Attending to the diverse needs of staff and students in the school setting has always posed a certain challenge for members of the administrative/leadership teams (ALTs) . When you consider managing an educational organization during a global pandemic, the task becomes even more complex. This article will focus on the impact of the pandemic on ALTs from two Francophone School Authorities in Western Canada while exploring potential changes in their roles and responsibilities as the systems move forward.
Participants & Methodology
The data from this collaborative action research was gathered during the winter of 2021, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of the declaration of the pandemic by the World Health Organization. Thirty-eight principals and 25 vice-principals responded to the survey representing a 90% return rate. forty-three percent of the participants belonged to the 25 to 45 age bracket and 53% were between 46 and 65 years old. Fifty-one percent had 1 to 5 years of school administrative experience, 21%, 6 to 10 years and the balance between 11 and 25. Sixty-five percent identified as female and 33% as male.
The participants responded to questions focusing on various administrative functions and the perceived time required to accomplish them in comparison to before the pandemic. Other aspects of their work were also addressed, namely Covid-19’s impact on relationships, stress and anxiety and the desired support from senior administration and the Ministry during the pandemic.
Increased Time – Administrative Functions
Participants confirmed a change in their role as they spent much more time focusing on certain functions during the pandemic as illustrated in Figure 1. Not surprising that during a health crisis, 95% of the ALTs were dedicated to their staff members’ well-being, while 91% concentrated on encouraging and motivating them to succeed as teachers. Ninety percent of participants saw an increase in demands around revising timetables while attempting to be supportive educational leaders under difficult circumstances. Managing school operations (89%) while implementing health and safety measures (87%) and scheduling Senior Administrative meetings (70%) also figured on the top of the increased daily activities list.
Decreased Time – Administrative Functions
During these trying times, participants confirmed two major changes in their administrative functions mostly due to Covid-19 preventative measures adopted in schools. Eighty-seven percent of ALTs spent less time meeting with parents to discuss students’ educational needs. As a result of cohorting, a strategy used to reduce the risk of infections amongst groups of students, staggered recesses and the shift to online learning, student interactions decreased. This undoubtedly contributed to the considerable reduction (48%) of student discipline issues.
Statistically Significant Differences
The study revealed certain statistically significant differences between the two Francophone School Authorities and other characteristics of the participants. For example, 84% of the Manitoba participants stated spending more time preparing reports and meeting with the Ministry and their local school authority in comparison to their Alberta counterparts (59%). Ninety-five percent of urban school ALTs claimed to spend more time managing safety measures and implementing health protocols during the pandemic compared to 77% in rural settings. Ninety percent of the Manitoba participants stated spending more time dealing with staff hiring than those in Alberta (29%). A significant difference between rural (82%) and urban (53%) participants in staff hiring was also noted. A larger portion of vice-principals (72%) stated feeling more tension during the pandemic than the principals (37%) as did the school leaders with less experience (1 to 5 years) (66%) in comparison to the more seasoned leaders (35%). It is also worth noting that amongst the participants with less than 5 years of administrative experience, 84% claimed not having enough time to do their work contrary to just over half (55%) of their counterparts with more experience. In the last part of this article, I will address some of these differences.
Feeling Listened to and Supported by Senior Administration
Participants of the study expressed their views on how they felt listened to and supported by various actors during the pandemic. Ninety-two percent claim that their families and close friends were the most supportive during the pandemic followed by their administrative colleagues (89%), staff members in their school (85%), parents and community members (80%) and senior administration (71%). Only 52% felt listened to and supported by their local professional association and the Ministry of Education.
Stress, Anxiety & Management
The study allowed participants to self-report on their stress and anxiety levels during the pandemic. The results paint an interesting, yet complex and somewhat contradictory picture. Seventy-three percent felt confident to face the numerous challenges posed by the health crisis while 71% recognized not having enough time to do the work required. Despite the challenges in the area of time management, 70% confirmed being able to perform their daily tasks. Sixty-seven percent stated having control over their emotions and 62% had a general feeling of satisfaction with their life and work conditions. However, only 41% confirmed having a good family work balance and a mere 27% affirmed having a lot of energy. How participants managed their stress and anxiety levels varied. The majority, however, turned to sports/physical activities (55%) while other means were also documented: meditation and mindfulness (30%), alcohol consumption (25%), yoga (16%), prescription drugs (16%) and therapy and counselling (3%).
Desired Support From Senior Administration
During the pandemic, participants identified areas that senior administration could focus on to better support them as they managed this unprecedented health crisis. Fifty-two percent requested that there be fewer demands placed on the ALTs. Thirty-seven percent wanted an increase in staff, 32% wished that the senior administration would be present in the schools and 29% hoped for more attentiveness to the ALTs daily challenges and needs.
Considerations for Supporting Changing Roles in ALTs
Data from the present study helps us pursue our collective reflection on the changing roles of school ALTs in a “post-pandemic” era. Studies in the past have previously focused on changing roles in management and leadership in educational organizations. A recent article in the Spring 2022 issue of The CAP Journal shed light on how Covid-19 challenged educational leaders in Saskatchewan as they performed their daily tasks while coping with mental health and well-being issues of their own.
“School leadership practices have changed considerably and maybe, irreversibly because of Covid-19. As a result of the pandemic, school leadership has shifted on its axis and is unlikely return to ‘normal’ anytime soon.” This major health crisis clearly demonstrated the need to be attentive to ALTs mental health and well-being within schools. These key actors must continue supporting their teachers as they help students recover the lost learning due to the pandemic. The Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan principals and vice-principals in these studies have fulfilled their responsibilities by tending to the well-being of their staff, encouraging, and motivating them as they did their jobs in unprecedented circumstances. The vice-principals and the people with less administrative experience in this study, however, reported not having enough time to do their work while feeling more tension attempting to do it. At the heart of any successful school is the health and well-being of the human capital. Staff members who enter the building every morning must feel supported and confident that they can manage their own stress and anxiety. Therefore, focusing on the ALTs well-being, as they remain attentive to the teachers and students’ well-being must be a priority moving forward.
Crisis management knowledge and skill development should also be areas of priority for senior administration and Ministry staff as they focus on how to better support ALTs. Removing some of the technical aspects of managing a health crisis from the ALT’s plate by hiring crisis managers for the school would be a start. This would allow principals to spend more time reading, analyzing and discussing current research on Covid-19 and its impact on students’ learning. More time could then be invested supporting teachers through regular classroom observations and planned discussions exploring effective teaching strategies to boost learning.
Although a vast majority of participants in this study claimed to be able to perform their daily duties while having a general feeling of satisfaction, a change in what is expected of our ALTs as they seek to support staff and students while tending to their own well-being, managing the lingering effects of the pandemic will be required.References
In this article, the administrative/leadership team (ALT) refers to the principal and vice-principal.
Conseil scolaire Centre-Nord (CSCN – Alberta); Division scolaire franco-manitobaine (DSFM – Manitoba).
A five-option Likert scale was used: decreased a lot; decreased; remained the same; increased; increased a lot.
Critical Lessons From Saskatchewan Principals, CAP Journal, Spring 2022.
Alma Harris & Michelle Jones (2020) Covid-19 – school leadership in disruptive times, School Leadership & Management, 40:4, 243-247, DOI: 10.1080/13632434.2020.1811479
Jules Rocque is a professor in the Faculty of Education (Graduate Studies in School Administration) at the Université de Saint-Boniface in Winnipeg. He enjoys staying connected with the field through research. He is a past principal and superintendent and enjoys spending time with his family.
Cynthia Côté is an undergraduate student at the University of Manitoba where she is pursuing a B.A. degree with Honours in Psychology. She is excited by scientific research and hopes to someday pursue a master’s degree and PhD in Clinical Psychology.