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The Lead Learner - Book Cover

The Lead Learner

Improving Clarity, Coherence, and Capacity for All
First Edition
By: Michael McDowell

Foreword by Douglas Fisher

Practical examples, activities, and reflective questions take you step-by-step through the work of the learning leader, ensuring growth in core academic content and 21st-century skills.

Full description

Product Details
  • Grade Level: PreK-12
  • ISBN: 9781544324982
  • Published By: Corwin
  • Year: 2018
  • Page Count: 240
  • Publication date: June 14, 2018

Price: $39.95



To make a lasting impact, start with your own learning.

What’s better: a rigorous system that emphasizes traditional academics, or an innovative one that prepares students for tomorrow’s world? With McDowell’s new model of educational leadership, you don’t have to choose. You can create an impactful system that ensures growth for all students in both core academic content and 21st-century skills.

The Lead Learner shows you how starting with your own professional learning helps you plan for and meet the unique learning needs of staff and students—while getting the biggest impact from your limited time. You’ll also find ways to:

  • Ensure clarity in strategic planning
  • Establish coherence throughout the system
  • Enact system-wide capacity-building processes
  • Craft your personal leadership skills

With practical examples, stories from the field, and numerous activities and reflective questions, this insightful book takes you step-by-step through the work of the learning leader—so you can ensure engaged learning for all.

The enduring contribution of this book is in the guidance it provides leaders to recognize that they are part, an important part, but just a part, of a networked system. As such, their decisions and actions send messages throughout the system about what is valued and what is not. Take heed to McDowell’s advice and you’ll have a healthy, growth-producing system that will be the envy of those around you. The work is possible, the information is available, and the results are clear.
Douglas Fisher
San Diego State University



Michael McDowell photo

Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell, Ed.D. is the Superintendent of the Ross School District. Most recently, he served as the Associate Superintendent of Instructional and Personnel Services at the Tamalpais Union High School District. During his tenure, the Tamalpais Union High School District was recognized by the Marzano Research Laboratories as one of the top highly reliable organizations in the United States, and schools within the district received recognitions by the US News and World Report, and honored with California Distinguished Schools accolades.

Prior to his role as a central office administrator, Dr. McDowell served as the Principal of North Tahoe High School, a California Distinguished School. Prior to administration, Dr. McDowell was a leadership and instructional coach for the New Tech Network supporting educators in designing, implementing, and enhancing innovative schools across the country. Before engaging in the nonprofit sector, Dr. McDowell created and implemented an environmental science and biology program at Napa New Technology High School, infusing 1:1 technology, innovative teaching and assessment, and leveraging student voice in the classroom. Additionally, Dr. McDowell, taught middle school math and science in Pacifica, CA.

Dr. McDowell is a national presenter, speaking on instruction, learning, leadership and innovation. He has provided professional development services to large school districts, State Departments of Education, and higher education. In addition, he was a former National Faculty member for the Buck Institute of Education and a key thought leader in the inception of their leadership work in scaling innovation in instructional methodologies. His expertise in design and implementation is complimented by his scholarly approach to leadership, learning, and instruction.

He holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and a M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Redlands and an Ed.D. from the University of La Verne. He received departmental honors for his work in Environmental Science and was awarded the Tom Fine Creative Leadership Award for his doctoral work at the University of La Verne. He has also completed certification programs through Harvard University, the California Association of School Business Officials, the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, and Cognition Education. He holds both a California single subject teaching credential and an administrative credential.
Table of Contents

Table of Contents


Preface: Lead the Learning

A Perspective From a Lead Learner

Author's Acknowledgments

About the Author

Chapter 1. Setting the Stage

Are We as Leaders Ready to Prepare All Learners for the 21st Century?

The Driving Question: Are Our Decisions Leading the Learning?

A New Leadership Focus

Ensuring Clarity, Coherence, and Capacity: Crafting Improved Leadership Skills


Reflection Questions


Next Steps

Chapter 2. Clarity: Strategic Planning

Three Questions That Ensure Clarity in Strategic Planning


Reflection Questions


Next Steps


Chapter 3. Coherence (Part I): Learning System Infrastructure

Setting the Stage for Coherence

Establish Progress and Proficiency Expectations

Establish Standardized and Customizable Features

Coherence: Bringing It All Together


Reflection Questions


Next Steps

Chapter 4. Coherence (Part II): Ensuring Inspired and Passionate Teachers in Schools

Linking Learner-Centered Beliefs and Behaviors

Unmasking Beliefs and Behaviors

Hiring and Developing Educators for Impact


Reflection Questions


Next Steps

Chapter 5. Capacity: Community Learning

Building Capacity Through Continuous Improvement

Standardized Success Criteria

Customizable Organizational Routines for Learning


Reflection Questions


Next Steps

Chapter 6. Crafting: The Lead Learner

Facing Competing Beliefs in Learning

Lead Learner Practices That Move Learning Forward

Establishing Common Agreements for Learning

Leverage Protocols for Dialogue

Model Current Initiatives in Daily Practice


Reflection Questions


Next Steps

Chapter 7. Conclusion

Moving Beyond Stark Differences

Influencing Educators

Recognizing the Rate of Change




Sample Strategic Plans


Sample Evaluation Tools

Sample Unit Plan

Demonstration Scenario




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