Students in the K-12 setting come in raw form. They are still making sense of their experiences. Much of what they know, how they react to situations, and their varying abilities are based on those experiences. As a result, teachers and school leaders “get what they get” in the raw form but must still strive to make a positive influence on students’ lives through the educational process—one that encompasses leading and learning.

As a teacher, students taught me how to teach.

It was imperative that I understood each student as a person with varying abilities and each class as a complex culture. Doing so enabled me to know students’ current positions to better connect their experiences to future goals or outcomes.

Some educators say, “I don’t teach standards; I teach students.” It is important to keep students in mind during the quest to teach, because we are, in fact, educating people.

As a classroom teacher, however, I taught students how to demonstrate mastery of the standards. Since standards encompassed the next level, for which I should have prepared students, I embedded daily tasks [relevant to students’ experiences] in my classroom instruction that prepared students to demonstrate mastery of those standards. To have done otherwise would have been negligent and an act of malpractice on my part as a classroom teacher.

Preparing students to demonstrate mastery of complex standards was indeed a challenging task. I had to constantly facilitate instruction, guide students’ thinking, assess, and adjust my instruction accordingly (Hattie, 2012). In the midst of that challenging endeavor, I knew then as I know now. Challenging does not mean impossible. Preparing each student meant an act of leading. Teaching is leading. Leading meant meeting students where they were in order to take them where they needed to go. Where they needed to go was based on expectations for achievement, not preconceived notions of what I or anyone else thought students had the ability to do (Fink & Markholt, 2011). Keeping students’ current and expected positions in mind helped me to effectively prepare them for the next level of their education.

As a school leader, teachers taught me how to lead.

I learned from teachers just as I had learned from students. Understanding teachers’ positions came by way of analyzing data and helping teachers develop and attain individual professional development goals. One of the most compelling ways I gained an understanding of teachers’ positions was through professional conversations. Nothing substituted time spent conversing with teachers about what data showed, how instructional practices correlated with data, and teachers’ rationale for choosing specific strategies and student tasks. It was through those conversations that I realized where teachers were and how to help them reflect on their instructional practices for quality student learning experiences, and increased student achievement.

Educators’ core purpose is to prepare students for the next level of their academic career and life. If working in concert with each other, teachers and school leaders will fulfill this purpose. As leaders motivate teachers, teachers will motivate students.

According to John Maxwell (1993), “He who thinks he leads and has no followers is only taking a walk.” Without a following, there is no leading. To lead is to learn. Understanding individuals’ current position to help them move to the next level is the heart of leadership. Teaching is leading. Leading is learning.


Fink, S. & Markholt, A. Leading for instructional improvement: How successful leaders develop teaching and learning expertise. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. ISBN-13: ISBN-13: 978-0470542750.

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. New York, NY: Routledge. ISBN-13: 978-0415690157.

Maxwell, J. C. (1993). Developing the leader within you. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson. ISBN-13: 9780785266662