No Series: Engaging School Leaders in a Culture of Learning

Engaging School Leaders in a Culture of Learning

Lesson Objective: Shift the cognitive load to the learner in purposeful ways
All Grades / All Subjects / Instruction


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Discussion and Supporting Materials

Thought starters

  1. What does Sarah mean when she says the "cognitive load must shift to the learner"?
  2. How can administrators and teacher leaders begin to practice this instructional model?
  3. Notice how the elements of this model are consciously embedded into learning opportunities.?


  • Private message to Jasmine Gilbert

Sad how homogeneous the teaching staff in this video is...

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  • Private message to Agustin Cuello

Thank you for reminding us that the student has to be doing the work so that it is not me relearning something. Instead, it is the student learning by doing. 

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  • Private message to Robyn Rehmann
Engaging School Leaders in a Culture of Learning is an strong example of how principals can transform their schools into collaborative learning centers of excellence. The principal needs to be a strong instructional leader, learning side-by-side with staff and moving into the classroom, being vulnerable with his/her own teaching. This in turn builds trust with the teachers and creates a community of learners. Many times professional learning involves providing input for teachers and then expecting them to utilize it in the classroom with positive outcomes for students. We need to remember the instructional model (Fisher) incorporating the" I do" (new information) with a focus on the "We do or guided practice" without penalty then move to the independent practice of teaching in the classroom. Then discussing outcomes of the lesson in professional learning teams of which the principal is a member. So often I have seen principals focus on designing professional development then turning it over to a presenter and leaving the room to do paperwork in their office. The teachers certainly notice this and feel a "them and us mentality". This can create a negative school climate causing the teachers to disengage and not take the professional development seriously. It is imperative that leaders are learners with their staff if the school is going to advance with improved instruction and stronger student outcomes.
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  • Private message to Adam Hopson
Including administrators in the planning process, to me, would allow for greater perspective on the part of administrators with what's going on in the district/school. Teachers shouldn't be saddled, wholesale, with the burden of creating a learning centered environment. A shared responsibility among teachers and administrators creates continuity.
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  • Private message to Mike Bridges
I think she hit the nail on the head. Being a music teacher, literally all core subjects come into play. It's just a matter of bringing the idea to the attention of our administrators and more importantly our community. I'm not really seeing a contradiction of terms between what we teach and CC but like Ms. Wessling and other in the presentation said, it's a simple matter of creatively fitting our expertise and lesson planning into the given model.
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  • One half of my job this year is being with students in the morning, and then the other half is

    One half of my job this year is being with students in the morning, and then the other half is working with teachers and administrators in our district with the instructional model.

    Embracing this model is not about administrating the model, it’s not about managing the model, it’s about leading it.

    So often professional development, professional learning, as I’d rather call it, is the dissemination of information from one person to another. It’s the two book ends of the instructional model, without the middle component that’s so important.

    Our district is engaging in this district-wide professional development in the instructional model, that follows the work of Doug Fischer and Nancy Fry.

    I think that sometimes in our work as teachers and as leaders, we try so hard to make everything so perfect that there aren’t any mistakes, that we end up doing all the work.

    The basic premise of the model is that the cognitive load of what we do in any teaching situation has to shift to the learner.

    What did you brain have to do in order to arrive at this idea?

    What can your instruction look like using this model in your buildings?

    I think that’s great, Anne, if you put that out there and say what I just did, put that back into the model.

    Now the administrators are completely engaged in the learning because they too are helping to lead it.

    How are some ways that you might already be or could envision places in the day where the model might start to exist in new ways for you?

    I think of it as a parent, when you’re trying to work with you child on homework, or riding their bike, or whatever it would happen to be, these are the types of things you would do to make that much more effective.

    I think it’s really easy to forget that we do have all of these teaching moments all the time.

    So they are having to actively as a group kind of figure out how they’re going to deliver this lesson.

    We talked about having two tables…

    They will talk to their teachers more effectively, more candidly, with a lot more information when talk about how they felt when they were in productive group work mode.

    I don’t think we need to, I think we can have that written on the white board.

    We also paired an assistant principal, a principal, an administrator, with a member from the professional development team.

    I think it would be really wonderful if you chose something not at your grade level. Go for it, off you go!

    And so we’ll see these leaders together.

    I see this as really powerful, that we start practicing this in various contexts. Staff meetings, coaching conversations… yeah.

    And then they also have this independent component. They’re all going to go individually into these classrooms and deliver it.

    This is a little bit of a shift, or maybe a bit of a new opportunity is a better way to think of it.

    A lot of administrators have a lot of opportunities to lead meetings, a lot of opportunities to be in their classrooms in an evaluative situation, but there aren’t as many opportunities for them to be a teacher, and to find the teaching moments in their days.

    This is what our school is doing, and then we’ll draw out of that, where do we need to improve the questioning.

    My hope is that this is going to be how we talk about teaching and learning in this district. And that we will have a common language and a common framework in which to talk about some of these deliberate teaching moves.

    Because in the focus lesson, there are all of these components, the explicit teaching…

    We are all here to make sure that students become autonomous, and we want them in the end to be self-actualized. And we can’t do that if we are doing all the work. Which goes back to the crux of the model, that this is about shifting the cognitive load, that it can’t be the teachers doing all of the work, that we have to support our students enough, give them enough practice, give them enough opportunities to fail, gently, and do it without penalty so they can grow. And when we see teaching and learning in this progressive, recursive way, we give students the chance to become autonomous, and that’s what I want for them ?

School Details

Johnston Senior High School
6501 Northwest 62nd Avenue
Johnston IA 50131
Population: 1548

Data Provided By:



Sarah Brown Wessling
English Language Arts / 10 11 12 / Teacher


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