Learning Leader – A Cultural Shift

It started with a question in January 2016 at our Lower School Pedagogical Team Meeting (the PLT is the Lower School Principal, Vice Principals, PYP Coordinators, Director of Learning, Director of Chinese Studies and Head of Educational Technology): ‘How can we better empower our Grade Level Leaders in the Lower School to focus more on driving learning rather than on the Administrative day to day work?’. This question had been floating around for a while but gained impetus as we realized how many of our current staff were ready to take on true leadership roles and help really drive learning forward at CDNIS.

On the surface, this seemed a relatively easy question until we drilled deeper into the expectations and language associated with the role of Grade Level Leader.

The process of shifting the focus of this role to driving learning is in its infancy but what we have started is showing a lot of potential, and it only took a few small steps.

1. Get the right people in place, get the language right and set the right expectations for the role.
Fortunately in this case we advertise our Grade Level Leader positions annually at CDNIS. This allowed us to shift a lot of the language and expectations for these roles instantly with the creation of a new Job Description. A couple of the key aspects of the new role that we designed are:
As an agent of change, the Learning Leader is primarily responsible for leading the Teaching and Learning Programme within his/her grade/subject area.
Building a culture of inquiry, a Learning Leader will demonstrate the search for best practice within the classroom environment and in his/her role as a leader
Source, read, and discuss professional reading material with the team, reflecting on the implications for their practice
Facilitate the development of a learning community in which all staff members, homeroom teachers and single subject specialists have a desire to inquire, reflect and continually search for best practice

2. Don’t be afraid to not have all the answers at the start of the process, but mutually agree our big picture goals for the future and how we are going to get there.
Right from the start we have made it very clear that we have a general idea of the goal for this new role, but that it will be down to the whole team to determine how we get there. Engaging our new Learning Leaders in the process of defining their own roles and responsibilities has created an environment of group discovery where all of us are in this together.
The biggest takeaway from our initial discussions was to formally find a way of getting the Admin jobs off the plate of the new Learning Leaders. We have achieved this by flattening out the admin responsibilities across the whole Grade Level team

3. Model and Support.
Our first meeting as the new Lower School Team was a highly significant point in this journey. As a PLT we had to ensure that the tone for the next 12 months was purposefully set. A quick ‘vision share’ about the role merged into a group discussion about the difference between a Manager and a Leader.



This was followed by a completely honest and open round table chat about the possibilities of these new roles and the potential problems that may arise. The best part of this was that the positive atmosphere in the room full of possibilities was contagious. As Chip Heath & Dan Heath point out in the great book Switch, “it is always easier to pull off when everyone is doing it”.

Another factor in making permanent change according to the the Heath’s is “you need to create the expectation of failure – not the failure of the mission itself, but failure en route.” that’s critical, because people will persevere only if they perceive falling down as learning rather than as failing.”

In the first few weeks of the 2016-2017 school year members of the Learning Leaders team ran mini workshops for this team on ‘Collaboration’. These mini workshops were tailored so the new learning leaders could run the same workshops with their team – an important combination of professional learning, modeling and empowering for our new leaders.

4. Remind the wider staff of THE WHY and road map the way forward

This new approach has been slowly rolled out to the Lower School staff over the last 10 months beginning with the release of the revise Job Description in January. At the start of this academic year the WHY of this change was reiterated to the whole Lower School staff and included providing a road mapping of the new direction and outlining the expectations we have for all of our staff in support of making this succeed.

We have the start of a process where we will combine the talents and resources of this great group of Learning Leaders, along with the best up to date research we can find, to drive learning forward at CDNIS. The next job will be to build within this new  community of Learning Leaders the culture of honesty, willingness to share, and openness to other’s views. We have made a great start as we continue to drive learning forward at CDNIS.

Jon Field (Director of Learning)


Heath, Chip, and Dan Heath. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. Waterville, Me: Thorndike Press, 2011. Print.

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