Schools across the country have faced unprecedented challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Students and teachers have had to adapt to hybrid learning models, and parents have agonized over difficult decisions that directly affect their children’s health and happiness.

The general upheaval caused by this global pandemic has reinforced the need for well-educated, empathetic leaders to help guide schools through these trying times. Individuals who feel drawn to become leaders can gain the knowledge and skills they need with an online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership at Eastern Michigan University (EMU).

Here are four ways that administrators can help their school communities navigate the COVID-19 era.

  1. Think of What Students Need Beyond Access to Education

A school leader’s primary focus should be on educational concerns. In times of widespread illness and unemployment, the staples students need to make it through the day must become the priority. According to Marlon Styles, the Superintendent of Middletown City School District in Ohio, food quickly became a primary concern at the start of the pandemic.

“For us, the first thing on that list was not to make sure e-learning was being taken care of,” he said. “It was making sure our kids’ basic human needs are being met. Food was a big deal of that.” Thanks to a heroic team effort, school employees and local volunteers have been able “to distribute an average of 4,500 meal bags” to combat food insecurity in their community.

  1. Have a Plan to Combat Tech Inequity

Not all students have equal access to the technology required for online learning. Administrators will need to consider this challenge to help teachers translate their lesson plans into a virtual learning environment. Some of the strategies innovative school leaders have utilized involve distributing paper packets to students without internet access, loaning out learning devices and Wi-Fi hotspots or even partnering with local television stations to help provide educational programming.

  1. Look for Ways to Support Teachers

The quick pivot to online learning has been a massive undertaking for teachers across the country. Their days are long, stress and anxiety levels are at an all-time high and the immense effort required to maintain communication with their students is exhausting. Like Thu Nguyen of Sidwell Friends School in Washington D.C., some teachers are nearly drowning in emails. He said, “I was getting emails — question after question from one particular student — you know, like 10 emails in five minutes. And I was like, ‘This is not going to work.'”

School leaders can combat email fatigue is by taking steps to condense how much information they try to communicate to their teachers daily. Attempting to shrink communications into smaller, more easily processed chunks will allow teachers to devote more attention to their students or maintain their own mental health.

  1. Have Honest Conversations with Students About Safety

An invisible virus like COVID-19 has the potential to terrify young children, and it certainly doesn’t help ease their general anxiety in such uncertain times. Sarah Ranney of Lafayette Preparatory School in St. Louis recommends a straight-forward approach.

“It really is very similar to what we do for flu and teaching kids about handwashing and cleaning surfaces,” she said. “I find that talking to kids about the facts is really helpful and reminding them about their own locus of control and also about taking care of our community.” Speaking frankly with students about COVID-19 and giving them actionable steps they can take to combat the spread of the virus may help lessen the anxiety or paranoia many young people are facing.

The role of a school leader is a challenging job that requires creativity, adaptability, innovation and a deep understanding of how school communities function. It can be a deeply rewarding career for an individual with the right knowledge, experience and leadership skills. Earning an online graduate degree can prepare you to step into a leadership role in as few as 18 months.

Learn more about Eastern Michigan University’s online Master of Arts in Educational Leadership program.


K-12 Dive: Lessons In Leadership: Administrators’ Advice for Addressing 5 Coronavirus Challenges

NPR: ‘There’s a Huge Disparity’: What Teaching Looks Like During Coronavirus

Teach for America: Principals Without a Playbook: Leadership Amid the Pandemic