Leaders who learn
Learners Who Lead
Natalie Croome looks back at her own learning – as a child, as a young trainee and as a teacher. She reflects on her ‘special teachers’ and how they were learners – and leaders – as well.
First of two artcles on leadership and learning.
Teacher Magic and Leader Magic
I’m sure you have had occasion, sitting around with family or friends, to remember and describe those teachers who left their mark on you. Yes, there are those negative experiences that we just can’t shake and that have had a deep impact on us, even into our adult lives. But I would like to focus here on those positive ones, those teachers who did or had that “something special”, that teacher magic, making them memorable for you. Maybe they engaged you emotionally, explained something in a new way, made you laugh or inspired you to really do and be your best.
One of my memorable, magic teachers is Mrs. Tiddy, my Grade 1 teacher. With her, it was all about exploration and trust. Fortunately for me and my fellow students, my primary school in the small town of Cooee, Tasmania, was just across the road from the beach. Mrs. Tiddy would regularly take us on beachcombing trips. On arrival, she would give us time to take off our shoes and socks (socks placed, one in each shoe) and leave them in a neat line, above the high-tide mark.
Then, in our bare feet (Mrs. Tiddy’s too!) we were free to explore and collect and create and wonder, with only one rule… “Don’t go where you can’t see me!”, Mrs. Tiddy would say. This gave us the autonomy, the trust was implied, to manage ourselves in this free, open space. It was in our hands and was our responsibility. Our instruction was not to stay where she could see us but where we could see her! No hiding behind the rocks, no drifting off, wandering around the point, no laying down in the long grass between the beach and the railway lines!
At the other end of my formal education was Ms. Annah Tate, my language lecturer at the University of Tasmania, where I did my initial teacher training and gained my Bachelor of Education. Anna was a true example of what a primary classroom teacher could do and be. She read us picture books, she let us read picture books to one another, she engaged us through poetry and allowed us to write, make spelling mistakes, self-edit and find new ways of doing old things. In Anna’s room we explored language and learning with open minds and were encouraged to be creative, while developing a love and appreciation, through first-hand experiences, of the power of teaching and learning with a whole language approach. The theory was embedded in her practice.
Considering those powerful moments we experienced as learners, when our teachers were instrumental in changing us in some profound way; teaching us one of life’s lessons, what about the leaders you have encountered in your professional life? I am sure that, as a teacher and/or a leader, you also have those leaders who have left their mark on you. What was it about them that made them stand-out leaders? What did these inspiring leaders do? How did they do it? How did we feel about it…them…your work with them? What was their magic?
I would hazard a guess that the chances are high that, among their “magical skills” was a willingness to be learners.
Betty Brown was, and still is, one of my truly inspiring leaders. Having been a school leader before moving to the school where I was teaching, Betty had made the choice to return to the classroom, acknowledging that student learning is why we do what we do; it’s where the action is in a school. After managing and organising her own PYP classroom; beautifully crafting lessons, units of inquiry, student-centred experiences and innovative assessment tasks, Betty become a leader in our school. In her role as PYP Coordinator and Primary Principal, Betty remained very much at the heart of the teaching and learning in our school, both at student and adult levels. She set high standards for us as a team of teachers but there was a simple, unspoken expectation that we would do and be the best for our students because that was our responsibility, and she had done it beside us. She had shown us what was possible.
Betty didn’t “check on” us but she was in our classrooms regularly, as a normal part of our classroom teaching and learning programme. She regularly gave us time to engage in our own professional growth and learning by giving us time to sit in her office and conduct research, read articles or write curriculum while she took our class. Betty learned with us, she learned about us and knew each of us well, she differentiated for us, recognising the strengths and weaknesses of each teacher in the team. She constantly read and shared professional articles and books. We discussed what they meant for our practice and how our beliefs might need to change in order for our practice to follow. Betty led our professional learning programme and encouraged us to be leaders too, sharing our unique areas of expertise and passion. Betty was willing to fail and admit when things did not go well. She had her lessons that flopped and her students that weren’t achieving as she would have liked but that was all part of her magic. She would admit that there were things she was constantly working on and developing in her repertoire.
Betty worked smart during working hours and modelled that all-important work-life balance. When she left school, her work was done (even though it never really is “done” for educators), and Betty lived her family and social lives with the same amount of energy, focus and dedication as she did her work life. Ever since, I have not felt guilty on seeing those teachers who arrive early, stay late and even come in to school on the weekend because I knew that this was not necessary to be an effective and efficient educator.
What they have in common
It strikes me now, as I reflect on my stand-out teachers and leaders that they all have some special things in common: trust, autonomy, a love of learning, an ability to do what they want us to do, an appreciation of the individual. They are not the office-sitters or the corridor-walkers. They don’t just pop their head into your classroom or sit in the back of the room during a Professional Learning session, writing emails; sending us the message that they are somehow “above” the learning that we are engaging in. They model the learning; they are life-long learners.
Natalie Croome is a Cognitive Coach, Designer and Facilitator of Professional Learning and PYP specialist.
She is also the founder of ITeach Solutions and brings a collaborative, inquiry based approach to Professional Learning, which she offers in schools, on-line or on Retreat in Europe and Australia.
To learn more see https://iteach.solutions/
Natalie’s family have been attending Cooee Primary through 5 generations – back to the 1930s.
Support Images kindly provided by Betty & by Jenny Shead ,
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