Lead Learner or Co-Learner?



If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader

John Quincy Adams


I first came across the term Lead Learner in 2013 at EdCamp Leadership in New Jersey. At first I thought that it was a unique way to demonstrate that the leader in the building was also a learner. For me, this is an important message. The leader is also a learner, a life-long learner. I didn't really think much more about it other than I wasn't sure if I could give myself that title if I ever became a principal. Then two recent blog posts pushed my thinking about the title lead learner.

Pernille Ripp (@pernilleripp) wrote a very insightful post describing what the term Lead Learner means to her. You can read the entire post here. While she understands the meaning behind the title she also believes that is a title that one bestows upon themselves which further cements the hierarchy and power within a school. She wants empowered schools that are learning communities where everyone has a voice and it doesn't matter what title someone holds. 

Then about a week later Bill Ferriter wrote a very edgy post called "My Longstanding Beef with Instructional Leaders".  He doesn't hold any punches about what he feels about the title Lead Learner. As like Pernille Bill also feels that Lead Learner is a title that evokes a power grab. But he goes deeper stating that principals don't struggle with instruction on a daily basis as a classroom teacher does. And he backs this up with some research from North Carolina.

So both Pernille and Bill, have strong opinions about the title. It's not that they don't understand the important role a principal plays in the instructional program, they simply believe that classroom teachers are leading the learning in the classroom. They are the ones that struggle with supporting at-risk or disengaged students. They are the ones on the front lines making decisions about what's important for their students. After reading their blogs I realized that my initial thoughts on the title Lead Learner were misguided. But principals do play an important role in the instructional program, so where do they fit? Is there common ground where the hierarchy can be flattened? Of course there is and it's called co-learner. 

After tweeting out Bill's blog our district's associate director (@karendalton555) responded with this:


I literally did a facepalm. Yes, we are co-learners. In a learning organization students, teachers, administrators, superintendents, associate directors, directors, are learning together. So thank you Pernille, Bill and Karen for pushing my thinking.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about the title Lead Learning or even your vision of a learning organization. 

Tweets of the Week - February 8th, 2015
Tweets of the Week - January 18th, 2015

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  • I can recall sitting in that same session and hearing "lead learner" for the first time. I loved the concept so much that I even tweeted about it. I agree with your comments and Karen's about the power of being a co-learner and know first hand, that if the correct conditions are in place (egos are left at the door, everyone is prepared to be open to having their thinking shifted, ideas may not be agreed upon, but they are respectfully challenged, etc.) then authentic learning for everyone can indeed take place.
    But I still wonder about the role of the leader in such a learning situation and how it might differ from others. Certainly not in a hierarchical way (my ideas are the biggest, brightest and therefore best), but in their role as "leading the learning". They have a responsibility to model what authentic learning looks like, to embrace failure as a "first attempt at learning" and to ensure that the conditions for true collaboration are in place.
    Maybe it's in the semantics. Maybe it's not a "lead learner" but it's a "Leading Learner" . Maybe the adjective becomes the verb ;)

  • David Fife

    Thanks for your comment Sue. You always provide readers deep insights. I love the idea that administrators still need to "lead the learning", modelling what authentic learning looks like. I think the Leading Learner defines what today's administrators should be striving to be.

  • Hamilton, ON, Canada

    David, this is a post I could have just written! You beat me to it. I have always been a bit uncomfortable with the term Lead Learner, although I think I understand the thinking behind it. Both Pernille and Bill's posts had the same effect on me as on you. I really want to be a co-learner, all the while understanding that my words carry weight with others, so I need to be careful how I articulate my learning. It's a tightrope to walk.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  • David Fife

    Hi Sue,

    Thanks for your comments. I know how you feel about getting beat to the punch! I often read blogs and say to myself, man I was going to blog about that :)