Unearthing Themes in School Leadership During the Time of COVID-19

EVELYN A. PANGILINAN, Ph.D. School Principal IV, Jaen Central School SDO Jaen South Annex, Schools Division of Nueva Ecija

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) during the first quarter of 2020 spearheaded a global investigation which resulted in an estimation that by May, more than 1.2 billion students in any level of education around the world would have stopped from going to school in person. This became an irrefutable truth when the pandemic was at its worst from the third to the fourth quarter of the same year, according to a UNESCO report published in March 2021. At that time, more than 1.6 billion students in more than 190 nations ceased from attending school.

Unfortunately, most school administrators have little to no crisis management experience and have never dealt with a disaster of this magnitude and duration. This makes ensuring the well-being of their personnel and students, even while out of school, becomes a colossal challenge. Education leaders must think creatively and strategically to thrive. Because good school leadership is crucial and change is inescapable, methods and strategies utilized during a pandemic to teach people who may one day be in charge of resolving crises must be recognized and examined.

To recognize, understand, record, and hopefully establish the foundation on how to better manage school operations in long-term crises, school leaders’ experiences, particularly the approaches they used and the learning they deduced, a handful of local and international research works were undertaken even during the pandemic. This writing includes abstracts of relevant research publications on educational leadership during pandemics, one international and another, local.

In an open access journal, Eva M. Aagaard and Mark Earnest published an article that focuses on educational leadership during pandemic. They cited that academic medical centers emerged as a focal point in the fight against the COVID-19 virus over the course of a few weeks during the month of March. They furthered that the education leaders of academic medical centers were faced with the dual challenge of addressing the needs of their patients vis-à-vis managing the varied, required modifications within their medical schools that includes the responsibilities entailed in their positions. They mentioned that the situation posits a definite, difficult challenge of managing two establishments that require attention both at the same time. As a direct result, the authors are able to recognize a number of significant recurring themes and valuable lessons learned while serving as educational leaders during this era. They are able to accomplish this by drawing on the experiences of two distinct institutions, one of which is public while the other is private.

According to them, important lessons that can be gleaned upon would include:

1) a broader leadership decision-making and communication where clarifying and articulating the guiding principles should be used in decision-making processes;

2) a connected leadership means that education leaders of the organization must communicate efficiently and constantly with one another; and

3) coordinated and cascading communication explains that communicating with the stakeholders was often problematic, hence should be addressed professionally.

These broader categories are the better options to organize life. As a result of the effects that these responses had, Aagaard and Ernest are able to have a renewed recognition of the interdependence of their tripartite academic destinies, the importance of academic medical centers as anchor institutions and advocates for their community, as well as the resiliency and inventiveness of their students, give examples of these lessons and themes and make recommendations for how to approach educational decision-making in the context of living with COVID-19 and the “new normal” for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, an article by Michael Cahapay published in an international journal in January centered on how difficult it is for school principals to steer the educational process in the face of the crisis. He emphasizes how important it is to take into account the school principals’ actual experiences during the COVID-19 crisis. It will provide conceptual and practical insights for potential consideration in the area of educational leadership in emergency situations. During this pandemic, he carried out the study in Mindanao.

Additionally, he chose principals of Filipino K–12 schools with a variety of age, gender, school location, and leadership experience. Cahapay conducted three rounds of online interviews. He went through the master transcript’s participant accounts page by page. After examining the significant statements, he determined the meanings that are pertinent to the phenomenon. He explains that the phenomenon of educational leadership practices in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis is driven by these meanings. Additionally, Cahapay was able to pinpoint six overarching themes for effective educational leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic after analyzing qualitative data. These theories all assist in explaining the phenomenon as exploring emergencies through situational, adaptive leadership, acknowledging and strengthening crisis management best practices, managing education through the use of technology, setting aside norms in lieu of openness, ensuring that all is included even the new normal, and focusing on what matters most.

It is undeniable, what the COVID-19 pandemic has done and is still doing to humanity – the millions of lives lost, the massive downfall of various industries, and the inevitable disruption of school operation. No leader was prepared for such medical catastrophe for a long duration. However, instead of losing hope, leaders have decided to brave the pandemic. This is true particularly with school leaders who were determined to make education happen, regardless. The research articles presented proved how valuable is conceptual and practical insights for consideration in the area of educational leadership in emergency situations. Both studies unearthed predominant themes of educational leadership that can be utilized as basis in creating action plans that can increase positive results given catastrophic, emergency situations in long periods. The studies of Aagaard and Earnest and of Cahapay are in consonance in revealing that to understand, explain, and address the challenges of emergency situations, the concepts of adaptive situational leadership, inclusive and organized communication, and openness to change and referring to the basics should be considered. That said, school leaders should consider these concepts to increase chances of better succeeding the emergencies in the future. ***


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