Overcoming obstacles to leadership

by Susan Moore Johnstone and Morgaen L. Donaldson


This article is set in an American context but is directly relevant to the experience of developing middle leaders in New Zealand schools.

It clearly describes the many complex issues facing aspiring and developing leaders in schools.

It provides principals with important issues to discuss either in their cluster groups or in their own schools.

The examples in the article are very realistic. They are pertinent for schools that are attempting to set up professional learning communities, and for those who are working to develop greater relational and collegial trust in their staff.

We know that there is variation in the quality of teaching from one classroom to another in schools. So, it is very important that schools provide positive and supportive environments for effective teachers to work alongside their colleagues to raise the quality of teaching in every classroom for all our students.

The article fits in well with much of the developing work in New Zealand schools. The importance of effective teacher professional learning is emphasised in all  the best evidence synthesis reports, and in projects such as Te Kotahitanga. It is also a key theme in Kiwi Leadership for Principals.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide you in your reading of this article:

  • How similar are the issues faced by teacher leaders in this article with teacher leaders in your school? Identify one or two issues that are similar to ones you are facing. What support can you provide to help overcome the issues?
  • In what ways do the cultural norms of many New Zealand schools hinder the collegial work of effective teacher leaders, for example ideas about teacher autonomy in their own classrooms. What aspects of the professional culture in your school need addressing in order to make the most gain from our effective teacher leaders?
  • There is an acknowledged need to challenge and improve teaching practice so that needs of all students are addressed. What formal structures could your leadership team put in place to develop more effective professional learning communities in place and ensure that all students experience positive learning opportunities in their classrooms?

Further reading

Educational Leadership. volume 65, Summer, 2008. The theme is the development of teacher leadership. All the articles in this journal are useful. 

Review of the Specialist Classroom Teacher Pilot - Education Counts website - provides case studies of the work of lead teachers from New Zealand schools.


Johnson, S.M., and Donaldson, M. L. (2008). Overcoming the Obstacles to Leadership. Educational Leadership, volume 65, Summer, pp 8 – 13.
Read the article online

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