Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lead with the Learning

In the last month, I have met with legislators and policy makers in both D.C. and Montgomery, Alabama. I have spent much time in reflection on what we as educators can do to make a difference for our students (See Can One Person Make a Difference?) In all the (mostly) ups and (rather few) downs, I have emerged with one thought that was shared by State Superintendent, Dr. Tommy Bice: Always lead with the learning. He shared this in the context of speaking with non-educators, policy makers, and legislators, but I believe that this phrase has much greater ramifications on the mission and vision of an educator.

As educators, all decisions that we make must always be focused on positively impacting student learning whether we are discussing instructional practice, professional development, or logistical planning within a school or district. Everything needs to be focused on student learning.

It is human nature to become creatures of habit. We find a lesson, strategy, or management technique that works and we tend to stick with it for years even when it proves unproductive. Many times we want to make a square peg into an ever-shrinking round whole. What we really need to do is pause and evaluate if that practice is not only effective, but also supports students in their academic and personal goals. Are we leading with the learning?

My intern (who has been doing a fantastic job) often asked me how to adjust her management techniques to support certain students. I asked her to explain her rationale behind the choices she had been making. Once she reflected on it, she realized that she was simply imitating something she had observed rather than thinking about how her choices would impact student learning. I recommended she speak with the students to see what they suggested. What she discovered was that students knew what would help hold them accountable for making good choices and getting the most learning out of each of the opportunities that she provided. She began leading with the learning.

In our PLG meetings, are we making choices about our practice based on what's easiest for us or best for student learning? Taking the time to plan hands-on, cross-curricular activities or experiential learning experiences off campus or supporting student-created and driven learning activities all take time, planning, and resources. But, are we making decisions based on the learning or some less important factors. We must always lead with the learning at the forefront of all decision making processes.

In my aforementioned post, I wondered if I was accurately teaching my students that one voice can make a difference. To the best of my abilities, I try to lead by example. Following Dr. Bice's advice, I try to always lead with the learning when speaking with our policy makers and legislators. This week, I was fortunate to see a how leading with the learning intrigued legislators we spoke with last year. Several of these legislators had spent time seeking out the National Board Certified Teachers in their districts. They spoke with these teachers and visited their classrooms. They were able to see how accomplished teachers lead with the learning and the positive impact it truly has on each individual student's learning. These legislators have embraced the powerful learning that is possible and they have been actively seeking new ways to support it within their districts.

Lead with the learning is a mantra that educators can embrace in all aspects of their professions; one that can greatly impact not only the students directly in one's classroom, but have far reaching ramifications. So next time we each have a choice to make, whether big or small, let's take a moment to ask ourselves, are we leading with learning? If not, maybe it's time to stop forcing that square peg to fit that round hole and step out of our comfort zones and try something new.

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

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