What is a Learning Leader anyway?

by | May 17, 2021

Gavin Grift presents at the Marzano Research Summit 2019, Brisbane

Gavin Grift presents at the Marzano Research Summit 2019, Brisbane

There’s no shortage of information out there on leadership.

But in my work with schools, it’s very common to meet leaders who either have lost their way or are facing challenges with their leadership identity or style.

If you’re a learning leader yourself, you’ll know that the perception of leadership is often very different from the reality you face every day.

And to be truly effective, you’ll need to worry about more than developing your own leadership skills – you’ll also need to know how to help the rest of your team develop theirs.

This was the part of the puzzle my co-authors, Heather De Blasio and Jane Danvers, and I wanted to address in our book Five Ways of Being: What Learning Leaders think, do and say every day.

How could we help learning leaders support and guide their colleagues to acquire self-knowledge and develop new skills?

So what makes a great learning leader?

In Five Ways of Being, we argue that learning should be at the heart of everything you do as a leader.

To achieve this aim, we want to help our educational leaders become more trusting, brave, compelling, purposeful and focused on growth.

Being a learning leader requires a conscious commitment to the development of both ourselves and others in the ongoing pursuit of learning for all.

In my experience, the schools and the teams that truly put learning first, and manage to make a massive difference, have a commitment to each other and the development of themselves as learners.

Where to start?

We suggest asking yourself the following three questions:

  1. How can I genuinely lead learning and others?
  2. How can I create an environment that helps my colleagues become learning leaders?
  3. What do I need to do to make this happen?

A big part of the last question is spending some time figuring out the kind of leader you are right now, and the leader you’d like to become.

Of course, this process won’t happen overnight – and nor should it.

Developing your empathy

One of the major areas we focus on in Five Ways of Being is putting learning at the centre of everything we do.

But it’s also vital to place empathy at the core of your leadership. Empathy is how you connect with the person sitting across from you. It is the act of seeing them fully. Unfortunately, it’s often one of the first things that is cast aside when we get stressed and just need to get the job done.

However, recognising others as human beings – opinions, emotions, experiences and all – is central to our identity as learning leaders, and crucial in building trust and strong relationships.

Why no one leadership model is better than another

While writing the book, we researched almost 25 different models of leadership

For example, there’s quiet leadership, where the leader knows it’s not all about them and they are relentless in building greatness through a combination of humility and professional will.

Or authentic leadership, where leaders believe the constant growth of themselves and others is key to success.

Among the many others, there’s also distributive leadership – probably one of the most prominent theories of leadership in our field. It focuses on engaging employees in decisions that directly relate to their role, giving them a sense of purpose and commitment.

No matter which style or styles of leadership you may draw on, remember that none of them are right or wrong.

It’s really about finding strategies that help you discover genuine aspects of yourself in the pursuit of authoring your own leadership story – and helping others do the same.

Find out more about becoming a genuine learning leader in Five Ways of Being. Get the book here.

Five Ways of Being

What Learning Leaders think, do and say every day

Jane Danvers, Heather De Blasio and Gavin Grift

Leadership is traditionally viewed as a competency-based skill. This book challenges that view and argues leadership is about being: about who we are, who we need to become and who we can become to help develop others. Through evidence-based strategies, readers will embrace the Five Ways of Being and build their ability to lead learning.

Buy now at Hawker Brownlow Education

Gavin Grift With experience as a teacher, assistant principal and educational coach, Gavin Grift's passion, commitment and style have made him an in-demand presenter of keynotes, seminars and in-school support days. As a speaker, Gavin connects with national and international audiences on topics ranging from Cognitive Coaching and quality teacher practice to professional learning communities (PLCs) and learning-centred leadership. Read more articles by Gavin Grift

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