Learning during change

The idea of learning during times of change may seem challenging, but it is crucial. We need to learn fast as we are taking action.

Times of rapid change or uncertainty require an openness to:

  • learning
  • innovation
  • risk-taking.

Not knowing the answers

    “In times of complexity, it is useful to admit you don’t know the answers, but that you are learning rapidly.”

(Garvey Berger and Johnson, 2020)

In unprecedented times, it can be difficult to know what the "right" thing to do is. It may be better to admit that we don’t know, and that there are multiple possible "right" ways, and focus on learning about what might work in our context for our learners. 

This idea is underpinned by the Educational Leadership Capability Framework (Teaching Council, 2018), specifically the capability of attending to one’s own learning and wellbeing: “Leaders ensure that they challenge their own thinking and keep growing their knowledge. They actively search for new information and knowledge and ideas” (p. 6).

Garvey Berger and Johnson (2020) argue that we need to keep learning like crazy as we take action. 

Innovation in times of uncertainty

Education researcher and Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellow, Katy Theobald, investigated the leadership of future-focused schools in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore.

Theobald uses language from the world of design to argue that leaders should enable a culture of risk-taking. She talks of:

  • prototyping – starting with a small project that can be scaled up if it proves to be successful
  • iterating – appreciating that ideas need refining and honing. The first try at something may not work as well as it could, and is a learning opportunity
  • responding to feedback – being curious and listening deeply to what teachers, learners and whānau are telling you.

She says, “Rather than rushing teachers to achieve a solution ... I hope [school leaders] will support risk-taking, forgive failure, encourage experimentation and enable educators to work together to find an approach to teaching and learning that fits this new normal.”

Reflective questions

  • How might you create opportunity for your own learning during times of change?
  • What role does innovation play in your school? How can you encourage it further?
  • How do you demonstrate acceptance of risk-taking to your school community? What happens when things fail?


Teaching Council. (2018). Educational Leadership Capability Framework

Garvey Berger, J. Johnston, K. (2020). Curiously blunt, or bluntly curious? Cultivating Leadership

Pardoe, J. (2020). Breaking down the barriers between school and the world: a revolution in remote learning? Big Education

Further reading

Snowden, D.J. Boone, M. (2007). A leader’s framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review

Snyder, S. (2013). The Simple, the Complicated, and the Complex: Educational Reform Through the Lens of Complexity Theory. OECD Education working papers no. 96. OECD Publishing

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