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Leadership Goes Public

It’s time for school administrators to publicly model their own learning.

I’ve often wondered what the response would be if we asked the kids in our schools to reflect on how their teachers learn. Not on how much they know or how creative they might be, but on how they learn—what their process is,what their passions are. My guess is that few if any of those teachers have made their own learning transparent to their students to any great degree.

Now turn that around a bit and ask how your teachers might answer that same question about you. Would they be able to identify what you’ve been reading of late? The questions you’ve been grappling with? The best conversations and debates you’ve been engaged in? Could they see and learn from your own efforts to move your thinking forward?

“How?” More Than “What?”

In a world that author Dov Seidman suggests is becoming more “hyperconnected” and “hypertransparent” all the time, “How?” is an important question. In essence, we are careening toward a reality where technology will connect us ubiquitously and where more of what we create, share and do will be done in networked, public spaces online. And while many may want to resist that eventuality, few observers of the world argue any longer that the kids in our classrooms will escape that reality as they grow into adulthood.

As educators, and specifically as educator leaders, it's time for our learning lives to come out of the closet.

The implications of this, as the subtitle of Seidman’s 2007 book How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything ? in Business (and in Life) suggests, is that we will be judged not just on what we do as much as how we do it. As more and more the expectation becomes that we will be willing and able to share our knowledge with others and engage in global conversations online, the way that we manage that public interaction will speak volumes about who we are, what we know, and what our potential contribution might be. And, most importantly, it will speak to trust. In this new world we are building, effective openness is capital.

To a large extent, our kids are grappling with this connected, public world every day. But they do it with few models, if any. Few teachers are showing them how to leverage the potentials of a connected world. Parents, for all intents, are missing from that equation as well. In short, no one is teaching the kids.

Modeling Our Learning

As educators, and specifically as educator leaders, it’s time for our learning lives to come out of the closet. We have a responsibility not only to understand what these shifts mean but to take advantage of them as well. But most importantly, we have a responsibility for modeling learning to those teachers and students in our schools and to our constituents in the community. As a parent, I more and more expect to be able to find and engage with the educators at my school, and I’m becoming more and more wary of those I cannot find. If they’re not modeling their learning in transparent ways, does that mean they can’t mentor my children in those efforts? Or worse, does it mean they are not learners?

Some school leaders are showing the way. Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, uses a blog ( serendipity) and Twitter and Facebook to document his learning life. Or Melinda Miller, an elementary school principal in the Willard (Mo.) School District, who uses her blog ( to post reflections of conferences, video and audio podcasts on a number of topics, and information for parents and community members.

Each of our reputations is in large measure being written online whether we like it or not. Those who do not seize the opportunity to create their own reputations by sharing and collaborating skillfully and ethically online will have those reputations written for them. (Have you Googled yourself lately?) Most importantly, if we refuse to learn in public, we deny our students the ability to see passionate, globally connected adults thriving in a connected, transparent world—a world there is little doubt they will soon inhabit.

Will Richardson is an author and educator who also blogs about teaching and learning at