Professional learning for school leaders - it’s about relationships, relationships, relationships!

By Editor on January 27, 2022 in Leadership

I was asked recently by a secondary middle leader what professional learning I could recommend as he was keen to start applying for senior leadership positions. Ongoing professional learning is an important part of any teacher’s life, just as learning on the job is important.

I was asked recently by a secondary middle leader what professional learning I could recommend as he was keen to start applying for senior leadership positions. Ongoing professional learning is an important part of any teacher’s life, just as learning on the job is important. I believe that there are no ready-made or quick-fix solutions.

Peter Drucker said many years ago, “we now accept the fact that learning is a life-long process of keeping abreast with change” (Managing in a Time of Great Change, 1995, p.6). We need to keep on top of change now more than ever.

Leaders today need to be comfortable with ambiguity and be collaborative practitioners. Every individual will have different knowledge, skills, and capabilities that they will want to develop. I have given this some thought and highlighted four areas of professional learning which you might like to consider. I wish some of them had been available to me when I was considering senior leadership, or for professional development in my DP position.

The professional learning that I found worthwhile - or I would have liked to have been involved in - includes:

Professional Associations

Belonging to regional assistant principal/deputy principal (AP/DP) associations, attending regional workshops, and the NASDAP (National Association of Secondary Deputy and Assistant Principals) biennial conference, provide opportunities for emergent senior leaders to learn new knowledge and skills specific to their roles, as well as opportunities to build new networks of support. I found membership of this professional association and attendance at workshops were invaluable in meeting with peers who, over several years, shared how to deal with some of the thorny issues and situations I faced in my role.

Leading by Learning

Dealing with students will always be central to your role as an AP/DP, but much of your work will be dealing with adults – teachers, parents, board of trustees (BOT), community members and a range of agencies.

This Leading by Learning course is relatively new. However, it builds on approaches to leading learning, developing learning-focused relationships and the art of critical conversations. It provides school leaders with the theory and practice of ethical leadership that enables them to make significant progress on the problems of practice that prevent them or their colleagues from achieving improvement goals.

Why I think this is important is because it is ongoing – you don’t suddenly learn this stuff and then stop - you can continue to reflect on your practice and continue to learn. Acknowledging the complex relationship between theory and practice is important.

An advantage is that the course is offered in a variety of ways. Your new senior leadership team (SLT) can work together within your own school or can attend a two-day off-site course followed by on-line support. For further details contact

Well-being and Resilience

Personal and professional growth counts for nothing if you don’t look after yourself in the role. Managing workload, dealing with constant interruptions, and the growth of the ‘to do’ list can lead to tiredness, irritability and finally burn out. A few teachers at the school where I was DP said that I was living proof for them not to apply for a senior leader’s job - hardly the role model that I aspired to be! I put my head down and got on with it. The leaders that I aspired to be like did just that. Working very hard was just what you did then.

These days our knowledge and understanding of stress, resilience, well-being, and mental health issues are substantial. Even more substantial is the expectation that, as senior leaders, we will be supporting and building teacher and student resilience at the same time as managing our own resilience and well-being. How well do we do this already? How do we support teachers and others in the teams we lead? How do we create a positive culture in our teams? Are there opportunities for our teachers to contribute ideas, feel included and valued?

Look for the formal and informal opportunities that exist and might help you develop a safe, caring, and engaging learning environment both for yourselves and others.

Coaching and mentoring

It stands to reason if you are looking to apply for AP/DP positions then you have already had responsibility for leading others and coaching and mentoring of teams within your school. There will be a wide range of knowledge and abilities amongst those of you who are wanting to step up to a senior leadership role. While there is deliberate support for beginning principals, particularly with an emphasis on coaching and mentoring, newly appointed APs/DPs are largely left to their own devices.

You may come to the position supported by a trusted colleague who acts as a coach; or your new principal may provide support; or you may join a professional learning group (PLG). If you have none of these supports, you will need to access coaching and mentoring PLD that can assist you to develop skills for deep reflective practice. Make sure that this PLD incorporates a strong conceptual framework or theory and the opportunity to develop the requisite skills in the complex context of the work you will do as a senior leader.

I wholeheartedly recommend Jan Robertson’s book - Coaching Leadership: Building Educational Leadership Capacity through Partnership (Second edition). This combines theory and practice, and the case studies and examples are great.

However challenging, thought-provoking, and necessary your PLD turns out to be, it is a waste of time if it remains locked in your head and not applied, adapted or shared with the team at your school.

Seeking out professional learning opportunities and taking part in them is only part of the picture.


Drucker, P. (1995). Managing in a Time of Great Change. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Roberston, J. (2016). Coaching Leadership: Building Educational Leadership Capacity through Partnership (2nd ed.). Wellington: NZCER.

Contact Jacqui today to learn more about how we can help you with PLD for leaders

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