Those who know me may know how long I have been mulling over this post. How long these thoughts have been percolating, simply based on how many times I have brought it up in conversation. You see, it’s been bugging me for a while, yet I know so many amazing principals that call themselves “Lead learner” that I have been afraid to say anything because I am not here to hurt, nor here to make others feel bad. But the whole lead learner title, can we discuss it for a moment? And perhaps rethink the use of it?
Before people get upset or chalk it up to me not understanding, hear me out. I know what the title “lead learner” is supposed to signify, I have had many conversations with people who have explained their intent, and for that I am grateful, because those conversations have helped me understand the title more. What I have found is that most who use the title use it to show that they are role models of learning within their community. They use the title to show staff that they are still learning, that their job is to lead the learning, that the learning doesn’t stop just because someone becomes a principal. They call themselves the lead learner so that others can see how serious they take the position and the enormous task it is to be an incredible principal. There, though, lies my problem.
You see when we give ourselves titles, and let’s be honest, the title of “lead learner” is usually bestowed upon a person by themselves, we shut others out. When we say that we are in the lead, whether it be in learning or other ventures, then others can never lead for more than a short period of time When we say that we are the ones that lead the learning, then we have fully cemented the power structure within a school; the principal is completely in the lead and everyone else follows behind. Teachers will never be leaders within their learning, because that position has already been taken. Yet that power structure is what so many of us are hoping to change so that we can have empowered schools; learning community where everyone’s voice matters and it doesn’t matter what title someone holds, their words still hold power.
So when someone calls themselves a lead learner that message of wanting an empowered staff gets muddled, and I don’t think that is the intent. In fact, I would ask anyone who uses this title to ask their staff and anyone else what that title signifies to them. I asked my husband tonight, who is not in education, and his response was eye opening; a lead learner is someone who makes the final decision and brings the learning back for others to then pursue. His interpretation is not what I think most principals want to be viewed as. So although, I may know why someone has chosen to call themselves the “Lead learner” I wonder if others that haven’t asked the meaning behind it do? I don’t see an asterisk next to the title nor an explanation every time it is used. So those deeper intentions of a symbolic title do not come across as meaningful, they seem to come across as limiting or in the very least unnecessary, which I know is not the intention.
As always though, don’t take my word for it. I am, after all, just one teacher with one opinion. Ask your staff; ask them how they feel about the title. Ask them what it means to them that you are the lead learner. I told you what it means to me, but I may be wrong, that has happened many times before. Know though, that when an email signature states someone as the lead learner within a school, a Twitter profile, or whichever public platform being used, that it may say things about that person that are not intentional and not always for the better. We live within a society that thrives on titles and their meanings, so when we give ourselves titles that cannot be shared with others, then we are in fact creating ranks within our schools and telling the world about it.
While I don’t have a better title that would symbolize what it means to be a principal, I am not so sure we even need one. I think that title “principal”, within itself, holds so many connotations of what it means to be a great leader that I don’t think more are needed. Or perhaps just drop the “lead,” just be a learner, just like the rest of us. Doesn’t being a learner mean that you know when to take the lead and when to let others? What do you think?
I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.