Lindsey Matkin

Lindsey Matkin is an assistant principal at Preston STEM Middle School in Fort Collins, Colorado. She has served as a classroom teacher, athletic coach, grade-level leader, academic dean, assistant principal, and Colorado State University fellow.

The Three Big Ideas That Drive the Work for Lead Learners

“The most powerful and effective role the principal assumes is that of lead learner, not expert or ‘all knowing one.’”  (Kramer & Schuhl, 2017, p.9) let’s wait for the sigh of relief from every principal around the world.  Expert or “all knowing one” is too much for me—really, it’s too much for anyone. Lead learner, on the other hand, is something we can do! In fact, learning is what we do best. As a lead learner I gain a better understanding of how we ensure high levels of learning for all.  If we expect our teachers to work collaboratively as highly effective teams as the means of working towards ensuring all our students are learning, then as building leaders, we too must collaborate and work interdependently towards common goals. Administrative teams can and should also serve as models for common course teams. The three big ideas of a professional learning community drive the work for our administrative team.

We focus on learning.

We keep our shared vision at the forefront of our work, ensuring high levels of learning for all, and we focus on the keyword all.  The high level of learning is not reserved for our students. If our focus is truly on learning, then we must engage in high levels of learning ourselves. We have to walk the walk. We intentionally embed professional learning throughout the school year aligned with our schoolwide goals. Similar to common course teams, we use a slightly adjusted four critical questions to guide our work:

  • What do we want our staff to know and be able to do?
  • How will we measure our progress?
  • How will we respond when we have not met our desired outcome(s)?
  • How will we adjust to extend our learning when we do meet our desired outcome(s)?

When we learn together we build trust, we push on each other's thinking, we inspire each other to be better, and as a result our staff and students benefit from all of it.

“Increasing the capacity of any organization begins by building shared-knowledge.” (Kramer & Schuhl, 2017, p.21)

We create a collaborative culture and share collective responsibility.

Early on our administrative team learned we had to take the necessary time to learn how to work as a team, no differently than our teacher common course teams. We established team core values that serve as the foundation for how we approach our work. Furthermore, our core values represent the promises we make toward ensuring high levels of learning for all. We share the responsibility for driving the work with all our teams and hold each other mutually accountable toward meeting our goals. Our team will have a better understanding of the inner workings of highly effective teams if we are one ourselves. It is ineffective to tell teachers to be a part of a team and to work collaboratively without truly understanding what that means and entails. When we work together collaboratively, we gain a better understanding of what it takes to work interdependently, how to work through conflict, how to show vulnerability, how to work efficiently, how to determine effectiveness, and the list goes on. We can talk the talk and walk the walk, together, collaboratively.

“Teams that learn together and have developed levels of trust are always willing to question their current reality and push themselves to try new strategies and ways of teaching to improve student learning.” (Bailey & Jakicic, 2018, p.141)

We are results oriented.

As building leaders, we use schoolwide assessment data, standardized assessment data, and various other forms of data to inform our practices and to determine in what ways we need to improve our instructional strategies to meet the needs of all our learners. On a more regular basis, we also elicit feedback from our staff to measure our progress and effectiveness towards our schoolwide goals and priorities. In many ways, a quick survey in our weekly staff communication serves as a common formative assessment. We are not assessing the knowledge and skills of our staff; rather we are assessing our effectiveness as building leaders. The information we gather provides us with insight to the thinking and actions of our staff. It’s timely, informative, and crucial to our commitment to continuous improvement. As Bob Eaker says in his book Summing Up, “Learning about, and even believing in, the practices inherent in the PLC at Work process will be of little value unless it causes people to act. Causing people to act requires leadership, and at its core, effective leadership requires deep knowledge, specificity, passion, and unwavering persistence.” (p. 210)

It’s imperative for principals to act, to do the work, to engage in the learning to cultivate a professional learning community at work. Principals have to be the lead learners. We cannot talk about the work; we must engage in the work—it’s how we do business. Fortunately, learning is what we love and sometimes we simply have to remind ourselves to shift our mindsets from “have to” to “get to.” We get to be lead learners.


Bailey, K., & Jakicic, C. (2018). Make it happen: Coaching with the four critical questions of PLCs at Work® (Professional learning community strategies for instructional coaches) (Illustrated ed.). Solution Tree Press.

Eaker, R. (2020). A summing up: Teaching and learning in effective schools and PLCs at Work® (An autobiographical guide to school improvement and implementing the PLC at Work process) (1st ed.). Solution Tree Press.

Kramer, S. V., & Schuhl, S. (2017). School improvement for all: A how-to guide for doing the right work (Drive continuous improvement and student success using the PLC process). Solution Tree Press.


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