A community committed to leadership and lifelong learning

After a period during which I turned my discretionary time and attention to a deepening engagement with hospice volunteering and end-of-life issues, I am ready to return to my most fundamental and abiding interest – school leadership and the ways in which formal and informal learning can be promoted in a variety of ways from infancy through life’s end.

Because my heart continues to lie in issues related to public education, I want to write about leadership and leadership development from the perspective of someone who cares deeply about the central and essential role of leaders In addressing public education’s current challenges and future prospects.

Likewise, my understanding of the life-altering and never ending power of learning has been affirmed and extended by hospice volunteering through which I have witnessed the often profound experiences of patients and families as they live out that final transition.

Just as I look forward to discovering through writing what’s on my mind and it my heart, I am interested in finding out what you are thinking about the ideas and issues I will raise here. So, please take a few minutes to participate—your views will be an important part of a community that cares deeply about leadership and learning, a community that I look forward to creating with you.

What’s on your mind?

• What experiences have you had with the power of lifelong, transformative learning, whether it be in your personal or professional life?

8 Responses to “A community committed to leadership and lifelong learning”

  1. 1 SY November 19, 2012 at 5:01 am

    So pleased to read your recent post. Your contribution to the issues of leadership have been so valuable to me and so many others. I welcome the opportunity to continue to learn and hopefully grow as a result of reading and hopefully internalizing your future writings.

  2. 2 Cathy Gassenheimer November 19, 2012 at 7:15 am

    I’m so glad that you are posting again. I always learn something and spend time reflecting on your writings.
    You asked about the power of transformative lifelong learning. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with our SDE in a pilot to repurpose reading coaches to instructional coaches. We’re in our second year. Watching the “partners” — we call them instructional partners — literally come to life has been nothing short of amazing. They have created such a strong vibrant learning community among themselves. You can “meet” some of them here: http://www.bestpracticescenter.org/blog/?newsID=126
    Welcome back to blogging! You have been missed.

  3. 3 Dennis Sparks November 19, 2012 at 7:25 am

    Thanks, Cathy, for your kind words. The significant work you do in Alabama is not only important to your state, but it is also a model and inspiration for what can be done elsewhere to improve teaching and learning for all students.

  4. 4 Naomi Norman November 21, 2012 at 11:29 am

    As always, Dennis, you move me into a reflective space. 🙂

    When I think about transformative learning—the kind where you fundamentally shift the way you think so that a whole new set of ideas/learning/way of thinking can grow and thrive—I find that each time it has occurred on the heels of a personal failure.

    This happened twice during my formative years. First, when we moved to a new state and the culture of my school and community were vastly different from where I came. I had to unlearn and relearn in ways of being that were unimaginable to me prior to that time. The second time was when I found myself struggling to pass my college classes in my sophomore year. Until that point in my life I thought I was smart. From that point forward I realized that learning was about a point of view, a choice to makes sense of information and ideas, and an opportunity to shape my opinion and my voice based on my experiences and the understandings I developed. Learning really has nothing to do with being smart. It has everything to do with the will to grow and become.

    So I find that when I place myself in situations where I take risks, move into areas of discomfort, and threaten my confidence I am the most open to learning.

    Lifelong learning has been about surrounding myself with people who challenge me, who bring different perspectives, who are also willing to take risks. It is about creating lots of small opportunities for risk and having those add up into learning that transforms who I am.

    • 5 Dennis Sparks November 21, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Naomi. As a result of it I have found myself thinking about my own transformative learning – that is, learning that altered in some fundamental way how I thought about and/or did things. I can think of examples where failure and/or pain were its primary sources. I can also think of a few books that had a profound effect on me, like those by Carl Rogers about learning and the conditions that nurture it. Reality Therapy by William Glasser also comes to mind, particularly for the years when I was working in an alternative high school with challenging students. In addition, significant and sometimes even profound learning occurred in situations when I stepped well beyond my comfort zone—often with others—to achieve a compelling and stretching goal.

  5. 6 Mike November 23, 2012 at 9:08 pm


    My transformative learning occurs when I take on new roles. My beliefs are often challenged when making new decisions.

    As a newer vice principal in South Western Ontario, each day my beliefs can be challenged by others. Not to mention my own reflection causes me to challenge my understandings.

    Some days, I hold fast to those strong beliefs and other days they are improved and changed. At the core of my beliefs is student safety, respect and learning. An ongoing challenge is to learn when do effective leaders hold strong to a belief and when do they let new ideas take root.

    I agree with Naomi’s comment, “I find that when I place myself in situations where I take risks, move into areas of discomfort, and threaten my confidence I am the most open to learning.” I remind myself of this often as I work through difficult situations.

    Looking forward to hearing from you more often. TVDSB staff are lucky to work with you.


    • 7 Dennis Sparks November 23, 2012 at 9:20 pm

      Thanks for your kind words, Mike, and for sharing your views regarding transformative learning. It’s been an honor and my pleasure to work with all of you in Thames Valley.

  6. 8 Kent Peterson November 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm

    Yes, lifelong learning is a never-ending part of being human. Once I thought that learning had to be connected directly to solving problems or making schools better—-“right now”!

    But as I hear stories of the fortitude and effort of educators to serve students, I realize that the story–the learning–does not need to have immediate usefulness. There have been stories that have been cached in my consciousness for years only to reappear when they could be helpful in some new situation. Eventually, learning will come back as a resource to serve others and I never know when that will be.

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