How should principals spend their time?

By Amy Dujon for Learning Sciences International, an ACSA Partner4 Purpose


A principal’s duties and responsibilities continue to compound. Over the past five years, new school leader standards and high-stakes accountability have expanded the work scope dramatically. Often, school leaders prioritize each day based on what needs immediate attention. We lead as firefighters rather than focusing on fire prevention.

Making the shift to proactive prevention requires vision and keen leadership competencies, which allow you to focus time and energy on your real business: the teaching and learning happening in classrooms every day.

In my work with school leaders, I often hear them talk about how they don’t have time to get into classrooms, a task that often is delegated to instructional coaches. Instead of engaging in the thinking and learning happening with students and teachers, they are bogged down with compliance tasks and routines.

How does the old saying go… compliance begets compliance? If something is important to you, it will be important to the stakeholders you serve, and nothing says more about your priorities and values than how you spend your time. When school leaders focus the bulk of their time on instruction, they inevitably minimize other competing priorities.

Selective abandonment

Ideally, principals should spend 75% of their time focusing their attention on the vision of instruction. For many, this requires a bit of discomfort:

  • Examining their practice and identifying opportunities for selective abandonment
  • Deserting regular leadership practices or daily routines that result in lost classroom time
  • Letting go of tasks they feel only the school leader can handle
  • Restructuring procedures to make more time to support teachers in and out of the classroom

You don’t have to do lunch duty every day, every lunch. Your presence and interactions with students in the classroom can accomplish the same task, promoting safety, building relationships, and showing students and teachers your priority: learning.

Intentional engagement

To become a real instructional leader who supports teachers in strong core instruction, you must commit to digging into the standards, knowing the instructional shifts, and deepening your understanding and application of taxonomy. Often, these critical instructional elements are overlooked, or at best, teachers only have a surface-level understanding of them.

Intentional engagement during PLCs will build your knowledge, but also your relationships with teachers. And nothing is more effective for helping them develop and grow in their own practice than to receive coaching on 21st century pedagogy before, during, and after instruction.

Remember, leadership is intention. The intentional decisions you make around how you spend your time will determine your success.


Check out more content on leadership skills and practices here, and register for one of ACSA’s excellent hands-on leadership coaching programs, academies, or workshops. Join us on November 8-10 in San Diego for ACSA’s annual Leadership Summit, a world-class premier professional development event. The Summit is a gathering of educators at all levels of administration in celebration of the profession. For 2.5 days, this event provides opportunities for invaluable networking, offering professional development on current critical leadership and educational issues.

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