I am replaceable. There will be another administrator come in and take my place when I leave. My time in the position should be dedicated to making education better for the students and helping the teachers to that end. It’s not about me! Now some people don’t see that and will look at situations from a very narrow point of view concluding that I’m only thinking about myself. Hopefully, I can move things along so that it does become apparent that it isn’t about me but come to accept that some people won’t see it that way, especially when they don’t get their way.

It’s all about learning

This took me a while to figure out. I still think many administrators don’t get this part of the equation. For me, the whole thing is about learning – students learning and growing from where they were. This can happen in a number of ways and it manifests itself in an equally number of different ways. Yes, part of it is about covering curriculum but it’s more and, as an administrator, it’s my role to help teachers to do their best to enhance the learning environment in the classroom. Sometimes, it’s praising them and sometimes it being direct and then helping them to learn and develop. It’s being truthful about what I see as leader for learning. 

As this new school year begins, I am once again teaching a whole new set of classes. My teacher side is nervous and worried that I won’t be prepared for this. My administrator side is worried about the overall school and teachers and helping them to prepare for the upcoming school year. I have 5 new teachers in the building, three who are new to the profession. I will have 2 more join our staff in a few months as two of the teachers go on maternity leave. It seems enormous at times. However, as a leader, I realize I don’t face this alone. I have teachers who are experienced and who have many talents. I have support people in the division that can help. In the end, my role is to help all the staff to create a school that is a center of learning, who are focused on student success and who know that there is nothing that can happen that we won’t be able to work through or overcome. 

Life is a journey of continuous learning. In the school, my role is to lead for learning for everyone, including myself. To help those around me, I figure I need to have at least some experience in what it is like to be a full time teacher in order to make decisions that will be the most effective in providing the opportunities for learning. Not all will take advantage of those opportunities, which is very unfortunate, but I’m the person who, when the rubber hits the pavement, is responsible for the learning that takes place. I can’t do it along, and don’t intend to try but, if I don’t accept that responsibility, then there is little chance it will happen. I learned this while being a classroom teacher. From my perspective, you can’t skip steps otherwise you miss out on too much learning yourself. 

That’s why administrators need to learn in the classroom first.


  1. Pat


    What a great post! I always can tell what administrators haven’t taught much because they have no clue about the reality of the classroom. We had one who gave warning slips to teachers who weren’t in the hallway during class break. Now, I have 18 special ed students in a self contained classroom which has 6 kitchen units. These students are LD, ED, EMD, and autistic. I got a warning slip and I wanted to yell, “Do you really want me to leave them alone with stoves and ovens, while I stand out in the hallway????” If I got another slip, I was sent to see the Principal during my planning. I couldn’t believe I was being treated like a student! I think you would be a great administrator to work with because you really “get it” since you have truly “been there”!

  2. Reply

    Yes, yes, thank you, yes! An administrator who is a lifelong learner and who knows what it means to teach! You are a blessing to the educational community. Please keep spreading the word that schools need leaders who know what it’s like to be “in the trenches” and who know that they must also continue to learn.

  3. Reply

    Teaching experience is an essential component of any school leadership role. However, I do believe that administrators need to have been good teachers. How else can they understand how decisions impact on good teachers and good learning experiences??

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