Headteachers and the pandemic: Themes from a review of literature on leadership for professional learning in complex times

Deirdre Torrance, Denise Mifsud, Richard Niesche, Michael Fertig

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This paper draws from a review of the global literature on school leadership during the first 30 months of the pandemic (2020–2022), when educational leaders were faced with complexity on an unprecedented scale. COVID-19 challenged school leadership, providing opportunities to reflect on: leader-ship practice within and beyond school contexts; building relationships with wider communities and external stakeholders; established bureau-cratic systems and ways of working (Author et al. under review). School leaders’ reliance on organisational stability, hierarchy and standardised practice was also challenged: reflective practice was needed, whilst responding to complex and demanding situations. Increased teacher autonomy and agency was encouraged and embraced, with ‘profound collaboration borne out of necessity and urgency’ (p. 393), highlighting the fluid practice of leadership rather than the role specificities of a leader. As school systems return to the business of in-person schooling and further away from the shock of the pandemic, the article renews calls to learn from experience and innovation. Three aspects are discussed, for supporting the development of school leadership/leaders capable of navigating complex-ity: school leadership; informal professional learning; formal professional learning. Our analysis provides insights into advancing professional learning approaches: accounting for complexity; enhancing teaching and learning; strengthening educator empowerment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1103-1116
Number of pages14
JournalProfessional Development in Education
Issue number6
Early online date2 Jul 2023
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2023


  • COVID-19 responses
  • complexity
  • headship preparation
  • leadership professional development
  • school leadership

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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