From Local Program to Global Network: How to Create a Professional Learning Community

Access and Inclusion May 02, 2018

During my PhD defense one of the examiners asked me what I would do after my PhD. My answer was that I would go back to Qatar and work with my scholarship provider, Qatar Foundation, to improve schools in Qatar. My PhD isn’t the magic wand to fix our education system however, I do believe that by working closely with schools and school leaders we can improve student achievements. After all, research on school improvement shows that to improve schools we need to improve the leadership capabilities.

Building Capacity in the Classroom

Part of my job at the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) in leading the research agenda is to link policy and practice, to connect thinkers and doers.  Through our efforts in building the capacity of Qatari school leadership teams, my team and I have designed a program called Empowering Leaders of Learning (ELL). In order to improve students learning outcomes school leaders need to adopt agile mindsets and methods in order to respond to change as it happens and adopt evidence-informed strategies. An agile mindset enables leaders to adjust, learn and iterate throughout the implementation process in order to gain their desired impact on student learning. This was the idea behind the ELL program—to provide schools with a process of change and methods that will allow them to improve learning.


Furthermore, we believe that building leadership capacity at the micro-level will improve school systems. Capacity building means changing the day-to-day practices of practitioners and improving teachers practice. The research on this area is so clear, you can’t build teacher capacity outside the classroom; the further away from the classroom the less likely it will work. Teachers need to work as teams and work together over time on problems of practice; they design solutions, test their ideas and learn from it. That is how schools can improve teachers’ practices.

Strengthening the Leadership Network

Our work with the ELL program soon became a springboard for collaborative research. The key building blocks of the program quickly grew into a research effort that aimed to understand and strengthen the role of school leaders in enabling innovation that supports improved learning outcomes. Along with Dr. Simon Breakspear, Executive Director of Learn Labs,   our team produced a research report entitled, Developing Agile Leaders of Learning: School leadership policy for dynamic times.

The report describes a dynamic process for developing ‘leadership for learning’ capabilities among school leaders and teachers for continual student improvement. In proposing how a jurisdiction might design a systemic strategy for this, we focused on the key questions of who to develop, what capabilities to develop, and how to design effective development.


In May 2018, we are now ready to take the next step and commence work on the Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network (ALL-IN). We are ready to go ALL-IN, and empower a global network of school leaders with the mindset and tools to maximize their impact on student learning. ALL-IN is targeted at policymakers, leadership development providers, academics and other relevant experts interested in co-designing sustainable school leadership development programs. ALL-IN aims to:

  1. Curate discussions with school leadership development providers by creating a community of practice
  2. Develop ways of thinking about evaluating and learning the impact of leadership development and principal support initiatives 
  3. Serve as a springboard for research that captures and designs coherent school leadership policies and high-impact practices in the network and beyond
  4. Positively impact student achievement and well-being outcomes through innovative and effective school leadership approaches

Creating a global impact through three interconnected agendas:

  • Advocacy- curating leadership development network: Drawing together a network of leadership development providers to share innovative approaches and accelerate the design of new high-quality, high-scale models
  • Programs- running leadership development programs: Building educational leadership capabilities in Qatari and international educators through innovative, research-based leadership development programs.
  • Research- producing agenda-setting research: A global synthesis of the research literature & international best and emerging practices in school leadership development, with practical implications for policy and system leaders.