Rotorua Girls' High School principal Ally Gibbons will swap places with her students next year as she retires from teaching and returns to study.

Gibbons has resigned as principal of the school and will see out the rest of this year.

In 2019 she plans to study te reo Māori full time at Waikato University and spend more time with her whānau.

"I love learning so I'll be a fulltime student and I'm really looking forward to it.

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"I have a mokopuna who will be 2 this year. They are going to the kohanga reo and I need to be fluent in te reo."

Gibbons said she also wanted to run more. She needs four more marathons to become a member of the "survivors club", those who have run more than 15 Rotorua Marathons.

She also wants to walk the Camino de Santiago in retirement, a pilgrimage through Spain.

"It is a retirement from teaching but I've got a different focus now. I don't call it retirement, it's spending time with my two moko who are 10 and (nearly) 2," she said.

"After 18 years of leadership I need to put my whānau first."

Gibbons has had a decorated career. She has taught in the North and South islands as well as in the United Arab Emirates.

Her first senior leadership role was as at Hamilton Girls' High School but Gibbons returned to Rotorua in 2012.

A former Rotorua Girls' High School student herself, she took up the principalship in 2014.

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"I must say the job of principal has been a marvellous learning journey and a great privilege. I've really enjoyed working alongside high quality educators, superb students and whānau," she said.

"I've been richly rewarded by the relationships I've developed in the school and community but now it's time for me to take on a new challenge."

Gibbons was proud of the work she had done at the school, particularly in the last year when the school won one of the categories in the Prime Minister's Excellence Awards, and won the National Secondary Schools Kapa Haka Competition for the second time running, alongside Rotorua Boys' High.

She said she also had a lot to do before leaving the school.

"I work long, joyful hours and I love the job and I love the girls. They've been the whole reason for my career," she said.

"You hope students leave confident and with qualifications to enter different pathways, you hope you leave staff that have been happy to make a difference. It's a difficult job but they do wonderful things."

Gibbons said she had enjoyed teaching in the place she grew up.

"I've loved coming back to Rotorua.

"Teachers do make a difference because it was teachers I had that encouraged and inspired me to think that this was a great career to follow."