What learning do school leaders do?

i am still learning

You are invited to participate in a survey of school leaders that seeks to understand the learning needs of the contemporary school leader. By completing the survey in the link below you will provide researchers with an understanding of work learning experiences that you find valuable in carrying out your role as a school leader. Recent research out of Canada suggests that the contemporary school leader’s role is a combination of administrative, informational and instructional leadership (Claude Fernet, 2011, Development and validation of the Work Role Motivation Scale for School Principals (WRMS-SP). Educational Administration Quarterly) which in turn influences the type of professional learning that is now necessary for a school leader.

Your participation will allow researchers to understand the learning opportunities that school leaders are seeking and needing, and how this may vary with school context. This study is being conducted by the School of Psychology of The University of Western Australia (UWA) as part of a Masters Research project. All responses to this study are completely confidential and cannot be traced back to individuals. To access more information about the study and to/or to participate in the 15-20min survey please click on the link



The Pragmatic Visionary

A pragmatist is one who is practically focused on reaching a goal. It is a term that is sometimes used in a negative sense to portray someone who would give up their mother if it meant them reaching a target. A visionary is one who is ahead of their time; one who imagines the future and develops creative mechanisms for arriving there. These two terms are often in conflict with each other. A pragmatic leader is seen as a realist whereas the visionary is an idealist. The pragmatist has no values whereas the leader with vision is driven by values.

I would like to propose that the truly great leaders are what I term Pragmatic Visionaries; a mixture of idealism and realism. This requires that they be driven by a keen sense of future possibility and a strong purposeful goal oriented present. How does one arrive at the future destination? I believe through a practical pragmatic approach that is driven by a sense of value and a desire to see their preferred future come about.

Whilst not being the world’s most successful fisherman, a statement I have always enjoyed about leadership is  “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.”  We can always complain about things that aren’t working, a leader however uses influence to make a difference. Leadership requires the art of influence and persuasion to inform people of the better future available and win them over to the practical steps forward proposed. This does require listening, debate and generally some form of compromise to move the crowd forward.

The leaders I have worked for and  respected are those who have clear views about what they believe but are equally comfortable about being challenged and prepared to change their views when intelligent and reasonable arguments for the contrary are countered. What I have observed about these leaders is that they generally all arrive at the future they envisioned but often took a different route. In my opinion Nelson Mandela was also one of these leaders and I think the influence style of a Pragmatic Visionary is best summed up in his words 

“A good leader can engage in debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge strongly. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial and uninformed.”



Why are you Learning?

Leadership and Learning are often mentioned in the same breath. Leaders are Learners, Leaders are Readers, Leadership and Learning are Indispensable to each other (JFK) and so on. What motivates us to learn though? Is it because we truly want to grow and be more effective for personal reasons or is it because we need to be seen as “The Leader” and to do so means we need to stay ahead of our followers.

Goal Orientation Theory proposes that we learn for learning’s sake or for performance reasons. If we engage in learning to look like we are competent we tend to only look for those opportunities that will reinforce this view of ourselves. Obviously the advantage is that we will gain a reputation for expertise in certain fields and even among certain colleagues. The obvious disadvantage is that we never place ourselves in positions where we may fail, look incompetent or be completely outside our comfort zone…thus avoiding a place that is ripe for learning. Seeking opportunities that extend our thinking and challenge our practice are more in line with a learning orientation; an orientation that will aid our growth as individuals…and possibly provide some great stories in years to come.

Leaders are required to appear at least vaguely competent and display a level of skill & knowledge that demonstrates a certain sophistication. The motivation to be solely performance oriented in our learning is a trap that can become too easy to fall into. To truly be in a position to lead, inspire and extend those who follow, requires that we too sit in a place where we are not the experts and risk being uncomfortable. Great leaders are those who seek to learn and recognize that this will involve a time of uncertainty. As Winston Churchill once commented “I am always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught.”