White water ride

Innovative leadership forum
Covid-19 and school leadership in disruptive times

Richard Gaskell invites us to pause, take stock and listen to each other as we prepare to take on the next section of the Covid white-water ride.

Fast flowing river

I seem to have spent my professional life talking and thinking about change in international education. How can change be tracked? How can it be predicted? How can schools plan the changes they want and manage other forces of change to which they are subjected?

We have all been living through a period of significant change in the first 20 years of the 21st Century. Just look at any episode of Friends which aired 1994 – 2004 to see how far we have come so quickly. It’s a different world. They still used landlines. No smartphones at all.

By any standard, change in the last 20 years has been a fast-flowing river that has needed effective navigation, but with thought, guidance and good back-up, this was more than possible. There was a degree of comfort.


And then the pandemic has hit. The banks of the river narrowed and we all hit serious white water. As we adapted, there has been a growing feeling that we are all on a massive learning curve, not only glimpsing, but experiencing the future, without, quite, being able to make sense of it all. We left any comfort zones we had in March 2020.

There is still doubtless more of the white stuff to come, but there is also a sense that after the first set of rapids it is time to take our bearings and find out where we seem to find ourselves as we catch our breath. Mapping long term trends is hardly possible just yet.  We are still in the canyon, but perhaps in a quieter stretch.

covid calm

Picture with gratefula thanks to https://www.whitewatermag.com/

This might, therefore, be a time to compare notes, talk and listen to each other as we gear up for the next part of the adventure. For school leaders, what are the business and educational models that are most likely to get us through the next stretch of churning waters? What are the pundits and commentators saying? What are teachers experiencing? What is the feeling among parents? What have we learned from the great online learning experiment? Most important, how are the students doing?

Three themes

Structuring the conversation will be important, and we think that there are three important themes to be considered:

1.  Adaptability

Here the conversation revolves around the ideas of agility, responsiveness and consistency in times of uncertainty. Of these, emerging consistency may now be the most important – we need to identify those elements taking discernable shape despite the whirlpools that still surround us, and build on them.

2. Connection

This theme might cover the engagement of parents, students and staff and our own networks as everyone reconnects and begins to share the ideas that offer a way forward. There’s some good stuff going on out there, and keeping our eyes fully open and making the right connections has never been more important.

3.  Individualisation

We think individualised experiences in schools are going to grow in importance in all parts of the community. Be aware of what shape this is taking and in what areas.  Covid and online learning have acted as a catalyst, and brought the Holy Grail of effective personalised learning much closer. it needs to be a focus, and schools need to understand what it means to them.

You will have something to steady you if your planning is adaptable, your thinking is connected and the school is focused on developing an increasingly individual experience for its students.

Analytical framework

These three themes can, perhaps provide a usefuk analytical framwork for schools as they reboot their stategic planning in 2021. Leading a school in the pandemic has been  a giddy experience, and it won’t get easier any time soon, but you will have something to steady you if your planning is adaptable, your thinking is connected and the school is focused on developing an increasingly individual experience for its students.

Even if there is a good deal of white water still around.


Richard GaskellRichard Gaskell is the Co-Founder and CEO at International Education Solutions (IES).





Feature image: by malohan from Pixabay

Support image: by Luisao Pepe from Pixabay