Leadership matters – more so now than ever before, especially as we navigate the churning waters of the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the last eight months we have experienced a dramatic disruption to the order and functionality of our social and organisational lives. This disruption, and the changes it has brought about, has been sudden and overwhelming, with the global community being thrust from one reality into a completely different one.
During times of crisis, people instinctively look to leaders to help them make sense of what they are experiencing, to give them direction, and to inspire confidence that they will make it through. Leaders across all sectors of society must become aware of the pivotal role they play in holding the organisation, and the people in it, together as they navigate the danger, uncertainty and various changes. This is also a time when support for the personal and professional development of leaders is crucial, especially as they look for ways to manage the challenges that arise.
COVID-19 calls for Effective Leadership in Education
In the education sector, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of effective leadership at the level of the school, and structures to enable and support that leadership. In fact, efforts to restart the schooling processes have shown school leadership to be the most important level of leadership in the education system. Besides its proximity to the instructional (teaching and learning) core of schooling, where the actions and influence of school leaders have the biggest impact, there are two additional reasons why this leadership matters most.
Firstly, out of all the key units in the education system, it is the school that has been called upon to make the most changes to mediate the practical, emotional and psychological effects of the pandemic on teaching and learning. These include reworking the curriculum, juggling classroom-based and at-home learning, rearranging timetables and learning spaces, adapting the nutrition programme, and providing emotional support to learners, colleagues and parents, all in a way that adheres to the strict Covid-19 protocols. These changes have been sudden and dramatic – especially for the school leaders, who have rapidly had to adjust the ways in which their schools function and are managed.
Secondly, schools are frontline sites in terms of broader community exposure to the spread and effects of the pandemic. School leaders are responsible for both preventing the further spread of the virus, and dealing with new outbreaks and infections when these occur in their schools and communities. They also have to meet the needs of those who have been affected by the psychosocial impact of the pandemic – and this includes almost everyone within the domain of the school.
Anxiety and fears around health and safety were among the top concerns that teachers and school leaders expressed about the re-opening of schools. In fact, schools – especially those serving urban township and rural communities – can be described as “high stress” institutions, where the social and educational inequalities have been amplified by the pandemic. This has made them even more exposed and vulnerable to its negative psychosocial and educational effects.
No one could have anticipated the scale of disruption the Covid-19 pandemic would cause to the schooling process, or how much it would demand from all those involved. And the crisis is far from over; even if the current challenges are being managed, the ripple-effects will extend far into the future.
The Four Organisational Needs
Recent research conducted by Gallup – an institute of global analytics – identifies the following four key organisational needs that leaders must respond to during this time of crisis, uncertainty and change:
How many school leaders are sufficiently equipped to meet these needs? Is it fair to expect them to shoulder this responsibility on their own?
Supporting our Leaders
It is in everyone’s best interests for school leaders to receive meaningful support, especially at this time. As an organisation, Edufundi believes strongly in this – which is why the Leadership Support Coach and team of dedicated mentors have been working closely with their schools throughout Lockdown. Now that most learners and teachers have returned, and preparations for 2021 are being made, they will be able to bring in elements of their Lead Like a Champion programme, which integrates all four qualities of trust, compassion, stability and hope. With its focus on building the capacity of school leaders to manage teaching and learning more effectively, and to develop a school culture of care and support, this programme is especially relevant to the work that school leaders are required to do – now and in the weeks, months and years to come.
As we continue to find our way through this time of crisis, uncertainty and change, let us all remember our leaders – especially those on the frontline of education. Let us champion them as they champion others, doing what we can to make sure they receive the support they deserve.
Written by Robyn Pitot and Dr Allistair Witten