The principal’s role has changed

By Rebecca A. Thessin and Karen Seashore Louis
April 2020
Vol 41, No. 2
Does this scenario sound familiar? Principals are called to districtwide professional learning four to eight times a year. Central office administrators give presentations on new district initiatives, curriculum, protocols, and procedures. Administrators listen, sometimes for hours, to new information that district-level administrators believe they need. For most principals, this format hasn’t changed for several decades. Yet today’s principals do not have the same job as they did 20 years ago. Performance-based accountability measures have increasingly impacted the demands placed on school leaders, as have increased expectations to ramp up direct instructional leadership (Fusarelli & Fusarelli, 2018). Furthermore, research shows that this passive approach has little impact on practice if not accompanied by job-embedded follow-up learning and support (Curry & Killion, 2009; Zepeda, 2013). We must

Read the remaining content with membership access. Join or log in below to continue.

Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem.

Log In


Rebecca A. Thessin and Karen Seashore Louis

Rebecca A. Thessin ( is assistant professor of educational administration at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Karen Seashore Louis ( is Regents Professor of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development and the Robert H. Beck Chair of Ideas in Education at the University of Minnesota.


Boyatzis, R.E. & Kolb, D.A. (1999). Performance, learning, and development as modes of growth and adaptation throughout our lives and careers. In M. Peiperl, M.B. Arthur, R. Coffee, & T. Morris (Eds.), Career frontiers: New conceptions of working lives (pp. 76-98). Oxford University Press.

Curry, M. & Killion, J. (2009). Slicing the layers of learning. JSD, 30(1), 56-62.

DiPaola, M. & Hoy, W.K. (2013). Principals improving instruction: Supervision, evaluation, and professional development. Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Fusarelli, L.D. & Fusarelli, B.C. (2018). Instructional supervision in an era of high‐stakes accountability. In S.J. Zepeda & J.A. Ponticell (Eds.) The Wiley handbook of educational supervision (pp. 131-156). Wiley & Sons.

Goldring, E., Grissom, J., Rubin, M., Rogers, L., Neel, M., & Clark, M. (2018). A new role emerges for principal supervisors: Evidence from six districts in the Principal Supervisor Initiative. The Wallace Foundation.

Grissom, J.A., Loeb, S., & Master, B. (2013). Effective instructional time use for school leaders: Longitudinal evidence from observations of principals. Educational Researcher, 42(8), 433-444.

Honig, M.I. (2012). District central office leadership as teaching: How central office administrators support principals’ development as instructional leaders. Educational Administration Quarterly, 48(4), 733-774.

Knowles, M.S. (1996). Adult learning. In R.L. Craig (Ed.), ASTD training & development handbook: A guide to human resource development (4th ed., pp. 254-265). McGraw Hill.

Learning Forward. (2011). Standards for Professional Learning. Learning Forward.

Leithwood, K. (2018). Leadership development on a large scale: Lessons for long-term success. Corwin.

Manning, T. (2017). How do we clarify coaches’ roles and responsibilities? The Learning Professional, 38(4), 14.

Thessin, R.A. (2019). Establishing productive principal/principal supervisor partnerships for instructional leadership. Journal of Educational Administration 57(5), 463-483.

Thessin, R.A. & Louis, K.S. (2019). The role of districts and other agencies in supporting school leaders’ instructional leadership. Journal of Educational Administration 57(5), 434-444.

U.S. Department of Education. (2016). Non-regulatory guidance for Title II, Part A: Building systems of support for excellent teaching and learning.

Zepeda, S.J. (2013). Professional development: What works. Routledge.

Karen Seashore Louis ( is Regents Professor of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development and the Robert H. Beck Chair of Ideas in Education at the University of Minnesota.

The Learning Professional

Published Date


  • Recent Issues

    April 2022

    This issue celebrates the many ways coaches are helping schools thrive in...

    February 2022

    Collaboration and trust are essential to high-quality professional...

    December 2021

    Building equity takes leadership at every level – in classrooms,...

    October 2021

    How do you lead in times of crisis? It starts with openness to learning...