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Innovative Leadership Exemplified

Nov 10, 2017 2017-11-10

CoSN educators and technology professionals recently went on a trip to New Zealand to meet with government officials, local leaders and educators to get an insight into the country's education system and its policies. Members of the delegation have been encouraged to document their experiences in a blog. These are some of the highlights and insights from an exciting and interesting trip.

By Ann McMullan

The CoSN Delegation to New Zealand visited three schools in the city of Christchurch on Tuesday, Oct. 24. All three schools are relatively new, having been constructed in the last few years as part of the community’s rebuilding efforts, following the devastating 2011 earthquake. The visionary leaders of all three schools chose to use the horrific tragedy to drive innovation in school design, teaching and learning. A unified commitment to create learning spaces that are truly learner-centered continues to be the overarching goal. The vision for the innovation at all three schools encompasses pedagogy, building design, professional learning, community involvement and – most critically – the learning culture.

All three schools are viewed as community learning centers, which exist as learning spaces for learners of all ages. Students are referred to as learners. Spaces are designed to support education for all learners, including the children, the faculty, the administrators and the community at large. Anyone who spends time inside the school structure is considered a learner.

In addition to rethinking the architectural design of the school structure, there is an even greater emphasis on rethinking the culture of school. The building design exists to support the new learning culture. The change in learning culture is driven and fostered by the building principals at each school we visited. All three principals view themselves as learners. They view the students as leaders in the school setting. The adults are there to serve the student learners.

The open learning spaces are not called classrooms. Terms like learning habitats and learning studios are the way the learning spaces are identified. Within the learning spaces all learners are provided access to technology and a broad array of learning resources. What you don’t see are traditional, individual student desks arranged in neat rows. Hands-on active learning and collaborative work drive much of the learning activity throughout the day.

There is a strong emphasis on teachers working together in learning teams. Three or four teachers work as a team of lead learners for a shared group of up to 100 student learners. The members of the teaching team are responsible for the success of all the young learners within their shared learning space. The teaching teams learn from each other and come to depend on each other’s strengths to meet the individual needs of the students. To accomplish their shared learning goals there is frequent movement of student learners and teachers within the large learning space.

Transforming learning and teaching to maximize the learning spaces, class structure, pedagogies and learning culture does not happen without strong committed leaders. The three principals we were privileged to learn from exemplified the leadership that all schools must aspire to if we are truly going to meet the needs of all our learners.

Principal Sean Bailey - Lemonwood Grove School
Sean’s past leadership experience taught him the importance of developing powerful learning centered relationships with a school community. This is a major focus in his current role. He believes Lemonwood Grove will be an amazing learning environment for the whole community.

Principal Steve Saville - Rolleston College
Steve has a professional history of being a strong advocate of excellence in all educational fields. He has a record of leading change and a commitment to a learner centered approach to education. Steve relies on the students to inform decisions about strategies for success for the whole learning community.

Principal Liz Weir - Rawhiti School
Liz was charged with combining three school communities into one learning center. She and her staff are committed to assuring that children starting school at Rawhiti are in the privileged position of completing their learning journey in facilities that are purpose built.

The entire CoSN delegation was greatly inspired by the visionary leadership of these three educator leaders. It was a true privilege to spend time with them and the learners in their respective learning communities.

Ann McMullan is the founder and lead consultant of Ann McMullan Education Consultants in Los Angeles, California. Ann serves education leaders, teachers, non-profits and firms doing business with schools and school districts to assist with leadership and strategic planning targeted to making learning relevant for all students.

Learn more about Ann’s thoughts on leadership in her recently published book, Life Lessons in Leadership: The Way of the Wallaby. It defines those skills, which strengthen all leaders’ abilities and help assure their success. For more details, visit

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