How many times have we all heard the phrase, “life-long learner” referring to: 1) what’s listed in educators’ personal philosophies of education, 2) what’s listed on an educator’s resume, or 3) what we want our students to become/remain? Sometimes in the daily grind of being a school leader, it’s easy to get caught up in the minutia of “urgent” managerial, student, community and instructional issues; perhaps one uses the term in a sarcastic and jaded way, since many school leaders in general and teachers feel scrutinized by the general public and already feel like they don’t have enough time to complete all the requirements of the job, nonetheless be “life-long learners.”
When I was preparing to be a school leader, I heard this phrase over and over again in coursework, indicating what school leaders should be and how to promote a culture of professional and life-long learning among faculty and students. And while everything I learned at that time was valuable information, I was surprised to learn how hard it was to accomplish this quickly in a school.
It wasn’t until I was in my 4th and 5th year as a school administrator that I finally learned some unexpected lessons about how to promote life-long learning. The first was to listen. Teachers were telling me of “new” and “innovative” ways to seek professional development and support. The Media Center Specialist introduced me to Twitter, which has been a very unexpected delight of support and professional resources for me over the past 4 years. I am thankful that I had collaborative relationships built with staff members and teachers whereby it was never uncomfortable for me to learn from them, even though in the hierachical sense, I was “above” them.
I didn’t fully understand the power of simple modeling. If I found a resource, I shared it; it just made sense to pass it along as applicable. As I became more active on Twitter, I didn’t push people to join or participate. I simply showed them the value of it for me professionally, which encouraged other people to participate. Even now, I still have former colleagues, teachers, students, etc, who will trade resources with me, via Twitter or otherwise, because together with former colleagues, a collaborative learning network has been established through various means. This is a great unexpected joy that I never anticipated when I was preparing to be a principal, as I’ve held a few different positions in a few schools (and now at a university) and accumulated many former colleagues. Being a life-long learner doesn’t necessarily have to be listed in a mission statement or posted on the wall (although it often helps), but what’s most important is that it’s lived. As a school leader, that in itself will encourage others around you to do the same.