The learning-centered principal

by Richard DuFour


In this article, Richard DuFour argues that the notion of the instructional leader is a flawed one. Using his own past experiences as an instructional leader – a principal who focuses particularly on teaching and curriculum — he shows that the initial approaches he used in this role focused on the wrong kinds of questions.

He tells us that the wrong questions that underpinned his early leadership experiences were:

  • What are the teachers teaching?
  • How can I help them to teach it more effectively?

With hindsight he describes his instructional leadership should have been shaped by these kinds of questions:

  • To what extent are the students learning?
  • What steps can I take to give both students and teachers the additional time and support they need to improve learning?

DuFour says that principals foster a structural and cultural transformation when they shift their emphasis from helping individual teachers improve their teaching to helping teams of teachers ensure that students achieve the intended outcomes of their schooling.

DuFour describes in detail the activities he helped to set up in one American high school, which shifted the collective focus of the staff from teaching to learning.

Reflective questions

These reflective questions might guide your reading of this article:

  • What kinds of things do you currently do in your school that demonstrate your leadership of learning?
  • Does your school actively support teachers being leaders of learning? In what ways?
  • Do you see yourself as the school’s lead learner? Why? Why not?


DuFour, R. (2002, May). The learning-centered principalEducational Leadership, 59(8), 12–15.

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