Reimagining Educational Leadership and School Culture During COVID-19

Reimagining Educational Leadership and School Culture During COVID-19: A Few Lessons Learned by Dr. Chaney Williams-Ledet

Educational leadership defined enlists and guides teachers, pupils, and parents’ talents and energies toward achieving common educational aims. Undergirding the process of educational leadership is school culture. According to Fullan (2007), school culture is the guiding beliefs and values evident in how a school operates. ‘School culture’ can encompass all the attitudes, expected behaviors, and values that impact how the school operates. At the core of the definition of educational leadership, it appears as a collaborative and congenial process. However, COVID-19 slammed the door firmly shut on all aspects of this process. In a few short months, COVID-19 disrupted the very fabric of education. 

Campus and district leaders reimagined and redefined educational leadership and its processes. Campus culture became non-existent. Learning became remote; most learners had limited access to in-person support. Educational leaders were now at odds with parents around the ongoing issue and heated debate of opening, re-opening, and closing schools. Terms and terminology introduced to educational leaders’ lexicon such as digital divide, food desserts, social- distancing, and virtual meetings became par for the field. Thus, expanding the definition and work for educational leaders and searching for developing culture during a crisis. Campus culture dissipated. Angst, anxiety, and fear replaced the main features and elements of positive school culture. 

Although there is a current lack of research on how school leaders respond to the pandemic, some useful insights about leadership within the COVID19 educational landscape are emerging. 

1. The principles that undergird leadership, having a clear vision, developing others, managing people, and building capacity, shifted towards a more context responsive leadership. Leaders pivot effortlessly and provide a more favorable environment for achieving goals, even in a crisis. (Leithwood, Harris, and Hopkins 2020).

 2. Educational leadership preparation and training programs before COVID19 are likely to be out of step with school leaders’ challenges today. Many existing preparation and training programs will require a radical re-think and significant modification to remain relevant for aspiring and practicing school leaders. 

3. Self-care and consideration must be a priority for school leaders. Before COVID-19 leading a school could be challenging; however, managing emotional responses and crisis-tested leaders is daunting. Therefore, the need to create a culture of self-care is paramount at all levels.

 4. In the long run, pedagogy is integral to effective learning, and while technology has its place, it is the human aspect of effective instruction that makes the difference. 

5. The notion and idea that leaders cannot do everything, distributed leadership. The paradigm shift of effective distributed leadership is now connected, collaborative, creative, and responsive. It takes the school community for the school to survive. 

6. Crisis management is now an essential skill of a school leader. In developing school improvement plans and crisis intervention plans, schools must have systems that support crisis management and require support and collaboration from all staff.

A new episode is being written about school leadership and culture in troubling times. COVID 19 turned educational leadership and school culture on its proverbial head; its unpredictability and uncertainty are now watchwords of all those leading schools. This new leadership order has no leadership standards, cultural framework, no benchmarks, no precedents to help school leaders through the current maelstrom, COVID 19. However, determination, hope, and the unshakable belief that whatever happens, whatever the cost, educational leaders continue to always protect the learning and safety of all young people, especially in crisis.

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