My Learning ‘Needs’ for September

For the past two years, I’ve been working as a lead principal in a system role. Although the role fulfilled my need for new learning and anew experience, very little of our work has been directly linked to a specific school or to student learning. In September, I’m heading back into the role of JK-8 principal. My excitement grows each day.

text on shelf
Photo provided via

September marks the start of my 26th year in education and my 12th as a principal. As I prepare for this ‘re-entry’, I realize I am nearing the end of my formal educational career. If this were a hockey game, I’d be in the 2nd half of the 3rd period. 🙂  The transition / re-entry combo at this later stage has caused a little more introspection on my part as I reflect on my own learning ‘needs’ for the year ahead.

At this moment, two months out from the start of my school year, my ‘top 3’  look like this:

I need to learn. Seems odd to state the obvious. But sometimes, we forget that learning is a need for educators. If I am going to expect modern life-long learners, I have to model modern life-long learning. Clear communication, effective collaboration, the ability to learn and re-learn new ideas and to apply newly learned skills, the ability to transfer these skills to new situations, to reflect, and to problem solve are all of critical importance to the modern learner (Please see “21st Century Competencies: Foundation document for discussion” or the OECD position paper ‘The Future of Education and Skills – Education 2030″ for a more detailed look).  And, on a related note, I need staff and students to see me primarily as a learner. That’s not as easy as it sounds. Learning keeps my brain active and keeps me in the game. Quoting one of Covey’s 7 Habits, it sharpens my saw.

I need to share my learning. I still think too many of us in education still work in isolation, enclosed in the safety of our classrooms and schools. In the past, that was both the nature and structure of education.  That is no longer so. Our world is connected in way that would have seemed like science-fiction when I was a student.

I’ve gone through periods of significant sharing as well as periods where I have been visible only to myself. I need to commit to sharing my learning consistently for anyone interested, because, since I think it should be common practice in education, as a leader, I better be ready to put my money where my mouth is. This includes blogging on a more consistent schedule (I have set 2 blog posts a month as my goal), sharing my learning (and the learning in our school) on Social Media, presenting again at conferences.

I need to take risks and make mistakes. Linked to learning need number 2 🙂  If I’m going to share it, then I need to do it, warts and all!  Perfection as a goal is unreasonable and unattainable. Taking risks is critical if we are going to make student learning relevant to their current world and the world into which they will enter when they are finished their learning journey with us. Making mistakes reminds me that I still have things to learn. I might as well say it since it’s going to happen. I am going to make them.  When I make one, I’ll own it and learn from it.

How about a pretty public example?

Now don’t get me wrong… I am very pleased that I got up on the red dot. I am also pleased with the end result. But, my first TEDx talk is a great example of a few mistakes in action. If you watch it, then ask yourself if, within the first few moments, it was really erasers that were embedded into the side of those big crayon boxes. Then check out the title of the slide at the 6:00 mark and ask yourself if I’m really highlighting the arrival of “The Industrial Age”. And then there’s the ‘fluidity’ of some of my main points. Mistakes. (well, nerves too!) 😁 But, I’ll gladly repeat the experience if provided the opportunity. (I talk in a little more detail about the TEDx experience with Sarah Lalonde in episode #51 of her podcast).

Describing a learning ‘need’ seems a little unnatural and selfish. As I transition back into the role of school principal, I understand that the needs of others will supersede my own. I am, after all, in a position of service.  I understand that there will be values and philosophies and experiences that will shape and drive my leadership practice and my everyday work. I know one focus will be on the primacy of the relationships with the students in our school community. I know I will be visible. I know I will share leadership. I know I will use the ‘student lens’ as my primary vantage point. But I’m hoping by explicitly sharing my learning ‘needs’, I’ll be OK safeguarding some ‘me’ learning time and be able to keep my own learning visible.

Expect to see one of these posts at least twice a month. To that, I am committed. And, keep an eye on my Twitter feed.

Ah… Heading into a school again. It really is nice to return home!