Stage 1: Adult Learning and Leadership

Transformation Begins with Adults

hannahMy sister, Hannah, is a wonderful teacher of middle school-aged children with learning disabilities. To me, she is a saint. She is incredibly dedicated to ensuring that her students learn just as much as students without learning disabilities. She regularly asks friends and family if we have certain items for costumes so she can use drama to capture their attention. When a student does not seem interested in a lesson, she will spend hours of her personal time trying to figure out what triggered this particular student’s disability so she can best serve each child. She consistently attends optional training opportunities, reads up on the latest research in special education, takes risks in trying out new ideas and does not spend time lamenting structural or external reasons why she cannot do her job (read: I’ve never heard her complain about her students’ behavior or disabilities, school administration, parents, paperwork, policies or rules even when I am certain there are things she could complain about). She recognizes the tremendous power teachers have over their students’ learning and is committed to continuous growth, risk-taking, and personal reflection on her instructional choices.

Why do I share this story about Hannah? She is a regular reader of this blog and told me that she loves the content but sometimes feels inadequate while reading it. Let me take this very public opportunity to let Hannah know that we think you are amazing and exhibit the competencies of Stage 1 of our framework: Adult Learning and Leadership.


Why does school transformation need to begin with adults changing their habits? We have to recognize that we are part of a system of interdependent relationships and that our thinking and behavior play a huge role in the problems or obstacles we seek to overcome. This requires regular reflection on our practice, questioning the status quo, digging up long-held assumptions and taking risks. If we skip this step we will definitely burnout from trying initiative after initiative without enjoying results that match our efforts.

Why do leaders need to cultivate this type of environment in schools? Traditional leadership of command and control does not transform organizations. Transformational leaders seek a regular practice of checking to see if their egos are getting in the way of the work. They are cage-busters who think creatively about how to overcome obstacles and use every tool in their power to get it done. And they encourage risk-taking and questioning of the status quo by modeling the way and protecting time for these important habits.

Do you agree or disagree that transformation begins with adults? Post below, we’d love to hear from you!

4 thoughts on “Transformation Begins with Adults”

  1. It begins with adults of course fundamentally but your wonderful sister / teacher is more the exception than the rule. Her zeal and self directed ness are wonderful traits that surely help her be the effective teacher you validly praise. But I also wonder re those other teachers who have the capacity to be like your sister but who are restricted by systems and school organizational cultures that don’t foster those very traits. I’m sure there are so very many. Now to unlock them requires leaders and systemic practices committed to transforming every adult in that school organization every day.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! Yes, the foundation to our framework encourages teachers and leaders to each exhibit the traits of continuous learners, reflective practitioners, status-quo challengers and systems thinkers. We think it’s most effective to simultaneously help teachers see that they have tremendous power over learning, even despite undeniable challenges and less than stellar leadership (Adults as Learners) while at the same time acknowledging that whole-school change must include as you note leaders and systemic practices committed to transformation (Leadership). True, teachers need good leaders and culture and they must be individually committed to improvement. We’ve seen schools with amazing teachers and not-so-good leaders and poor culture but we’ve also seen amazing leaders and culture with a handful of teachers who resist growth and personal reflection on their beliefs and habits which is why we say both are the foundation. I must admit that at 25 years old I thought I was the cat’s pajamas and if only everyone else was as committed or creative as me we’d close the achievement gap… only now looking back do I wish that I would have questioned my beliefs and habits and acknowledged how much I had to learn. We try to discourage teachers from wringing their hands about external factors when they could do more reflecting and learning as individuals…AND at the same time push leaders and policy makers to do better for all!

  2. I agree that maybe it should begin with adults, we are the ones supposed to be leading by example. Two things which immediately spring to mind though are:
    – it’s often harder for adults to put aside what appears to be comfortable and reliable and to step into a space of risk and challenge (no matter what the potential dividends may be); and
    – it’s important to ask young people what their opinions and ideas are with regard to education delivery and content.
    Lois Williams
    Transformation Now
    Perth, Western Australia

    1. Thanks so much for your reply, Lois. Agreed. It is so difficult to take risks and can be scary. I’m working with a small international school since October and the tide has finally turned in the school where it’s normal to take big risks everyday. At first it was just about 3 – 4 teachers for several months. Now almost all of them are looking for creative ways to enhance student learning. That’s why it’s so important to cultivate a safe culture of exploration and risk-taking for adults as well as students. They have a principal/director who is also taking risks and put herself in a learning stance, modeling the way and encouraging everyone else to do the same. She even gets in the classroom herself and asks me to give her feedback. And very good point about student voice. We wrote about that here: Thanks for your post and we look forward to hearing from you again!

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