Leadership 4 Learning - #ASK - Leading with a Learner Mindset -Marilee Adams

Last week I worked with a team of teachers in a small rural school where we looked at creating clarity around what next. Together we discovered what we know about Highly Effective Teaching and Learning. From this point, we will look at deliberate actions around what has been identified to create a model of Highly Effective Teaching and Learning for their school.

You see, it's not just for re-framing appraisal and empowering Deepen Teacher Inquiry. Rather, it’s a portable process that can be used at the start of any change project.

The sense-making process we participated in involved using story to unpack our understanding of what we are trying to identify and build clarity around. A story was used to unpack what happens when teachers share stories about learning, and how it allows them to connect with all the things that enable learning to occur.

Here is an email I received today from the principal about the session.

"Such a great session. Loved it!!  You are such a great educational leader to work alongside and we are growing from strength to strength each time.”

The collaborative dialogue that comes out of a session where we discover what is good about student learning helps the school to create a culture of shared understanding and a celebration of success. It also engages our learner mindset. What we are seeing here is a principal who is embracing his learner mindset and the learner mindsets of his team. In this climate, a rich dialogue ensues which leads to great results. The feeling that is generated through this process elevates motivation to the next level, and change begins to drive itself through intrinsic motivation connected to purpose, autonomy and mastery.

Brene Brown, in Dare to Lead., talks about the idea of the story rumble space. Admittedly her framing of such a space is when a group within an organization experiences conflict or a failure or a fall. However, the framework of such a rumble is applicable to any situation where teams of people come together to rift their ideas. What is common is the mindset. It is a learner mindset that enables the story rumble to be successful.

Marilee Adams, in Change Your Questions, Change Your Life . - a bold title for a book that delivers on its promise in every way - talks about learner vs judger mindset and how it influences the types of questions we ask ourselves and others.

In a story rumble situation, we are leaning into our learner mindset and are asking questions such as:

  • What do I appreciate about these people?

  • What can I learn here, what is useful?

  • What is he/she thinking, feeling and wanting?

  • What are the best steps forward?

  • What is possible?

In the story above, those were the questions we heard from each other as we churned our ideas out and worked to build on each other's ideas and thinking.

To contrast this, when we are in a judger mindset and not leaning onto our learner mindset, the questions tend to be more like this:

  • What is wrong with him/her?

  • How can I prove I am right?

  • Why is he/she so clueless and frustrating?

  • Haven’t we been here and done this before?

  • Why bother?

Yes, I know we have all been in a judger mindset on occasion. What it is about is recognising when it is happening and making the shift across to learner mindset, to lean into our learner mindset. It is then that collaboration will flow.

Go Well....


Brown, Brene. Dare to Lead.  Random House Publishing Group, 2018.

Adams, Marilee. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. 3rd edition,  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016


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Change Your Questions, Change Your Life.jpg
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Brown, Brene. Dare to Lead. Random House Publishing Group, 2018.

Adams, Marilee. Change Your Questions, Change Your Life. 3rd edition,  Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2016

Fullan, Michael and Joanne Quinn. Coherence: The Right Drivers in Action for Schools, Districts, and Systems. Corwin Press and the Ontario Principals’ Council, 2015.