What Learner-Centered Leaders Can Learn From An Awesome Elementary Team

I had the pleasure to sit down with a group of OUTSTANDING elementary teachers last week. I periodically meet with this team for a reality check. In my position, it is easy to become too “theoretical”. As a school leader, you can’t forget that the decisions you make actually have to be implemented by teachers! I appreciate meeting with this team because I know they will not sugarcoat their opinions.

Two “Career” Transitions

Think about what we (and “we” means school leaders, school boards, and society) have asked teachers to do since schools shut down in March.

  1. First, in March, we asked teachers to transition their instructional model from 100% face-to-face to 100% virtual…overnight. This one “ask” is so big that this kind of shift has not been asked of any teacher in at least four or five generations Maybe the transition from a one-room schoolhouse to the current industrial model can be considered at the same level. But wait, in August, we asked for more.
  2. Second, in August, we asked them to transition from 100% virtual to a blended model where some students are in the classroom and some are virtual. This was another “once in a four or five generation” transition for teachers.

So, to recap. In the course of six months, we asked teachers to make two transitions whose difficulty in implementing had not been done once in the last seventy years.

It makes me wonder what did school leaders do to help their teachers in this transition. I know what we did in my organization to support school districts in helping with these transitions. But I wanted to know what it was like for the frontline teachers.

I learned three things that I will share with learner-centered leaders whenever I can.

3 Things I learned


Okay, potential learner-centered leaders, here is lesson #1 today.

Go and talk to your teachers and listen to what they are saying. Remember to listen, not just hear. Your teachers need to know that you understand what you are asking them to do. They know that they are not going to be perfect in these instructional model transitions. But they want to know that you know they are trying their best and you understand what is being asked of them.

Just being present for them even if you can’t “solve” any problems for them is the BEST action you can take to support them. Period.

Go find a teacher or two or ten and ask them one simple question.

“What can I do to make your job easier over the next 30 days?”

2. Encourage, Allow, Facilitate a Network and Team

Lesson #2, dear learner-centered leader…give permission to teachers to organize or join a network of other teachers.

During these times of change and transition, teachers rely on each other to learn. Teachers want actionable, specific tricks of the trade that will help them in their classes tomorrow.

They don’t want theory.

They don’t want something that does not pertain to the task you have asked them to undertake.

They don’t want incomplete training that only gets them part of the way to their goal.

The best way you can help them is to connect them to other teachers who are teaching the same subjects. Teaching the same grade levels. Facing the same challenges.

Make resources available to teachers so they can join teams outside the school district. I am thinking of things like memberships to different organizations that have networks of teachers already established.

3. Time

Lesson #3 for all of my learner-centered leaders out there is to make sure you give teachers the gift of time. Remember, time is a resource as valuable as money.

Let’s recap something important. We are asking teachers to make two shifts in how they work that have not been done in four or five generations. It seems to me that allowing teachers time DURING THEIR WORKDAY to prepare, learn, and connect with one another is a wise use of resources.

Teacher’s time does not always have to be tied to official crediting activities (i.e., in Pennsylvania, Act 48 credits). Tieing all teacher activities to Act 48 credits limits the benefit of time for your teachers.

The informal learning that occurs when teachers have the time to collaborate with each other without having to worry about filling out the proper form to “prove” they are productive is invaluable.

Carving out time for a teacher team to meet has an incredible return on inverstment.

So, learner-centered leader, sharpen your pencil, get your eraser out, and sit down and figure out how you can give your teachers time to work together and collaborate.

My New Book

I am proud to announce that my new book has been published. There are three pillars of learner-centered leadership that I discuss in the book.

  • Stay true to your learners
  • Stay true to yourself
  • Stay true to your staff.

In the first week it was published, the Kindle version of the book was listed as an Amazon “#1 New Release” in three education categories.

For more information about the book, and where you can purchase it, please follow this link.

About Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.
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