How the DBE can Support School Principals during the Coronavirus Pandemic

School principals play a very important role in coordinating and motivating their staff and learners in response to the COVID 19 Pandemic. In the next coming weeks, school principal’s roles will be dramatically changed by the COVID 19 crisis. The unprecedented nature of this situation means there is no set direction for them to follow as they are reopening their schools.

School principals are like actors in a play where the story, the script and the costumes have all changed mid – performance, and they are on stage improvising to adjust to their new role. There are very few school principals in our country who have thorough training and support for their role, and even fewer have been given clear guidelines on their expectations through the Disaster Management Act for active response and recovery.

Despite these daunting circumstances, we have seen incredibly inspiring school principals acting to ensure the safety and well-being of their learners and teachers by facilitating the procurement of PPE’s for their schools ahead of schools reopening.

Having the respect and personal relationships with learners’ parents, school principals are uniquely positioned to guide them on how to support their children at home during this exceptional challenge.

We believe that our education systems must define clear roles and supports for school principals to respond to the impacts of school closures, and support them in advance through the steps to reopening schools whenever that occurs.

  1. Department of Education needs to clearly define the role of school principals in crisis response

Our observation on this current situation is that school principals strongly feel responsible for ensuring the welfare of their learners during this crisis. This sense of responsibility can be further utilized to support their communities. It is critical that the Department of Education sets clear guidelines on what is expected of school principals as well as providing support and resources required for performing their roles. School principals have an important perspective in the challenges faced by their communities, and their voices should be incorporated when defining their role during the crisis.

  1. Enlist school principals to lead the process to re-open schools

When schools eventually re-open, we expect that school principals will face a high burden of quickly creating safe and healthy learning spaces for their learners. Drawing on the literature that focuses on schools emerging from disasters, we believe that school principals will have to address the following factors:

  • Mental health and wellbeing challenges among teachers and learners who may have suffered from anxiety, depression, isolation or malnutrition. School principals will have to be trained in identifying symptoms of these challenges and just basic methods to address these.
  • Learning losses among learners – we anticipate these losses to be more severe in no fee paying schools and poor rural schools as the base of learning among learners would already have been lower. Rapid remedial lessons with competency-based grouping may be the answer to this challenge, but this will require additional support for principals and teachers.
  • Loss of learners and teachers: Depending upon the eventual spread of the coronavirus, there could be loss of lives among teachers, parents and learners. School principals will have to plan for various scenarios and adjust depending on the situation as schools reopen.
  • Ensuring adequate supplies – With the interruption in supply chains, things like textbooks and learning materials may be in short supply, and it will fall on school principals to figure out plans for learning to continue.
  1. Department of Education should develop programs to train and connect school principals

It is important to provide support to school principals to face the challenges we want them to lead through. Moving toward context-specific, online professional development programs is a critical support for leaders.

Through our initial online work with school principals one lesson we have come to is that a key role for our education systems during this time is to connect school principals in peer groups so that they can rapidly share best practices. School principals have a unique insight into the challenges being faced by their communities and some of them are being quite innovative and resourceful during this time. We have found school principals to be overwhelmingly open to sharing their ideas.

The challenge faced by our education system is enormous. School principals are an important layer in the education system that can act as a motivating and coordinating agent to ensure teachers, learners and parents are connected to plans made by education districts.

Additionally, strong school principals know the needs of their communities well and can help effectively arrange the available resources to those who need them. Our education systems should also be guiding, coordinating, and amplifying the efforts school principals that they are already making.

Now it’s  your turn. How do you think the Department of Education should support our school principals during this crisis? Let me know in the comments below.

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