How the Pandemic Has Changed Principal Jobs

Andrew Passinger
Andrew Passinger
Middle-High School Principal; M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction, Gifted Certification
Yellow cubes spell out “school principal.” Colorful pencils and felt pens surround the cubes.

Because education is constantly evolving, it is also true that administrative and principal jobs are also evolving. New mandates, school code and policy changes, and unique community challenges keep principals on their toes constantly. So, when the pandemic hit, one of the already most difficult jobs in education required re-evaluating roles and responsibilities. Some of those aspects remained as the COVID-19 pandemic slowed, while others reverted back to their original status. In doing so, varying favorable and unfavorable circumstances occurred.

What Changes From the Pandemic Do We Still See in Principal Jobs Today?

Mental Health

Possibly the largest shift deals with the mental health of both students and adults, specifically faculty members. An increase in anxiety for numerous reasons is a significant factor in the school community. While teachers were hailed early on as heroes, a reversal took place that focused on the fact that they were not doing enough to combat learning loss supposedly occurring in the students.

Principals have added roles of not only influencing students in a positive way to improve mental health and combat the potential loss of education they need to be successful but transitioning the teachers through affirmation and support. A different normal has been established and teachers are so used to the control of their environment, it has become a difficult change in their worlds. And successful leaders of schoolwork with and communicate through emotional relationships. Therefore, it automatically becomes the responsibility of the principal to take on the emotional well-being concerns for all stakeholders in order to move the school community forward. In some cases, mental health liaisons are being hired for adults, not just children, in schools to help support this new issue.


Another avenue that opened up with the technological focus on remote education is that some of those doors never closed. While the majority of teachers went back to a classroom of students, the students didn’t necessarily welcome that pathway back. Cyber schooling, remote learning, blended learning, and even homeschooling took on a more relevant role than ever before during education.

Principals now have even more channels to monitor, including the communication with these students who have chosen blended and adapted schedules. Those at home are not as exposed in the social atmosphere, which always poses a challenge, and they aren’t necessarily receiving the same communications and updates as those attending regularly. While parents are happier with the flexibility, these different pathways provide not only the technological difficulties of implementing softwares and hardwares for teachers, students, and parents, but monitoring each and every student no longer physically accounted for within the school building.

Principals have taken on roles as these types of mental health liaisons, technology leaders, and varying bureaucrats of emotional role models, rather than focusing on the typical curriculum, assessment and instructional leaders that existed as the pre-pandemic norm (not to say these elements didn’t exist; they just were as much at the forefront as they are currently).

Regulatory Functioning of Schools

Another major source of stress is the regulatory functioning of the schools. Principals have accepted the idea that they need to jump in everywhere in order to keep the school running, while educators, community members, politicians, etc., all are questioning this new world normalcy. Principals are the ones who are now directing traffic, filling in for the nurses, monitoring the Student Assistance Programs (SAP), and covering for custodians. Early on they were involved in the contact tracing and sending out of multiple communications in order to keep the public up to date with its covid numbers and maintaining schools being open.

Those responsibilities have not changed. With the shortage of teachers and workers, principals are expected to return to their previous placement while continuing to handle these new expectations. Scheduling and covering are being restarted daily, with numerous principals stepping back into the classrooms as substitutes when they can’t cover classes. Can you imagine trying to run a school and plan lessons knowing you can’t be in two places at once?

Positive Changes

Due to the idea that administration is covering varying positions, it has given more opportunity for principals to interact with students in different roles. Showing students that they will help in any position, from mopping up or cleaning tables during lunch to covering for secretaries in the front office, students get to view the humanity of administrators. They are able to build relationships in a different form.

Another advantage is the opportunity for transformation regarding curriculum, assessment, and instruction. Remote learning provided a new way of looking at how education could be delivered to students who could not attend school; in some cases, the hybrid of remote and in-person was a new challenge that allowed access for all, which helped with absences and truancy regarding excuses and medical leave.

Instruction took on a whole new look and principals had the chance to observe in a different fashion, sometimes with only the teacher in the room. But it leads to stronger discussions about the importance of applying specific strategies to instruct students in a remote fashion. More focused and personal discussions have occurred in these veins.

A whole new review of the ways in which assessments were delivered is another favorable effect generated. Principals had to support teachers in their technological knowledge but also could take leadership roles in reviewing and redesigning assessments. It has become an opportunity to departmentally and individually focus on providing testing questions and scenarios that students could apply to their lives, rather than with some of the traditional depth of knowledge level one questions.

While the world of education was upended with the pandemic, both positive and negative aspects have changed the roles and responsibilities of the principals, affecting a massive change in ideologies.

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