The Principal Learner
Earlier this week we explored the principal's role in establishing schoolwide communities of professional learners. But as members of those learning communities develop their own leadership skills, the principal descends from the sage on the stage role to engage in a second role -- as a democratically participating member of the community, working on a level plateau with the teachers, performing as a guide on the side. The principal has no more power, authority, or decision-making opportunities than the teachers.
Because teachers' acquisition of new knowledge and skills is directly related to the improvement of instruction in the classroom, the principal's continuous activity is serving as a model "learner." The principal may communicate short pieces of text to teachers' online (or in the office) mailboxes, with questions that will guide discussion at future meetings. The principal shares books, periodicals, newspaper articles and other items with staff members in the hallway, cafeteria, or parking lot, wherever they get an opportunity.
In addition, every one of the principal's conversations or interactions with students, teachers, or parents must always carry some message about learning. The principal may ask a student, as they are walking down a hallway, what he is learning in mathematics class this week, and follow up with the same student two days later with an inquiry about that math class. The principal may inquire of a teacher as they cross the parking lot how a student is progressing with his reading comprehension, or share a paragraph in a book with a teacher while monitoring the bus loading, and ask the teacher what she thinks of the expressed idea about teaching science.
In numerous ways, the principal expresses interest, energy, and enthusiasm to parents and teachers about their students' learning success. The principal promotes new strategies and provides new resources that will support teacher and student learning. In all ways, the principal makes clear that the primary goal of the school is learning for all, and the most important thing the principal can do to support learning for the professionals, as well as the students.
Scholar Laureate, Learning Forward