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Publish at 29 septembre 2021 Updated 15 octobre 2021

Reinventing School in the Age of Covid-19

Managing a School in a Pandemic Is not Easy

To date, no one knows how and when the covid-19 pandemic will end. The Delta variant is hitting hard, especially the unvaccinated, and uncertainties are brewing on social networks about what to do next. However, once this period is over, we can mark it with a white stone because it will have revealed several realities. In examining the Education sector; the pandemic has revealed the inequalities that were already present and were exacerbated during the confinements.

Moreover, this new reality forced school principals to review the ways of doing things, because even when face-to-face classes were once again allowed, it was not easy: it was necessary to add different regulations for hygiene (example: wearing masks among teachers and students or pupils), to modify habits such as circulation in the school, to be on the lookout for the slightest information of infection to prevent others from being infected, etc. As a Quebec principal will say, "We had to reinvent the school."

Extra Responsibilities

If the job of a school principal was already not easy, the pandemic has blurred the line between personal and professional life even more. It does not matter what time of day it is; if a case breaks out in a facility, you have to work on the procedure. Leadership had to be a crisis response mode to:

  • Guarantee that the school remained safe for all.
  • Motivate an already exhausted staff and reassure them.
  • Ensure educational continuity whether face-to-face or remote.
  • Maintain communication links with staff, parents, and students.

While these tasks resemble those normally adopted by a school principal, nothing prepared them for this particular setting. One needs to only observe the daily life of a Quebec high school principal in the fall of 2020 to realize that their to-do list kept on piling. Nothing was easy. Venues, time organization, pedagogy, etc. had to be re-examined.

The majority of school principals had to come up with the idea of keeping a safe environment and continuous learning. "Keep Safe, Keep learning" as explained in this American study published in January 2021. Incidentally, this publication highlights the successes and failures during this crisis.

The researchers noted that the schools offering the most psychological safety for their staff and learners were those offering more fluidity, more flexibility in their approaches. Conversely, rigid school principals put even more obstacles in the way of an already arduous situation.

Lessons from the Crisis

School principals in 2021, began to take stock of the crisis. For them, among other things, the biggest task was communication. "We had to explore all means of communication to ensure the engagement of all, whether in the school or at home".  The issue of communication came up frequently in the suggested tips for principals to be effective in a pandemic. The presence of a school principal is also essential, even from a distance, by sending messages to parents and teachers. Attending some people's online classes could be a support for staff and a method of noticing good and bad attitudes.

Nonetheless, the situation was very difficult. In fact, in Quebec, many school authorities slammed the door at the end of the 2020-2021 year. The crisis has exhausted them, with some even preferring to return to teaching rather than juggle all the responsibilities and constant stress.

In the United States, the issue of school principal burnout is also coming up. School district supervisors have been called upon to become more important supports for morale, to listen to grievances, and to find solutions.

So the Covid crisis has been revealing potential approaches to the future of school management. It seems that flexibility allows for far more resilience than rigidity. Methods of communication need to be multiple and frequent to keep everyone connected. Finally, principals also need to be supported by existing public bodies.

Illustration: EROL citation from Pixabay

References:

Blanchette, Jennifer. ""Il a Fallu Réinventer L'école"." Le Courrier De Saint-Hyacinthe. Last updated December 10, 2020. https://www.lecourrier.qc.ca/il-a-fallu-reinventer-lecole/.

Boutin, André. "Principals at the Heart of the Pandemic." The Progressive Pathfinder. Last updated October 26, 2020. https://www.leclaireurprogres.ca/les-directeurs-decole-au-coeur-de-la-pandemie/.

Dion-Viens, Daphnée. "COVID-19 Au Québec: Des Directeurs D’école Quittent Le Navire." Le Journal De Québec. Last updated June 20, 2021. https://www.journaldequebec.com/2021/06/20/des-directeurs-decole-quittent-le-navire.

Franklin, David. "5 Ways Principals Can Support Teachers and Students During COVID19." The Principal's Desk. Last updated: December 30, 2020. https://principalsdesk.org/2020/11/26/5-ways-principals-can-support-teachers-and-students-during-covid19/.

Lemieux, Olivier, Anne-Michèle Delobbe, andJean Bernatchez. "À L’ombre De La Crise De La Covid-19, Les Directions D’écoles Ont Dû Revoir Leurs Pratiques." The Conversation. Last updated February 16, 2021. https://theconversation.com/a-lombre-de-la-crise-de-la-covid-19-les-directions-decoles-ont-du-revoir-leurs-pratiques-154684.

Sarrouh, Maria. "Lessons from the Pandemic: School Principals Weigh in on What Worked and Didn't Work During COVID-19." Thestar.com. Last updated: September 9, 2021. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/09/09/lessons-from-the-pandemic-school-principals-weigh-in-on-what-worked-and-didnt-work-during-covid-19.html.

Scali, Dominique.  "Gérer La Boîte à Surprises D’une école En Pandémie." Le Journal De Montréal. Last updated: October 4, 2020. https://www.journaldemontreal.com/2020/10/04/gerer-la-boite-a-surprises-dune-ecole-en-pandemie.

"Supporting School Principals: What Do the Experts Say?" WestEd. Last updated: March 9, 2021. https://www.wested.org/wested-insights/supporting-school-principals-what-do-the-experts-say/#.

Weiner, Jennie, Chantal Francois, Corrie Stone-Johnston, and Joshua Childs. "Keep Safe, Keep Learning: Principals' Role in Creating Psychological Safety and Organizational Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic." Frontiers. Last updated: January 7, 2021. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/feduc.2020.618483/full.


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