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The Challenges for Education Leadership in a Global Pandemic

Leading educational organisations in a global pandemic brings challenges that could never have been imagined. But educational leaders are stepping up to the mark, with agility and responsiveness, heralding a new way of leading education, writes Professor Patricia Mannix McNamara.

Charles Dicken’s wrote ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ as his opening lines to A Tale of Two Cities, an opening that is quite fitting for today.

The world is in mourning for those who have not survived this pandemic and concerned for those who bravely battle its pervasiveness. 

The COVID 19 pandemic is changing the very fabric of our lives, how we live and work. Educational leaders are not exempt from these pressures and are leading in extraordinary times.

There is certainly no tried and tested rule book to which leaders can refer. We have been thrust into an age of risk focused, flexible and responsive leadership, where those at the helm must quite rightly focus even more carefully on employees’ somatic and psychological wellbeing as well as delivering on organizational goals.

Adapting Education Systems

Leading educational organizations in a global pandemic brings challenges beyond what could have been previously surmised, but then, ‘a calm sea never a good sailor made.’  Education systems have responded with remarkable agility, moving to online teaching and learning and to synchronous and asynchronous delivery of curricula.

Educators in the main, have overcome residual recalcitrance towards the virtual classroom, embracing it to avoid losing their connection with students. As teachers, we instinctively prefer to engage in person with our students, so while online teaching  may not be our preferred mode of engagement, deep commitment to students takes precedence and has moved teachers beyond their ‘pedagogical comfort zones’ into new and innovative online methodologies.

The sense of efficacy that educational organizations will foster from this will pay dividends, in the face of current and future adversities - they know they can manage it because they already have!

Leading Education Remotely

Leading education in this crisis has not been easy. Educational leaders, navigate these choppy waters with their staff, all the while motivating, encouraging and reassuring them, problem solving, troubleshooting, organising resources, and fostering the empowerment and self-concept of their team, oftentimes when these same team members might not have any sense of their own capacity.

 While leading remotely (a phrase that might have seemed an oxymoron before) they foster collegiality, resilience, and encourage others to step up, to lead in their own fields (distributive leadership).

They are decisive, they protect their team and ensure their stakeholders remain as previously engaged. They provide care for those in need, as often they know particulars in the lives of those most in need both in their teams in a way that others do not.

It might appear a gargantuan task (and sometime thankless, leaders rarely keep everyone happy), but it is profoundly rewarding. Educational leaders have proved themselves adroit, innovative and have reassured their respective nations that their education systems are in good hands.

The New Reality for Educational Leadership

Historical theories of leadership previously espoused that leadership was bound up in the possession of personal traits or characteristics.  You were a ‘born leader’ or you weren’t. Thankfully more contemporary relational and distributive conceptualisations are popular for modern leadership.

Educational organisations are more fluid, dynamic and change prone requiring astute, responsive and vibrant leaders.  Educational leadership functions best when fostered, nourished and supported.

While much is in flux one thing is certain: excellence in leadership education is crucial to organisational success. The international online Masters in Education Leadership at the University of Limerick, is a fully online programme for aspiring and current educational leaders.

It successfully fosters leadership dispositions skills and attributes so that our graduates become thriving leaders whose schools and teams flourish under their care.

For more information see Masters in Education Leadership.

Professor Patricia Mannix McNamara leads the School of Education at the University of Limerick, Ireland, highly ranked in the Times Higher in the top 126-150 globally.