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Leading and Learning

Summary and Analysis of Learning By Heart
Eric Grant
North Carolina State University



The way to learn is by leading; the way to lead is by learning (Barth, Kindle Locations
967-968). I highlighted this line from Roland S. Barths book almost instinctively. It seemed to
say something important. However, in my writings about the book on my blog and in this paper,
I could not quite figure where it fit, as if I hadnt fully realized it yet. Upon reaching the
conclusion of this summary and analysis, it came clear. Effective leadership is simultaneously
about being a leader and about being a lead learner.
Toward the end of Learning By Heart, Barth describes the type of vision necessary for
schools to flourish. It is a vital, courageous, demanding, uplifting vision-where most educators
and students are familiar with the vision, where day-to-day behavior is constantly scrutinized for
evidence of congruity with that vision, and where the school is incrementally approaching that
vision (Barth, Kindle Locations 2171-2175). Much is condensed into this statement. His book
delineates the path to this vision.
Initial steps toward developing such a learning environment lie in truly creating a
learning community. In Barths description of this, no one is excused from participating,
including principals, teachers, parents, and students: The condition for membership in the
community is that one learn, continue to learn, and support the learning of others (Kindle
Locations 260-261). Barth asserts that when students see the adults in their life, including
teachers and administrators, as learners, they not only respond in the immediate, but they see
learning as a life-long pursuit. Leading this culture for learning is the principal and school
A second key to creating a sustainable school vision that drives deep rigorous learning for
all is conversation. This may sound mundane, but his theory goes deeper than that. In Barths


vast educational experience, teachers and students are too often left out of the discussion around
school reform and vision design. He differentiates between the pointless reforms of schools that
are top-down and initiative heavy versus the grass-roots reform that comes from the craft
knowledge of the professionals and students in the building. Likewise, he criticizes the
centralized vision statements that, once agonizingly composed through a committee, sit idly by
as the school or district proceed without its consideration. His vision statement grows from
conversation about practice, reflection and writing about practice, telling stories, sharing craft
knowledge, and maximizing differences in order to maximize learning (Kindle Locations 20092010). This drives the process.
Barth also discusses the types of teaching and learning that fit within his vision:
Authentic learning, with authentic outcomes and experiences that have proven, in his experience,
to be most transformative for students. For this, he asserts, teachers, students, and administrators
must be willing to lose sight of the shore (Kindle Locations 659-660). In other words, he
cautions against the risk averse attitudes that permeate school and districts, exclaiming that
nothing will truly be learned unless leaders (both school and classroom) are willing to go into
unchartered waters and then share their learning upon their return. This deepens the
conversations and enriches the learning environment for all.
Through conversations where stakeholders can share their own experiences and visions
and from settings where stakeholders are expected to be learners and participants in shaping the
learning community comes the aforementioned vital, courageous, demanding, uplifting vision.
With a shared commitment to a unified vision, schools will succeed in carrying forth in a manner
that lifts all - youth and adult alike.


Learning by Heart registered for me at times as confirmation of my manner of leadership

and at times as a driver for my learning about leadership. Barths assertion that Reformers are
those who know something about the organization, have a vision leading to a better way, can
enlist others in that vision, and can mine the gold of everyone's craft knowledge to discover ways
to move toward that vision (Kindle Locations 925-926), confirmed the path I was on. Not that I
necessarily see myself as a reformer so much as a modifier, my experiences, observations, and
study of effective ELA instruction led me to a clear vision for instruction. This vision includes
students reading with pencil in hand, marking their thinking and questions; students discussing
their thinking and confusion with their peers and their teachers before revisiting the text thinking, scratching ideas, and then explaining their thinking in some type of writing that
actually means something to them and to their intended audience. Through all of this they dig
into words - vocabulary, and seek to understand how to communicate effectively and efficiently,
which is really the entire purpose for grammar instruction.
In order to enlist others in that vision, I scheduled to meet and discuss instruction with
each middle grades ELA teacher in my district. However, Barths further discussion on vision
creation proves to be somewhat contradictory. In this, he emphasizes the need to not only enlist
others in carrying out a vision, but in growing the vision together (Kindle Locations 2171-2175).
This left me wondering if my method was disingenuous - was I genuinely listening to teachers
ideas open-mindedly or was I tied to an agenda and simply placating teachers to enlist their
This insight and its subsequent question have inspired me to refine my approach.
Whereas previously my line of inquiry followed two main questions: What is working well in
your instruction? and What challenges do you face? I will now add a third direct question: As


we work to develop a clear vision and model of ELA instruction in our county - what does your
vision of that look like? This will enable me to collect new and divergent ideas. My job would
then be to synthesize these visions with my own, thereby creating one that genuinely
incorporates the ideas of those who would be enlisted to carry it out. Through this I will be a
leader and a lead learner.
Barth, Roland S. Learning by Heart. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001. Print.