School Leaders in a Pandemic

Noor AliBlog, Lead Better


  • School leaders across the nation are thanklessly navigating unchartered territory as they manage schools amidst the pandemic.
  • Parents, teachers, school leaders, and other school staff are all struggling; everyone needs understanding during this time.

Over the last nine months, life has been hard for teachers, students, and parents across the nation.

Our social media feeds are a testimony to parents bemoaning the challenges that the pandemic has placed in their lives. They are navigating remote schooling for their children. They are hiring tutors, considering online schooling, and working out hybrid schedules. They’re grappling with the required level of home support and the like.

When the pandemic-induced school closures first initiated, you saw parents bowing in veneration to their children’s teachers and asking how these superhero celebrities did it all. They wondered how teachers made sense of Common Core math. They were wowed by how much teachers accomplished and how thankless their jobs were. Nearing the end of summer, parents’ patience wore as they returned to work. Large questions around what schooling, learning, and teaching would look like emerged.

School leaders have tirelessly gone through mental gymnastic routines and been hurled in unknown, unchartered territory. Click To Tweet

Our nation’s teachers went into crisis schooling last spring with a lot thrown on their plates suddenly.

It began with the uncertainty of whether schools would reopen in spring. Then moved to what school reopening would look like in fall. The risk of exposure to the virus was just one piece of the challenge that teachers faced. They struggled with being hurled into new avenues of learning and teaching. Social media reminds us of the agonizing toll this is taking on teachers’ health.

Veteran teachers feel like novice teachers this year.

No year has ever been this hard.

They are working harder than ever before in their lives.

Having students behind a screen is hard. Having students in class in masks is hard. And having students asynchronous and not behind a screen is hard.

Teachers’ work has multiplied.

Students struggled with disengagement, inequities of access, masks, distancing, new modes of learning, and social and emotional health.

The less talked about toll that the pandemic is taking is the one on school administration. In fact, on the contrary, administration is not only tasked with the burden of decision making but also held responsible for the anxiety the pandemic has caused everyone involved.

In a time that is riddled with uncertainties, a myriad of variables, and a plethora of contingencies, there are plenty of decisions that need to be taken to keep the ship afloat. School leaders are facing the brunt of decision-making fatigue since spring last year. As is always the case with any decision or action, there are always going to be opposing viewpoints. That is not the problem.

The issue is the lack of depth of perception that non-administration has about the complexities that lie in navigating the way through the crisis. While this is a crisis that nobody could ever have been trained for or had back-up plans for, everybody wants to replicate the norm at a time that is not normal. It is surprising how often we still forget we are in a pandemic and have expectations of normalcy to be recreated in our classrooms.

School leaders across the nation have been boxed into a space of isolation.

They are held responsible for the anxiety their crisis decision making is causing everybody else without consideration that crisis decision making is just that. It means being forced into circumstances dictated by a pandemic, guidelines from the departments of public health, mandates from the departments of education, financial constraints, needs of families, students, and teachers, infrastructural boundaries, and much more to make a decision (multiplied) that is most feasible.

There is no school leader today who is digging this new groove! While there is no joy, loud chatter, and laughter ringing the hallways like pre-pandemic times, there is in its place a quiet resoluteness to be present every day and make this work.

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School leaders have tirelessly gone through mental gymnastic routines and been hurled in unknown, unchartered territory.

They’ve reevaluated and had to rethink every single minuscule detail from cleaning, ventilation, sanitation, PPE, and COVID reporting, in addition to hybrid, in-person, remote, synchronous, and asynchronous learning, curriculum, and so much more. While school leaders of larger districts have had the task of coordinating hundreds of staff members, thousands of students, and building teams to navigate the crisis, small schools had the opposite challenge of a few people taking the onus of this complex navigation.

The circumstance is far from easy for anyone. Staff, nurses, counselors, teachers, students, and parents are all struggling at this time. We’re not seeking thankfulness or appreciation, but understanding.

About Noor Ali

Dr. Noor Ali is the principal at Al-Hamra Academy, Shrewsbury, MA and has been a veteran teacher of fifteen years in elementary and middle school grades. She is an Assistant Professor at Worcester State University. Noor is actively engaged in efforts towards social justice, inter-faith dialogue, community networking, and youth development. Noor earned her Ed.D. in Curriculum, Teaching, Learning, and Leadership from Northeastern University & an MS Ed. in Inclusion Education and an MA in Literature in English. She is involved in work around mental health and equity in her community.