This post was originally issued by me on 7 February 2013 at the TAAPCS Leadership Learning Blog.
“When one is uncomfortable, one will learn,” – Buddha
I don’t usually like to open a piece of writing with someone else’s words because, honestly, I am pretty fond of my own. Given that it’s Buddha I am referencing, though, I think it’s fair to give him the floor. While the above quote is almost certainly apocryphally attributed to the enlightened one, the sentiment is one that we will all recognize and will have struggled with in our practices.
Anything I (or, likely, you) have ever learned came to me as the result of discomfort. Something was wrong with the status quo at the time and I had to learn new skills or information to move past it. Theory lovers will recognize this as cognitive dissonance and about finding the zone of proximal development. That’s good and I appreciate the place of learning theory in this discussion. When faced with the realities of being an instructional leader in school, though, you are likely to agree that neither Vygotsky or Buddha are the first things that pop to mind. For the purpose of this discussion, something far more practical than lofty quotes is required.
Being an instructional leader can (and, in my opinion, should) be taken literally if it is to be realized. The word “leader” denotes going first, taking point, being in front. This is inherently risky and takes courage. It requires the willingness to declare that the status quo is not enough to get to the vision and to try out new things, even if it doesn’t work. It requires guts, perseverance, and heart. It does not, however, require you to have a specific title, position, rank, or age. Anyone in a school can be an instructional leader if they are willing to take the risks that follow the choice to become one.
So, with that fluffy stuff behind us, how best to go about realizing this position? It’s easy: surround yourself with instructors, and good ones at that. Another aphorism that I won’t even attempt to reference tells us that, if you are the smartest person in the room, then you are in the wrong room. Treat instructional leadership in the same way: take classes, in anything, and look at instruction that inspires you. Surround yourself with people that make you want to be better than you are and watch what they do when they make you feel that way. The more you see, the more you will be able to implement in your practice.
Don’t have time to take a class? Read a book full of ideas that get you fired up. Teach yourself yoga from Youtube videos. Do what you must to unbalance yourself; when you adjust, you will have learned something new. You will also be in a better position to empathize with (and, therefore, lead) those in your charge who, because they are at different places along their paths, may more regularly be experiencing cognitive dissonance that you are.
To be a lifelong learner, one must be in the headspace of a student all their lives. To be an instructional leader follows from this inherently unbalanced position. How? The leader is always going ahead, taking the risk, trying new things and showing others the way. At it’s very core (again, literally), this is precisely the essence of education: leading out of the darkness.