The difference between a lead learner and a principal

It’s more than a rebrand of “principal.” It’s a philosophical overhaul

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When Todd Nesloney was tapped to become lead learner at Webb Elementary, in Navasota, Texas, it could legitimately be called a true learning experience. Having never before served at the head of a school, he literally stepped right out of the classroom to take the job — at a time when the entire campus was going project-based.

At Webb, where about 75 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch, sinking test scores and references to a “failing school” led to low morale among parents and staff. When he took the job, Nesloney technically became the school’s principal, but echoing a growing trend he opted to downplay that title, preferring lead learner instead. Partly, it’s meant to highlight the fact that he, like everyone else at the school, was growing and learning as they navigated change.

“One of the stipulations I had when taking this role was I still want to be actively involved in the classroom,” Nesloney said. “I want to team teach, I want to fill in for teachers, I want to be with those kids. I don’t want to be stuck in an office.”

As a project-based school, Webb has been re-imagined with collaboration in mind. Whole group instruction has been shelved in favor of  goal-oriented learning, where teachers supervise as students solve problems in small groups. Technology is involved, especially when used to help kids actively create something, but it’s not necessarily a part of everything.

As a leader, Nesloney aims to be visible and to encourage teachers and students to take risks along with him. “I want them to fail, but I want them to learn from the failure.”

“We want a school where the kids feel valued,” he said. “We want them beating down the doors in the morning and crying when they have to leave in the afternoon.”

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