The COVID-19 pandemic presented a new challenge for school principals, and early research shows not all were ready to face it.
When the pandemic began in March 2020 and school districts announced they would be implementing virtual learning, Lee Westberry and Tara Hornor, two Citadel teachers at Zucker Family School of Education, began to wonder. how virtual learning would impact managers.
The professors, both with doctorates in educational leadership and administration, interviewed 120 principals across South Carolina to get a feel for how they lead in a virtual or semi-virtual environment.
Of the 120 principals, 77 responded, most of whom found themselves struggling with their self-confidence when faced with a new challenge.
Of the 77 respondents, 96.1 percent reported a high or very high level of confidence in a traditional learning environment. When asked about virtual learning, only 41% reported high or very high levels of trust.
The survey showed that school principals with less experience had more difficulty than those who were years behind. About 94% of principals in their first four years of work reported high or very high levels of trust in a traditional environment. In virtual, 36% of these directors declared a high confidence.
About a third of these principals said they felt “virtual instructional leadership” was a major need for professional development.
“The data was so rich, from the superintendent’s level to the senior level, on the struggle they were facing and trying to figure out how to navigate the virtual environment,” Westberry said.
While the data is revealing, it was in interviews with principals and administrators that Westberry and Hornor identified trends in how principals were responding to the pandemic. One of the biggest concerns was communication.
“Communication became a 24/7 business, and they weren’t used to it,” she said. “You need to develop more lines of communication in the virtual realm. “
Principals, who are used to being the liaison between teachers, parents and the school district administration, struggled to bring everyone together as they faced unprecedented circumstances, Westberry said.
Principals also reported difficulties adapting and finding creative ways to use new technology, developing skills to lead teachers in an overwhelming environment, and monitoring student progress while many stayed at home. .
The pandemic ultimately led to a disruption in the self-confidence of the principals.
“Their belief in their ability to do their jobs right has come at a cost,” Westberry said.
The research led Westberry and Hornor to publish four articles, create a professional development program, and write a book on how to lead in a virtual environment.
The two professors joined forces with Mona Lise Dickson, director of Beaufort County, to write the book “Polishing the diamond that is the virtual principal”.
In the book and professional development programs, principals will learn how to effectively lead a virtual environment by focusing on the curriculum, teacher support, student support, and campus culture.
Although schools offer full-time in-person education for the 2021-22 school year, virtual education is here to stay in one form or another.
The virtual school will be an option for students in Dorchester District 2 and the Charleston County School District next year. These districts will have directors appointed for virtual learning programs, which Westberry says may benefit from his research.
The Citadel School of Education will also include virtual education classes in its teaching.
“This Pandora’s Box is open and it’s not going to go away,” Westberry said.