Our Connecting with Principals survey explored many facets of principals’ lockdown experiences – what went well, what posed a significant challenge and how concerns about the future have changed in a COVID-19 world.
With Auckland’s shift to Level One and – fingers crossed – the pandemic under control at a local level for the time being, let’s look at the third of those aspects in a little more detail. What are New Zealand’s school leaders worried about in a pandemic environment?
This concern was about students moving back into a school environment after an extended period at home. For many students, the home environment was a preferred one, which created friction and engagement difficulties when schools reopened.
Many principals prioritised wellbeing over achievement during lockdown – particularly those whose communities were hardest hit financially. Providing food and resources for families, and drastically reshaping curriculum and delivery to suit distance learning took precedence. Questions persist, however, about the role of student achievement.
We saw these concerns bubble up in the debate around reopening schools to Year 12 and 13 students in mid-August, and they will no doubt remain as the impacts of COVID-19 continue to unfold.
As Stone-Johnson and Weiner have noted, it may be up to principals and other on-the-ground individuals to define success for their own school. Likewise, Harris has commented that PISA is effectively irrelevant in a COVID-19 world. Devising and implementing new ways of assessing will be an ongoing challenge.
3. Strategic planning
A significant and valid fear that strategic initiatives could be derailed or rendered obsolete by the pandemic also emerged. Re-assessing strategic plans, changing them mid-initiative and resisting the urge to throw it all away and start again were common themes in our survey. As a result we have been working to help principals recalibrate their strategies in response to a significantly altered context.
4. Learning lessons properly
Every school made huge changes during lockdown, but many leaders are unsure about how to effectively integrate the beneficial changes back into the school environment. It’s the almost instant-classic dichotomy between wanting the old normal back and accepting the new normal. Unsurprisingly many principals have concerns about what the future looks like for education and how they can blend the best of both worlds.
Again, Harris has useful input here (or at least some positive reassurance), stating that "the pandemic has dismantled schooling, but it has not dismantled learning”.
These are just some of the concerns that were raised during our Connecting with Principals survey - to find out more via our Connecting with Principals report, head this way or check it out below!