How to model lifelong learning

Leaders must be readers, creators and youth advocates

If you ask educators about essential skills for all students, lifelong learning surely tops many lists. It has always been important, but it’s now a real expectation for all of us to stay employed, engaged and relevant.
Additionally, educators have always known that the true joy of learning is all about the ongoing journey of continual improvement. But talking about it is very different from living it. If we want our students to succeed, we, as leaders, need to model lifelong learning—for our students, teachers and communities.

Here are a few areas in which we can do that.


Although we require our students and teachers to read, it’s amazing how many leaders are not actively reading—for personal or professional purposes. And when reading professionally, we should be reading about education, as well as other forces and thinking in our universe, such as business, culture, entertainment, politics and more. For some ideas on where to start, see my DA blog post on “The well-read K12 administrator”

With the number of reading opportunities offered by blogs, social media and new education books, there’s no excuse for leaders to not be active, engaged readers who share their learning and enthusiasm with their constituents.

Writing and publishing

Our various state standards require students to not only write, but also to create and share digital content in a variety of forms and writing genres. Yet, how many of us do the same? Reading is great, but writing and publishing gives us a chance to process, connect and apply what we read. Reflecting through writing and publishing allows us to connect with our stakeholders, to share our stories of success and failure, and to demonstrate that we are operating in the public sphere.

With the number of opportunities for leaders to blog, write feature articles and contribute to digital content, there is no excuse for us not to do so. For more details, see my DA blog post on “Why school superintendents should blog” (

Speaking and presenting

Because school leaders have to present to staff, school boards, parents, community members, business partners and other leaders, most realize that presenting is a big part of the job and are confident doing it.

But are leaders pushing themselves to be lifelong learners as public speakers and presenters? They need to model this. It is not only important for their teachers and students, but it’s also important for leaders as it helps everyone continually improve and stretch themselves.

Beyond our standard audiences, we should present at professional conferences to bring our district’s story to other audiences. We should share these talks on social media and through avenues such as YouTube. We are obligated to push ourselves as hard as we push those we serve. We have great stories and experiences to share. It’s time that all education leaders share them.

We are obligated to push ourselves as hard as we push those we serve.

Youth advocacy

Many school leaders encourage their teachers and staff to be more student-oriented. We want our students to have more personalized, engaging, collaborative and relevant learning experiences. We ask teachers to be more accessible, flexible, creative and forward-thinking when it comes to interacting with students. Leaders need to model this as well. For example, how many of our school leaders meet regularly with students? How often are students invited to be part of interview panels, advisory groups, committees or other groups?
I was fortunate enough to start a new school where students always served on every interview panel, and could text any staff member, including the principal. We can go a long way by including students in decision-making. For more details, see my blog post on “5 Ways To Include Student Voice In School Change” (

Whether it’s a skill, a standard, a pedagogy or just a good idea, we must share, promote and champion it. But we must also practice it.

Longtime educator Michael Niehoff writes on transformational leadership and professional development.

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