Instructional leadership plays a crucial role in efforts to improve teaching and learning. Current research argues that the promotion of and participation in teacher learning and development by school leaders has the greatest impact on student outcomes (Robinson, Lloyd & Rowe, 2008). Specifically, it serves to generate teacher commitment and build capacity through directing strategic and coherent programs of change in schools (Newmann & King, 2000). In this paper, we explore the role of the principals in the implementation of Quality Teaching Rounds (Bowe, et al., 2010) whereby, in three of the four participating schools, the principal participated fully in day-long Rounds with his or her teachers. Principals' participation included teaching a lesson in front of all other members of the professional learning community and having their lesson coded using Quality Teaching: A Classroom Practice Guide (NSW DET, 2003). This level of active participation by principals attended to such issues raised in the literature as the importance for principals of an equivalent level of understanding and capacity to apply new learning to the classroom (Robinson, 2006), and of their capacity to diagnose the learning needs of teachers and either develop the skills to support those teachers or assign skilled external agents to assist teachers (Timperley, 2009).
We also explore the functioning of power relations in these professional learning communities where, at first, the principal's presence contributed to some participants reporting that they felt challenged and vulnerable. We demonstrate how the Quality Teaching Rounds process had a flattening effect on any hierarchical functioning of power, such that even beginning teachers were able to show leadership in the critical professional conversations that were the fulcrum for teachers' collective and collaborative professional learning. In this study, principals reported greater diagnostic capacity to guide staff in their reform efforts as well as greater clarity about how multiple programs could be operationalized in a more coherent way. Teachers reported a higher level of respect among their colleagues, including the principal, and a stronger sense of support for their efforts and their contributions to professional learning and improved teaching in their schools.