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Captains Board First: Leadership Lessons

By Meghan Svenonius-Lydon
Captains Board First: Leadership Lessons

Boats in Keswick, UK (author's photograph)

I am embarking on my international teacher leader journey. In preparation, I have engaged in the Teacher Leader Institutes (TLI) through the Principals’ Training Center (PTC). In the theme of navigation, here are my top lessons learned from a recent TLI Course called “Coaching and Supervising Your Team,” in an extended boat analogy.

Get In the Boat, or Mind Your Emotional Intelligence

To captain the boat of adult learning, you’ve got to get in it first. In this analogy, this means preparing for the demands of leadership. Teacher leaders must become aware of and invest in improving the range and strength of our own emotional intelligence in order to lead effectively. Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis cite learned and learnable skill sets of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management as factors that influence effective leadership. They recommend an assessment including personal reflection as well as ratings from people that know you well to get a clear picture of your strengths and areas for growth.


We Float or Sink Together, or Develop Your Cultural Competence


Welcome your crew. In an international school setting where teachers move in and out fairly often, teacher leaders must frequently welcome newcomers from all over the world. Be sensitive to the interior and exterior identities that you and your team bring on the voyage. The work of Elena Aguilar is an excellent starting point for this work, and there are many valuable resources available on her organization’s website, especially Bright Morning Coaching for Equity Tools. Encourage your team members to get to know and genuinely care for each other. Your boat has to be a safe space for the hard, vulnerable work that you will do together.


Communicate clearly, early, and often, where you are headed and why. Teacher effectiveness is an important driver of student learning outcomes and must be the goal of the adult learning on your team. Develop agreements about what good teaching is, and is not, so that everyone “in the boat” has a clear understanding of the goal. The PTC has developed a set of international teacher standards that might be a useful starting point. It can be found on their website, at


Different Strokes for Different Folks, or Differentiation is for Teachers, Too


Once everyone is in the boat, knows where they are headed, and who they

are with, the teacher leader can lean into the oars of adult learning. Adults need to have experiences that will influence their beliefs about effective teaching and learning (Guskey). They also need to align their personal goals with the school’s and reflect on their progress toward those goals. To plan for the right experiences and conversations at the right time, the teacher leader should consider the teacher’s “Ways of Knowing,” by Ellie Drago-Severson, and their position on the Concerns-Based Adoption Model, originally developed by a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin.


Researcher and Professor Ellie Drago-Severson has developed a model for providing the most effective experiences that will lead to adult growth, according to each adult’s primary Way of Knowing. The Ways of Knowing include Instrumental, Socializing, and Self-Authoring, and refer to the ways in which adults learn and engage with others in the professional environment. The practices that Drago-Severson recommends include teaming, providing leadership roles, encouraging collegial inquiry, and mentoring. The big lesson here is not to assume what a teacher might need based on years or experience alone. All teachers, just like students, deserve to grow in their professional practice.


 As teacher leaders, we are in the middle position of communicating, planning for, monitoring, and reporting on the success of any new ideas that the school leadership team or national government decides to implement. But as Simon Sinek says, “most things break in the middle,” meaning that middle managers, such as teacher leaders, often lack some necessary skills. The CBAM (Concerns-Based Adoption Model) is a system of understanding a person’s attitude towards any change initiative. It is a helpful tool to add to your teacher leader toolbox to address the skill gap. Building from this foundation, Jim Knight has outlined several reflective practices and strategies for helping teachers move between stages, in his article “Moving from Talk to Action in Professional Learning.”


We’re All Captains Here, or Understanding and Applying Adult Learning Theory


When Japanese businessman Akira Mori and his brother split up the family’s real estate empire in 1999, he famously said “A boat can’t have two captains.” The reality is that every teacher is ultimately a captain of his or her own classroom. Additionally, adults need to have agency and control over their own learning, or to captain their own learning journey. The ultimate goal of a teacher leader, then, is to support each teacher as they set personal goals that align with school goals, monitor their own progress toward those goals, and adjust course in response to student learning data.


Theorist and adult educator Malcolm Knowles pulled together the thinking and research on how adults learn from a wide variety of fields into one framework. This work has been built upon by many others, but a few essential tenets are important for teacher leaders to understand. To summarize, adults need

  1. to know why
  2. to be responsible for their own decisions and process
  3. to value their previous experiences
  4. to find utility in what they are learning
  5. to use their learning in real life
  6. to tap into their internal motivation


Bon Voyage!

I am excited and nervous to start on this next leg of my journey as an educator. But I am also slightly more confident now that I have a few more tools in my teacher leader toolbox.


Meghan Lydon teaches at the Casablanca American School in Casablanca, Morocco.


Works Cited


Aguilar, Elena. “Coaching for Equity Tools.” Bright Morning, 6 Nov. 2020,

“CBAM: The CONCERNS-BASED Adoption Model.” American Institutes for Research, 2015,

Drago-Severson, Ellie. “4 Practices Serve as Pillars for Adult Learning.” Learning Forward, 2008,

Frederick, Jim. “Mori.” Time, Time Inc., 11 Apr. 2004,,9171,610069,00.html.

Goleman, Daniel, and Richard E Boyatsis. “Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements. Which Do You Need to Work on?” Harvard Business Review, 15 Sept. 2020,

GUSKEY, THOMAS R. “Staff Development and the Process of Teacher Change.” Educational Researcher, vol. 15, no. 5, 1986, pp. 5–12., doi:10.3102/0013189x015005005.

Knight, Jim. “Moving From Talk to Action in Professional Learning.” ASCD, 2021,

Knowles, Malcolm S., et al. The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resources Development. Routledge, 2015.

“Why Middle Management Is the Hardest Job.” Performance by Simon Sinek, YouTube, 28 Feb. 2020,

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09/15/2021 - RWommack
Loved the analogy and the resources!
09/05/2021 - Abderrazak Behhar
Very insightful article! Teacher’s leadership is key in shaping effective schools. Looking forward to the next article!



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