What Does Strong Leadership Look Like During a Pandemic?

Heidi Maurer, Kentlake HS Principal, KPA President-Elect
Mar 25, 2020


Our KPA Executive board got together last night to reflect on what strong leadership looks like in a pandemic. In times of crisis, it is even more important to think reflectively about our practice and how we are using our systems intelligence, personal intelligence, and social intelligence as we navigate the contexts around us. Below are some “leadership moves” that you might consider as we move forward.

Leadership Moves

Leadership of Self

It is important that you put your own oxygen mask on first. Take some time to see where you stand emotionally. And, give yourself grace. Model self-care for your staff or explicitly share with your staff the strategies that you are using for “self-care”- it is okay to be transparent that you have anxiety as well. Acknowledge that everyone will process these events differently- so anticipate a myriad of different responses from staff and be okay with this. And, be aware that everyone needs different levels of time/space to cope with this type of event. Make sure you plug into your own support system when you need it. And, if you are ill, give yourself the space and time to get better and know that others can pick up your leadership role.


  • Set up regular meeting to meet with your administrative teams.

  • Initiate a Principal PLC that meets weekly so you can connect with colleagues.

  • Take up a new “do it from home” activity- we hear that Netflix Yoga classes are great!

  • Journal about your leadership experience during a pandemic. (Maybe you could even publish it!)

  • Take a sick day if you are ill!

  • If it all possible, do virtual face to face communication to connect.

  • Take time to do some professional learning. Feed your mind with a new book, documentary or podcast.

Staying Connected with Staff 

Staff have the potential to feel isolated. And, this event could make or break a school culture. Think about how you might create opportunities for staff to connect. Consider how you might grow your building teacher leaders to engage colleagues in ongoing work.


  • Ask for staff volunteers to do an online book study; or ask teachers leaders if they would like to initiate an online book study.

  • Invite staff to continue PLC work in their grade level or department teams. If we move to remote learning, knowing clearly what we want students to know and be able to do is going to be paramount.

  • Send postcards or individual emails home to staff that are vulnerable.

  • Create a list of vulnerable staff and connect them with a “buddy/teacher leader” that will check in with them.

  • Connect with your Building Leadership team and leverage their leadership to connect, support and grow the work.

  • Hold staff meeting using Microsoft Teams to connect and bring everyone together.

  • Send out a weekly memo and highlight how staff are “coping” with the isolation. You could even include pictures that staff send to you!

  • Start a phone tree that can be triggered by staff if there is a need.


Preparation for Loss of Life

It is always good to prepare for the worst-case scenario while hoping for the best. There is a real chance that our students and staff will return traumatized by death and the experiences that occurred while out of school. And, with the potential for wide-spread tragedy, each school should be prepared to support students and staff remotely during the closure and when they return. Our district will not have the resources to deploy a flight team to each school.


  • Work with a team to build lessons for grief groups.
  • Prepare professional development for staff on coping with grief/trauma.
  • Develop Advisory/Homeroom Lessons on dealing with loss or supporting those who have.

  • Reach out to staff who have experienced loss and identify supports needed for when we return to school.

  • Connect staff with EAP resources or make these resources easily accessible to staff.


Staying Connected with Students 

Students will take their lead from their teachers and their building leaders. Consider how you can work with teachers on ways to reach out to students while still maintaining professional and appropriate boundaries.


  • Send emails (or call) to students that you know are vulnerable.

  • Maintain a blog with your students.

  • Support teachers in sending weekly emails to students.

  • Volunteer to assist with delivering lunches to students.


Implementing Systems to Create some “normalcy”

Some continuity in a time of chaos is helpful. Setting up routines with your staff that are predictable and consistent can help ground a staff.


  • Consider setting up regular meetings with Department Leaders/Curricular leaders/teacher leaders, etc. Put them in calendars so that people know when they are coming.
  • Continue your building leadership team meetings in a remote fashion.
  • Meet with your counselor/admin team consistently.
  • Schedule regular staff meeting check-ins.
  • Develop a system to get teacher feedback on what they need (i.e. survey).
  • Consider systems currently in place (i.e. IEP monitoring/calendaring, purchasing, transcript procurement, master schedule development), how you will adapt these systems, and when/how to communicate the systems


Think about caring for staff first and accountability second. Now more than ever it is important to assume positive intent. If a staff is not answering emails or engaging in school-based activities, assume there is a legitimate reason for this and pick up the phone to check on them. Try not to frame your responses around the 1% that might not be engaging immediately. The majority of our amazing teaching staff will do their best to remain engaged throughout this experience.

As this is an ever-evolving situation, sometimes it is certainly okay “to go slow to go fast”. Take your time to be deliberate and strategic in the leadership that you provide. We are not in this alone. Please do not hesitate to reach out to your KPA Board to problem solve, connect, and plan. We are here to support you.

Dan Irvine, Principal Grass Lake Elem, KPA President
Heidi Maurer, Principal Kentlake HS, KPA President-Elect
Jim Schiechl, Principal Mattson MS, KPA Immediate Past President
Scott Abernathy, Principal Glenridge Elem, KPA Board Member
Anita Macpherson, Assistant Principal Kentwood HS, KPA Board Member

  • Pandemic
  • Resource
  • AWSP Leadership Framework

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