Maya Angelou once said, Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. While I remain a work in progress, I know the critical piece to following Angelou’s advice is to find a way to move from thinking to doing.

With students in the mix, this is extremely important work. How do we turn knowledge into sustainable action that will affect real change in terms of improving outcomes for children in school? How do we address the knowing-doing gap that exists between district and school-level leaders, teachers, and students? How do we take instructional leadership from concept to reality?

Establishing the Knowing-Doing Gap

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton have shared eight guidelines to assist instructional leaders with examining and reflecting on their current practices, then turning that knowledge into effective change management in their book, The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies turn Knowledge into Action. Instructional leaders can benefit from embracing these guidelines as they seek to create a culture of growth and innovation in our schools and school systems while simultaneously building teacher’s capacity and fostering a growth mindset for both adults and students. Real transformation of our schools requires intentional actions that are driven by research, data, and evidence daily.

  1. Talk about the why before the how. Simon Sinek states that if we know the Why, we will figure out the What and How. Effective leaders can bridge the gap by articulating the vision while sharing the reasons and philosophy behind it. The brain seeks purpose and starting with the “why” addresses that need.
  2. Learn by doing and by teaching and coaching others. Sustainable changes come with systems and people that build capacity in others, all within a culture of reflection, accountability, and growth. As leaders, how do we create a culture that engages and empowers others?
  3. Actions speak louder than words. The authors assert that our actions count more than any of the plans we build. The instructional leadership model helps teachers and administrators practice their interactions with others by acting with consistency on a daily basis.
  4. Learn from mistakes and reframe failure. One of the hallmarks of a learning organization is what they do when things go wrong. Being able to reflect and reframe our failures as learning opportunities is a hallmark of bridging the Knowing-Doing gap.
  5. Decrease fear where and when you can, as often as you can. Instructional leaders create a culture where people feel they can take risks and try new ideas. Remember that our brains don’t learn under stress.
  6. Collaborate and cooperate. The authors share that many organizations mistakenly foster a culture of competition when they are really trying to foster a culture of motivation. How do we create more opportunities for collaboration that is ongoing and data-driven?
  7. Measure outcomes and processes and use that data for actionable next steps. How often are we beginning with the end in mind? Have we determined how our we will assess our progress and measure success before we ever start?
  8. Leaders allocate their time and resources wisely while creating systems that narrow the gap between knowing and doing. The ability to effectively leverage resources including people, technology, time, and other resources is important to building sustainable systems designed to foster action.

Putting Instructional Leadership into Action

Problem-solving requires us to act – to put instructional leadership into action. The authors of The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies turn Knowledge into Action, assert that one of the most important insights from our research is that knowledge that is actually implemented is much more likely to be acquired from learning by doing than from learning by reading, listening, or even thinking (p. 6).

So, let’s consider the implications of that statement. As instructional leaders, how does this impact how we start a new implementation? How do we effectively implement ongoing professional development for our adult learners? How can we use what we have learned to date to impact student outcomes?

“Knowing about the knowing-doing gap is different from doing something about it”

(Pfeffer and Sutton, 2000, p. 263).

Instructional Leadership: 8 Ways to Empower Innovation Within Schools” reading “Act or Accept”, by Anonymous.


Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R. I. (2000). The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn

Knowledge Into Action. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business School Press.

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