The principal’s priority 1

by Jean Johnson

This article takes a realistic look at the issue of principals as leaders of learning within their schools. Johnson reports on a range of evidence from principals and teachers in the United States about the opportunities and obstacles that principals face in taking on the role of educational leadership.

In New Zealand, similar views were expressed in people’s feedback on the development of Kiwi Leadership for Principals. The article also resonates with the findings of the New Zealand Educational Leadership Best Evidence Synthesis.

Key issues presented in this article are:

  • Principals and teachers want a focus on leading learning to improve the delivery of curriculum, to improve the effectiveness of teaching and to improve learning outcomes for all students.
  • Many principals find that administrative, operational, and accountability responsibilities can take their time and energy away from leading learning – “I find myself wearing many hats”.

Jean Johnson argues that principals need to receive more coaching and professional learning to help them develop the skills to be effective educational leaders. She advocates some rethinking about the priorities we have for how principals should spend their time.

It may mean a reconsideration of the administrative support provided to schools in order to free up school leaders to take an active role in educational leadership.

Our reviewers thought this article might also be useful for boards of trustees to read when they are reviewing their principal’s workload, or when making new appointments to the leadership team.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide your reading of this article:

  • Spend some time thinking about and then discussing with your leadership team ways in which you can balance your role as educational leader with the day-to-day management of your school in the self-managing environment that exists in New Zealand.
  • What is your explicit and comprehensive vision for improving the quality of teaching and the learning outcomes of your students? How do you ensure that this is communicated clearly to the whole school community?
  • Discuss some opportunities you and others in your leadership team could take to improve your knowledge and experience of coaching and mentoring teachers in your school.

Further reading

Robinson, V. (2007) School Leadership and Student Outcomes: Identifying what works and why. ACEL Monograph Series. No. 41. October.


Johnson, J. (2008) Special Topic: The Principal’s Priority 1”. In Educational Leadership. Vol. 66. No. 1. September.

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