School Leaders Pivot To Ensure Student Well-Being During COVID-19

Learning Ecosystems and Leadership May 11, 2020

“We give out learning and revision materials to our learners and we do phone follow-up since we cannot afford online lessons. Teachers are on a WhatsApp group so they discuss a lot about the next lesson learners should be doing while at home. We also take turns to call parents to know if the learners are studying. They are sending their lesson plans to the leaders and confirming the number of learners attended to.” – Head Teacher in Kenya, 8 April 2020

If we had interviewed this Head Teacher just a month ago, it is unlikely that they could have foreseen such demands on their role. Within the education sector, Head Teachers, also referred to as School Leaders (SLs), are leading strong responses in their communities to ensure the safety and well-being of their students and families, and minimizing the disruption faced by children who may be out of school for the foreseeable future.

These School Leaders are uniquely positioned to have the respect and personal relationships to guide families on how to support their children at home during this exceptional, fast-moving challenge.

Global School Leaders is a network of organizations in the Global South that train and support SLs in underserved communities. We are working with our partner organizations in India, Indonesia, Kenya, and Malaysia to find ways to support SLs as they exercise their leadership to address this global pandemic. 

To understand how School Leaders are facing this situation, GSL, with our four partner organizations, implemented a short survey from April 7 to 14, and received responses from more than 1,800 School Leaders across 12 countries. A key takeaway was that School Leaders feel an increased sense of responsibility for ensuring the welfare of their students during this crisis. As a result, they offer more and better support to their communities. 

The survey pointed to four recommendations of how governments and education organizations can make use of School Leaders as part of their COVID-19 response:

  1. Engage School Leaders – they are a high leverage group and are ready to act. 
  2. Structure support to School Leaders based on their biggest concerns: student well-being, finances, and online learning. These are their top three global priorities. 
  3. Connect School Leaders to peer groups so that they can share best practices quickly as some of them are quite innovative and resourceful during this time.
  4. Develop strategies for supporting School Leaders of low-cost private schools. They have unique needs and are most at risk to not be able to go back to their schools.


The role of the School Leader, particularly during this crisis, extends far beyond the educational needs of the children. At this time, when people’s basic sense of safety and security are threatened, School Leaders are often working to also meet these needs. Maslow’s hierarchy is a helpful reminder and framework within which support can be provided. 

Some of our highest-performing School Leaders have addressed the concerns in their communities by first focusing on primary needs (food, shelter, safety) and thereafter moving to secondary needs that include education. We codified their best practices into five steps that SLs can follow:

STEP 1 | List Phone Numbers: Make a list of all the phone numbers of teachers and students you have.

STEP 2 | List Active Parents Names: Make a list of parents you know who are very active in participating in school activities and would be willing to help even now.

STEP 3 | Call Them: Call each of your teachers. 

STEP 4 | Action Plan: Now that you know more about the situation, make an action plan for the next two weeks. 

STEP 4 | Share: Share the plan with all your teachers, start making the phone calls, and tracking each student.

We believe that School Leaders play an important role to ensure that all children have access to an excellent education. With our colleagues at WISE Agile Leaders of Learning Innovation Network (ALL-IN), we commit to a three-phase response to COVID-19:

  1. Address the well-being of School Leaders and their communities
  2. Figure out educational resources for the time when children are out of school
  3. Prepare School Leaders to lead their institutions as we come out of lock-down


The unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 crisis is reinforcing the central role of leaders in all aspects of our lives. We call on policymakers and other education stakeholders to invest heavily in the leaders who are ensuring that children are safe, healthy and learning, as a priority in the current challenging times, but also in the uncertain future that lies ahead.