Leading in lockdown: community, communication and compassion in response to the COVID-19 crisis

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This paper examines the ways that Australian school leaders made sense of and responded to situations of crisis and uncertainty that resulted from the COVID-19 global pandemic. The paper draws on a qualitative study of the subjective experiences of eight school leaders and uses a sensemaking theoretical approach applied to crisis leadership to contribute to understanding leadership in unprecedented situations. Data were collected through individual semi-structured interviews undertaken in the middle of 2020. At that time participants were working through significant changes resulting from community lockdowns that required their schools to move to remote provision of education. The findings revealed these school leaders engaged in rapid processes of sensemaking and change implementation. They assessed and managed risks, relationships and resourcing in environments where usual processes of change leadership were not available to them. They reported that their attention was predominantly directed to the well-being of their communities. They noted an increase in the community leadership aspect of their role and the requirement of effective, timely and honest communication. They also demonstrated prospective sensemaking orientations in their capacity to reconfigure for a positive and productive future that could emerge from these disruptive experiences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1014-1030
Number of pages17
JournalEducational Management Administration and Leadership
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023


  • COVID-19
  • crisis
  • school leadership
  • sensemaking

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