Learning, living and leading: The basics

In my two previous columns, I looked at the basics of education. What is basic about education, and what is basic to accomplishing it? The answers, I said, revolve around the tight connection among three familiar terms: learning, change and leadership.

Education is most fundamentally about learning. Learning, in turn, is new experience, skill, understanding and so on. When anything is new, change is involved. And for change to be effective it requires that leaders who can facilitate the critical conditions that make change possible be present.

In short, teachers need to be successful leaders or they won’t really be successful teachers.

In previous columns I have outlined five critical conditions that underlie successful change efforts. There is a massive amount of research to support the view that specific kinds of leadership skills are needed to generate and sustain each of these particular conditions. So if learners experience learning as change, and if teachers’ core work involves leading learning, then we can translate all of these connections into five statements that define the operating basics of successful classrooms:

– ‘Authentic” teacher-leaders create a compelling purpose for new learning;


– ‘Visionary” teacher-leaders establish an inspiring vision of the new learning;

– ‘Collegial” teacher-leaders develop ownership for the new learning;

– ‘Quality” teacher-leaders build underlying capacity for the new learning; and

– ‘Service” teacher-leaders sustain support systems for the new learning.

So far, so good. We have managed to establish clearly a different way of viewing the basics underlying effective teaching, tie it directly to a powerful body of research on leadership and change in the world and challenge the notion that only policymakers, government officials, and school principals qualify as educational leaders.

But there is something else, a vital ability for effective teaching that needs to be added. To become a total leader, you have to be a total learner.

Here’s what I mean:

– Firstly, authentic leaders are conscious learners. They are open, aware and insightful, and they focus on the deep values, meanings and principles underlying things. They are very motivated by these inner issues and ideals, and conduct themselves as genuine and trustworthy. If things don’t ring true with their deep sense of what’s right and fair, they don’t embrace them.

– Secondly, visionary leaders are creative learners. They are very imaginative and far-sighted and they focus on new possibilities and what could be as they engage in life. They are very motivated by the innovative potential that exists in all situations, and they thrive in outside-the-box ways of thinking and performing.

– Thirdly, collegial leaders are collaborative learners. They are very people-orientated and genuinely take the interests of others to heart. They are inclusive and participatory in their orientations, and they want others to enjoy experiences that can be shared as a group or team. They are very motivated by the potential that exists among people to come together and they thrive on being the glue that holds collective endeavours together.

– Fourthly, quality leaders are competent learners. They have high performance standards and a strong desire to assist others in developing the skills and understandings necessary for reaching them. They strive for excellence and productivity, and they are highly motivated by the potential for improvement that lies in all situations. You can count on them to do the best job possible.

– Fifthly, service leaders are compassionate learners. They strongly identify with the big picture of how things function, and they can tirelessly devote their talents and energies to serving the greater good — whether they receive personal recognition for it or not. They are motivated by both the long- and short-term potential for common benefit that lies in all situations and will confront insensitivity and injustice wherever they might find it.

Where does this leave us? With a vision of how different our world, communities and schools would be if we could just stick to these basics: learning, living and leading consciously, creatively, collaboratively, competently and compassionately!

What could be more basic than that?`

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William Spady
Guest Author

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