Socializing knowers are not desperate
for an answer but are interested in the
perspectives of others and able to take
them into account. Teachers who are
socializing knowers are reflective about
their practice, flourish when working in
teams, and can even sacrifice their own
interest to benefit the group.
Leading socializing learning requires
a different approach to leadership.
Some schools use socializing learning to
spread the practice-related knowledge
that already exists within their hallways.
Doug Lyons, principal of the Parker
School in Reading, Massachusetts, took
such an approach to building adult
learning, noting that “to learn more
and improve our practice, we have to
dig deeper into what we do, what our
kids need, and what we already know.
We need to learn from each other”
(Breidenstein et al., 2012, p. 29). Doug,
like Sue Snyder and Sue Charochak,
was thinking the way a teacher would,
but with the goal of teaching teachers to
learn with one another, to share what
they knew, and to make transparent
what they needed to learn.
Doug began his principalship asking
a few simple questions: What do we
want to learn about to do a better job
for our kids? What do we already know?
Who knows it? Doug and the other
members of the school’s instructional
leadership team quickly discovered that
teachers were interested in pursuing
a wide range of questions. The team
began using faculty meetings to talk
together about teaching and learning.
They created structures for collaboration
in which teachers who had a shared
interest in a topic or practice learned
about it together. Eventually, every professional development day was devoted
to schoolwide inquiry into such themes
as integrating technology into teaching
As the school became more com-
fortable with collaborative learning, the
faculty took on more challenging topics
and incorporated more demanding pro-
cesses that required them to give one
another feedback and build consensus
about good teaching. In other words,
they shifted the focus from isolated,
individual practice toward a collective
emphasis on improving teaching and
Four Shared Qualities
So what does it take to be a principal
who thinks like a teacher? The answer
seems complicated—but it’s not. These
principals share four qualities: purpose,
eagerness for learning, clarity about who
they are as learners, and courage.
Principals who think like teachers
are purposeful about supporting the
learning needs of their teams, departments, and schools. Some schools
need instrumental learning; others,
socializing learning. Effective principals,
like all good teachers, are clear about
who learners are,
and how they learn,
makes a difference.
the learning that is needed and how to
lead it. Sue Charochak noted, “It’s interesting that in order to have my greatest
success as a leader, I became a teacher”
(Breidenstein et al., 2012, p. 15).
Principals also need to be eager to
learn. Educators will not learn in a
socializing, collaborative way if the principal does not do the same. Principals
who think of themselves as teachers
must be not only willing to learn, but
also ready to learn in a public, transparent, and risky way that can be at
odds with the expectation that the principal will always have the right answer.
The principals we talked to were
aware of the connections between
how they learn and how they lead the
learning of their schools. Although
Kathy Bieser from San Antonio, Texas,
was comfortable with socializing
learning, she knew that not all the
teachers in her school were, and she
kept their needs in mind when planning
learning experiences for her faculty
(Breidenstein et al., 2012). Like all good
teachers, Kathy shaped her practice
around how her students learn, not how
Leadership is a daunting, complex,
almost undoable job. Not one of the
principals we spoke to told us
otherwise. Yet they all told us that
although they had to learn quickly, they
already had lots of training in the very
essence of the principalship: They knew
how to teach. These principals worked
hard to hold on to what they already
knew and made it the heart of their
leadership practice. EL
Breidenstein, A., Fahey, K., Glickman, C., &
Hensley, F. (2012). Leading for powerful
learning: A guide for instructional leaders.
New York: Teachers College Press.
Bryk, A. S., Sebring, P. S., Allensworth, E.,
Luppescu, S., & Easton, J. (2010).
Organizing schools for improvement: Lessons from
Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago
Drago-Severson, E. (2008). Four practices
serve as pillars for adult learning. Journal
of Staff Development, 29( 4), 60–63.
Kegan, R. (1998). In over our heads: The
mental demands of modern life. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press.
McLaughlin, M., & Talbert, J. (2006).
Building school-based teacher learning
communities: Strategies to improve student
achievement. New York: Teachers College
Kevin Fahey ( email@example.com)
is associate professor of education
at Salem State University, in Salem,
Massachusetts. He is coauthor, with
Angela Breidenstein, Carl Glickman, and
Frances Hensley, of Leading for Powerful
Learning: A Guide for Instructional
Leaders (Teachers College Press, 2012).