School leadership is incredibly complex at the best of times; Covid-19 has upped the stakes a hundred-fold, though. If I had had a stress-o-meter to use on many of the leaders I have spoken to over the past 2 weeks, in different parts of the world, it would have shown readings off the chart – shifting sands are really hard to manage, after all. These are not flaky leaders – they are robust, strong, intelligent, sensitive, thoughtful, astute, determined … they are impressive individuals, who may doubt themselves at times, but who by all external standards are actually quite brilliant. Yet the psychological pressure of the uncertainty surrounding this virus – when will there be school closures, quarantines of students or staff, self-isolation, and so on? – is having an impact on these leaders, and school boards should sit up and pay attention to this.
School leaders are responsible for managing and interacting with immense and far-reaching communities – not just the children, but their parents, grandparents, other relatives, staff, staff families, suppliers, tradespeople, neighbours, regulatory bodies, universities, other schools … you name someone, and school leaders will have something to do with them. School leaders are also subject to an enormous weight of external rules and expectations, from parents to politicians. Balancing all of these relationships is, on any ‘normal’ day, complicated; faced with an invisible virus whose progress through the population needs to be checked – delayed, if not contained – the task becomes incredibly, incredibly hard.
Covid-19 is having an unprecedented impact. Even in China, where leaders in schools have successfully navigated several weeks of school closures, and online learning, and are now potentially on the brink of returning, they are entering a ‘new normal’ – life in school will NOT be the same as it was before this public health crisis, and school leaders will have to manage this. During this time, coaching and mentoring from a confidential, experienced, external source can make the most enormous difference to how school leaders are able to cope and to do their work. It is not expensive and more than repays its value. Most importantly, school leaders absolutely deserve this support.
School boards, take note – investing in your Head of School or Principal at this time could be one of the most sensible decisions you make. Do so!
Dr Helen Wright is the author of The Globally Competent School: a manual, and is an Associate of LSC Education, where she leads the coaching arm of the organisation, supporting school leaders in the UK and across the world.