Leading as a Learning Leader

“As a ‘leader of learning and a learning leader’ contribution is the why, the how, and the what of authentic leadership.”

By Maree Neilsen, Executive Director at The Learner First


Whenever I hold the privilege of working together with educational colleagues in shared learning, I introduce myself as a ‘leader of learning and a learning leader’.  It was quite a distance back in time when I learned to let go of the reputation of ‘knowledge expert’ and actively reframed myself as a learner.   I have learned that the power of collaboration only comes to life when everyone present shares their voice without fear of a ‘knowledge expert’ in the room. 

There was a time when I felt empowered to hold expert knowledge and to have accumulated a reputation for this expertise.  This part of my career in middle leadership roles saw me present to many colleagues and impart knowledge.  But, as I think back on this time, my voice was the loudest voice in the room, not because I was loud but because everyone else was quiet.  They were quiet listening to the ‘knowledge expert’, waiting for the next step, guidance, direction, or answers.   At that time, what my leadership lacked was the purposeful building of a collaborative learning culture. In other words, I needed to become a ‘leader of learning and a learning leader’

As a learning leader I am reflective. Personal and professional growth have come through my own self-understanding about my purpose.  Moving through a broad range of leadership roles across schools and systems into executive leadership required me to enable the knowledge of all team members to ensure not just a collaborative learning culture but a culture of contribution.

Working in the human centered field of education requires us to be authentic, to be clear in our purpose and to always model our own effective intentions for ongoing learning with courage through vulnerability. 

As a ‘leader of learning and a learning leader’ I know that leading teams is complex and requires a clear purpose and commitment to ensure all team members are treated with respect and not pigeonholed according to a hierarchical model.  Self-understanding must happen first so that we can meet all team members with our own authentic self.  Relationships matter and relational success comes through authenticity and integrity So many popular leadership writers have described the importance of this.   The simple clarity in what we do at The Learner First™, by which self-understanding is the starting point, is pivotal as there is no authenticity without it.

I share with you a short story about my career reflections so that you can meet me as a colleague who knows that quality leadership matters for those we are privileged to serve.  Quality leadership includes sharing who we are with vulnerability, taking off the mask and putting down the Armour that helps preserve an image of success that belongs on a magazine cover or a plaque on the door.  When we keep it real and authentic we model the human centered nature of our work. We are humans all needing to offer our own unique skills to build a rich tapestry of success that has come from collaboration.  Success enables everyone to contribute and be empowered by those contributions.  These are the skills and intentions our world needs most.

Contributive Learning™ is what we espouse as important for all children.  It is their educational success beyond knowledge expertise.  Self-understanding is the starting point so that they can build connection and competency with a thirst for knowledge that helps them contribute and improve our world. 

Contributive Learning™ is what I espouse for my teams and my colleagues.  As a ‘leader of learning and a learning leader’ contribution is the why, the how, and the what of authentic leadership.   It is simply what we all need to thrive.