The deputy principal instructional leadership role and professional learning

Ann Leaf (Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)
George Odhiambo (Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

Journal of Educational Administration

ISSN: 0957-8234

Publication date: 6 February 2017



The purpose of this paper is to report on a study examining the perceptions of secondary principals, deputies and teachers, of deputy principal (DP) instructional leadership (IL), as well as deputies’ professional learning (PL) needs. Framed within an interpretivist approach, the specific objectives of this study were: to explore the extent to which DPs are perceived as leaders of learning, to examine the actual responsibilities of these DPs and to explore the PL that support DP roles.


The researchers used multiple perspective case studies which included semi-structured interviews and key school document analysis. A thematic content analysis facilitated qualitative descriptions and insights from the perspectives of the principals, DPs and teachers of four high-performing secondary schools in Sydney, Australia.


The data revealed that deputies performed a huge range of tasks; all the principals were distributing leadership to their deputies to build leadership capacity and supported their PL in a variety of ways. Across three of the case study schools, most deputies were frequently performing as instructional leaders, improving their school’s performance through distributing leadership, team building and goal setting. Deputy PL was largely dependent on principal mentoring and self-initiated but was often ad hoc. Findings add more validity to the importance of principals building the educational leadership of their deputies.

Research limitations/implications

This study relied upon responses from four case study schools. Further insight into the key issues discussed may require a longitudinal data that describe perceptions from a substantial number of schools in Australia over time. However, studying only four schools allowed for an in-depth investigation.

Practical implications

The findings from this study have practical implications for system leaders with responsibilities of framing the deputies’ role as emergent educational leaders rather than as administrators and the need for coherent, integrated, consequential and systematic approaches to DP professional development. Further research is required on the effect of deputy IL on school performance.


There is a dearth of research-based evidence exploring the range of responsibilities of deputies and perceptions of staff about deputies’ IL role and their PL needs. This is the first published New South Wales, Australian DP study and adds to the growing evidence around perceptions of DPs as instructional leaders by providing an Australian perspective on the phenomenon. The paper raises important concerns about the complexity of the DP’s role on the one hand, and on the other hand, the PL that is perceived to be most appropriate for dealing with this complexity.



Leaf, A. and Odhiambo, G. (2017), "The deputy principal instructional leadership role and professional learning", Journal of Educational Administration, Vol. 55 No. 1, pp. 33-48.

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