Qualities of an Effective Lead-Learner

#bfc 2As often as I can, I join the #BFC530 Twitter chat – a group of educators who chat every weekday morning at 5:30 a.m. ET for about 15 minutes. The teachers are an upbeat, progressive group who keep me thinking, inspire me, and give me a positive kick-start to my day.

Recently, on #BFC530 we discussed the question: “What’s the most important quality for an administrator to have? Why?” In a fast and furious conversation, the group came up with a long list of ideas of what it means to be a good administrator which I decided to summarize here.

Personally, I prefer to expand the word “administrator” to include anyone in a position of school leadership, such as a coach, department chair, or instructional specialist. I like the term “lead learner” (which I first heard on Twitter, of course) because rather than having a top-down focus, it emphasizes  collaboration and side-by-side leadership.

I agree with my #BFC530 tribe: anyone who considers themselves a lead learner should try to develop these qualities.

The Qualities of an Effective Lead-Learner:

Good listener and communicator

Everyone seemed to agree that the ability to listen to others is one of the most important qualities of a lead learner. Listen to hear, not to answer. Listen to understand. Listen to support. This goes hand-in-hand with the ability to openly communicate. Make your ideas clear, prioritize what is most important, and lead with action.


Be caring and understanding. Strong leaders listen with their heart as well as their ears. People who feel safe and cared for can give so much more.

Shares and models a vision

Lead learners need to share their vision clearly and model it for others. Walk the talk, modeling what is best for the students so that others will follow. A great leader has a well-defined vision and works hard to make it happen.


When an educational leader is passionate, that feeling is infectious: energy levels rise and schools become the best they can be. By openly showing teachers and students that they love their work, leaders create a positive culture in which the educational community thrives.

Empowers others

One of the greatest qualities of a leader is the ability to share responsibilities and give credit to others. Administrators should empower and develop teachers as leaders. Teacher leaders energize the school and help it move towards excellence.

Hands-on and involved

Lead learners should be in the classroom as much as possible, noticing the great things teachers are doing. They should interact with the kids, asking them what they’re learning and conferencing with them. Strong leaders work alongside teachers as an active part of the team.

A tireless community and relationship builder

Leaders should focus on building relationships and creating community. The ability to listen, be honest, share a vision, and have compassion are all necessary for building community. Leaders need to recognize the importance of relationships and connect with teachers and students on an individual level.

Transparency: be trusting and trustworthy

It’s important for educational leaders to be transparent and honest, maintaining open lines of communication. When leaders honestly admit their mistakes, it makes it easier for others to do the same. Be fair and consistent, treating everyone equally, in order to earn loyalty and trust.

Life-long learner with a growth mindset

Strong leaders should be open-minded and progressive. Life-long learners who are willing to ask questions and try new techniques move their team forward. Effective leaders must model a growth mindset and a willingness to take risks.

Encourages and inspires teachers

Lead learners recognize teachers’ strengths and encourage them to build on the positive. They should be in the trenches, coaching and supporting teachers and acting as a resource whenever possible. By giving teachers the freedom and encouragement they need to try new things, leaders inspire teachers to become the best they can be.


A lot more was written about what teachers expect of strong leaders, but I tried to summarize the comments that came up most often. I know I’ve missed important qualities and there is so much more to say on this subject. I’d love it if you’d share your ideas in the comments so that we can continue to learn and grow.

Thanks to my #BFC530 PLN for sharing their thoughts with me, and for, as always, making my day just a little more magical.


  1. Carla, you are so much better than, say, Storify. I like how you distilled tweets into this cohesive blog snapshot of leadership.

    • Thanks Brian! It was a great way for me to digest all the information that was shared. I find that the amount of information I read everyday is just too much for me. If I don’t take time to reflect, I forget almost everything. It’s a survival tactic for my old brain 🙂

  2. This is awesome! Love how you summarized the chat and at the same time play with sketch notes. I have to agree with the comment above, from Brian, this is much better than storify. What a great idea! I’m always learning with you.

  3. What an amazing summary and inspiration to all kinds of educational leaders! I agree 100% with what was said above – this makes for a much more cohesive & easy-to-read summary of a chat than a Storify.

  4. Hi Carla–I love that you created a post out of a flurry of tweets in a chat. I have been thinking of doing that. Your point about re-naming “administrator” is a good one. That term does not evoke the importance of the leader being a learner. For me, the “learner” piece is what most fully connects the leader to the students, to the idea of school (content/curriculum) and to the creation of a positive culture. All learners make mistakes–but they do a ton of things to actually learn And that is what good leaders do too. Nice post.

    • It was a fun post to write, Gillian. But I have to clarify – the term “lead learner” is not my invention. It’s a term I’ve heard on Twitter for quite a while now and decided to adopt. I hate the terms “principal” or “administrator” because they evoke a feeling of being “the boss” which is not the role I want to play at all. I like to learn alongside my teachers and hope that my position is more of a support role than a supervisor. Thanks for reading!

  5. Carla, This is crazy good. This will help me prepare interview questions that I can ask as I interview for jobs going forward. I hit on a few of these points last week in an interview. Thank you.

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