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From Sage on the Stage to Guide on the Side

We applaud those small groups of teachers who meet and undertake instructional projects to improve their lessons for students. We give kudos to the elementary school grade-level team or the secondary school department team that identifies areas for their own increased learning, and creates the means by which to do the learning. Students, as we all know, benefit from these particular teachers' actions.

But what of the remainder of students? Should not all students experience great teaching? While a few teachers can rather easily gather together for improvement activities, we champion the whole school faculty connecting to learn in order to improve their work -- teaching -- so that all students learn at high levels.

For this outcome, the principal prepares in advance by identifying time for the whole faculty to come together as a group. Finding time is not always easy, and it is the most frequently noted barrier to meeting for adult learning. The principal must also secure a location and an inventory of materials -- educational journals, newsletters, computer access to online resources, as well as potentially useful CDs, videos, etc. These schedule and structural support items are just the beginning. As any form of professional learning is initiated, two roles of the principal are imperative.

First, when a school-wide community of professional learners is the goal, the principal adopts the "sage on stage" role, initiating actions that galvanize the teaching staff to:
• examine the results that they are producing with students;
• identify any areas where students are not performing well;
• determine changes to teaching practices that target the poor student performance;
• specify what they will need to learn, to use the "new way;"
• invest their time and energy in learning the what and how, thus, changing their practice;
• transferring the new practice(s) to the classroom.

During this first cycle, the principal is encouraging, assisting, supporting, and monitoring so as to know where and how to provide support. Simultaneously, the principal is beginning to provide opportunities for teachers to gain the skills to direct and manage their communities, developing their leadership capacity so that the community becomes a democratic, self-organizing entity with shared leadership. For sure, this is a very brief definition of the principal as she or he directs the staff in their new methods of working collaboratively, to learn new content and skills so that their effectiveness increases, and all students gain.

Shirley Hord
Scholar Laureate, Learning Forward

(Next up: how the principal's role changes as learning community members develop leadership skills.)

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