Effective Higher Education Leadership Strategies in the 'New Normal'

We’re living in a whole new world where life has been forever changed by the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. And with all the uncertainties brought by it, lockdowns, quarantines, and travel restrictions have kept most people at home and many businesses have folded. As it also impacted the education sector as well, there is a shift in leadership models in higher education as key decision-makers are looking to map out new policies that will guide how students learn, professors teach, and school administrators collaborate both on campus and in their communities.

Many schools, colleges, and universities have to cut down on expenses on certain programmes while maximising what they can get from their funding. There is also the need to meet new challenges like raising more funds, preparing new graduates for a changed labour sector, and more importantly, transitioning students to a more remote-learning experience.

Administrators have to adapt to new leadership styles in higher education by learning new technologies and methodologies to ease the move toward the ‘new normal.’ Despite new challenges and disruptions to the current state of education, these unprecedented times also bring new opportunities too! In fact, new trends have emerged:

Leading by Example

In these challenging times, the importance of leadership in higher education requires everyone to lead by example. It’s not something new but it’s what everyone looks up to. Being a ‘visible leader’ will surely unite everyone to follow new policies and measures to ensure education is not disrupted.

Adopting New Roles

Unfortunately, some educational institutions have cut down on their workforce and faculty to ensure their financial viability. As a result, school leadership practices have changed considerably and even, irreversibly. With that being said, roles have changed from principals down to teaching assistants. Everyone has to play multiple roles as school leadership has shifted. However, the principles of good leadership remain constant (having a clear vision, developing others, managing people, and building capacity). Leadership has to be more agile by putting more emphasis on context response in COVID-centric leadership practices.

Embracing Change

Change is the most difficult thing to embrace especially for those who are already used to existing preparations and training programmes before the pandemic. Let’s face it, many of these educational models may no longer work as these would need a more radical rethink and modification to remain relevant in a new educational landscape. Educators should adopt or develop new programmes that would focus more on leadership skills and practices suited to the current situation.

Putting Public Health First

As there has been a spike in cases in 2021, school administrators have to learn more about public health administration to incorporate new measures that will ensure the safety of faculty and students alike. Even if schools go remote and virtual, there is still a need to put public health measures in place to ensure everyone’s safety.

Emphasising Individual Mental Health

Prolonged lockdown and quarantine cause mental health issues for everyone. School leaders need to put their own health and well-being first so that they will be able to help others. Moreover, they also have to put their social worker hat on by constantly reaching out to their teachers and students to ensure that they provide the necessary support to manage anxiety, frustration, loss, depression, and anger.

Becoming Tech-Savvy

Technology is now playing a big part in education as schools move towards remote and virtual learning models. As a result, school administrators have to be tech-savvy so they can implement new educational programmes that utilise new technologies like live-streaming, online modules, and other digital educational materials. They also have to consider the technical limitations by balancing them with pedagogy in their school curriculum. At the end of the day, pedagogy is the key to effective learning and technology serves as the new medium but it is the human dimension of effective teaching that needs to be filled in.

Fostering Collaboration

School leaders and decision-makers can’t do everything on their own. Crisis management requires collaboration from everyone as disruptive times require more than just problem-solving but more like long-term crisis resolution. With so many leadership issues in higher education that a school administrator has to deal with, it is necessary to put a very fool-proof plan in place to cover a lot of possibilities and delegate key personnel to handle all important educational policy decision-making. At the end of the day, a high degree of trust is needed to ensure all issues are addressed collectively as they arise.

Connecting the Community

Being a community leader is one of the key leadership traits and success in higher education requires that connection to the community being served. School administrators have to regularly consult with the parent-teacher association and local government leaders to develop a comprehensive educational plan that puts emphasis on resolving key issues everyone is facing, especially the vulnerable, marginalised, and isolated young people.

It is a fact that the pandemic has been the greatest disruptor of our way of life and the educational system is not immune to that. In these disruptive times, school administrators should adopt new policies and embrace change to navigate chaos and uncertainties. Educational leadership has always been following existing policies that operated on known parameters with clear accountabilities and rules governing every aspect of the system. However, everyone needs to play multiple roles and collaborate for the system to work.

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