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Educational Leadership in Uncertain Times

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of almost everyone in education. Teachers, students and administrators in K-12 school systems have been forced to shift to distance learning in short order. Parents are adapting to provide full-time childcare and home-based education, all while working remotely or coping with unemployment and financial hardship.

The pandemic has also brought a number of inequities to light, compounding the new demands faced by many in these times. All of these shifts, stresses and challenges affect the daily life, mental health, development and continued learning of children. There is uncertainty and anxiety about the present and the future across the globe.

What Types of Issues Are Educators Facing During the Pandemic?

Educational leaders have accepted many unprecedented responsibilities to help their communities cope with challenges surrounding the pandemic. Although there have always been systemic issues facing students from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds and those in rural communities, the pandemic has brought two persistent inequities into focus:

  1. Food Insecurity
    Families may lack the financial resources to keep their children well-fed, and districts have long implemented free and reduced meal programs to ensure students have access to adequate nutrition. But school closures have led to the interruption or discontinuation of many school meal programs. Compounded by widespread economic hardship, this aspect of the pandemic has led to increased food insecurity for disadvantaged populations.
  2. The Digital Divide
    Underfunded schools that serve disadvantaged, low-income communities often lack the resources to implement equitable technology programs in classrooms. In addition, broadband access has been historically weak in rural communities. This gap in access to technology has spawned a digital divide between affluent communities and low-income or rural communities.
    Educational leaders and policymakers have addressed this divide through large-scale digital equity initiatives which have helped schools in low-income and rural communities gain access to internet and technological devices in the classroom. But the forced transition to online education shines a spotlight on the number of students who still do not have adequate internet, computers or tablets at home. This intersection of pandemic circumstances and the digital divide has resulted in inequitable education for many students.

How Are These Issues Being Addressed?

School leaders, teachers, community members and parents are working together in creative ways to address these challenges and inequities.

Some schools have adapted school meal programs by having bus drivers deliver packaged meals to students’ homes. While providing nutrition to some of the most needy, it also keeps bus drivers working and earning and serves to create and maintain regular interaction between the bus driver and students, keeping some level of social continuity and connection in their lives.

Teachers are adapting curricula to suit virtual classrooms, social media and videoconferencing software as they continue to foster interaction with students, educators and peers, and provide instruction.

How Are Persistent Inequities Being Resolved?

But with many students lacking home internet and connected devices, the digital divide limits online education. Although teachers have attempted to compensate by devising hybrid models, providing content online, over the phone and delivering physical course materials directly to students, the results still fall short.

Many educational leaders see the pandemic as motivation to accelerate the advancement of digital equity in their districts. For instance, the City of Detroit partnered with private companies to provide its large population of low-income students with internet-connected tablets.

Several internet and cellular service providers have contributed to plans to narrow the gap by expanding free or low-cost internet access to disadvantaged and rural populations and offering families hotspots for home internet.

Successful initiatives and educational leadership efforts in such tumultuous times will hopefully become models for further development in resilient educational models and equitable technology integration. Educators with advanced competencies in leadership, communications and educational technology will be essential to helping school communities move beyond the challenges of the COVID-19 era.

St. Thomas University (STU) offers an online Master of Science in Educational Leadership that emphasizes the multi-faceted, proactive leadership skills necessary to address these challenges. This advanced study of leadership, communication and educational methods and technologies will help school leaders navigate these difficult times while preparing for future challenges.

Learn more about St. Thomas University’s Master of Science in Educational Leadership online program.


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

International Council for Open and Distance Education: Educational Leadership During the Coronavirus Pandemic

TIME: The Achievement Gap Is ‘More Glaring Than Ever’ for Students Dealing With School Closures

Vox: How U.S. Schools Are (and Aren’t) Providing Meals to Children in the COVID-19 Crisis

The Detroit News: $23M Initiative to Give Tablets, Internet to Detroit Students Learning Remotely

Hartford Courant: In Age of Coronavirus, Uncertainty Abounds As K-12, College and University Educators in Connecticut Explore How to Reopen in the Fall

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