Learning focused leadership represents a crucial turn from role-based activity aimed effective school organization to a deep commitment and responsibility for the learning outcomes of the school. Over much of its history school leadership and management have been positionally oriented, hierarchical, and trait based. Learning focused leadership brings greater attention to the processes of learning, the contextual differences between schools and communities, and the influences of historic inequity in educational outcomes that have plagued our educational history. Learning focused leadership has emerged as a way to reorient what principals do every day in schools and deepen an understanding of the shared responsibilities for learning outcomes among all who work to educate all students.
While going by similar names – learning focused leadership, learning centered leadership, and leadership for learning – each definition and conceptualization places learning at the center of the prized outcomes of schooling. Instructional leadership, seen as responsibility for managing teaching and the curricular program, has long been considered a part of a principal’s role. Learning focused leadership and its variants places less attention on the management and supervision of teaching and more attention to how teaching and other school conditions affect the learning outcomes for all.
Another key aspect of learning focused leadership is that it draws attention to the school as a learning organization and, therefore, that the learning experienced by all educators, and the entire system’s ability to grow, adapt, and change, are just as important as student learning. Schools are dynamic environments where learning is not static or even easily predicted. Therefore, learning focused leaders (and the activity of leadership) rely on adaptive expertise, the capacity to establish a learning culture, and ways to bridge all of the elements of a school, its community, and the system in which it lies toward a focused agenda of learning for all.
Learning in schools is an incredibly complex process and, particularly in the United States, a long history of inequity in provision, opportunity, and persistent barriers along many social, racial, ethnic, and economic conditions have contributed to persistent achievement and opportunity gaps. Learning focused leadership accounts for these conditions and our historical stumbles and assumes responsibility by policy and practice to address historic and emerging inequities so that the opportunities afforded through schooling are available to all.
Finally, learning focused leadership is an activity and responsibility accorded to many beyond just school principals. The work of supporting learning in schools is more than an administrative or managerial task, it is a community effort that connects students, their families and communities, teachers, and the school system. As a result, teacher leadership for learning is a robust area of growth for many schools and systems and a key part of ensuring learning for all.