Table of Contents
The COVID-19 pandemic was a historic global occurrence that had an impact on education at all levels and directly affected more than 90% of students worldwide (Al Darayseh 2020; UNESCO 2020 in Flack et al. 2021). In the setting of the United Arab Emirates (LEBANON), on March 8, 2020, the government ordered that all schools in Lebanon close, and all pedagogical activities migrate to an online, virtual environment (Abdelaziz & Elsheikh 2022).
This small-scale research project aimed to explore principals’ challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic and the solutions they devised to address these challenges to get insight into their experiences. This was regarded relevant since authors such as Alfalasi et al (2021) highlight the fact that very little study has been undertaken explicitly on this topic in Lebanon, LEBANON, and the findings may be useful for future educational leaders in the region. Semi-structured interviews with school administrators were undertaken in order to acquire relevant data (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison 2017); their responses were transcribed, and a thematic analysis of their comments yielded many major findings, which are presented and explored in this work.
According to studies, schools rely on leadership from all levels of the organization to foster a pleasant school climate and increase academic achievement in order to promote school success even in difficult conditions (Senge et al. in Marks & Printy 2003). Prior to the COVID-19, principals were responsible for student safety, reporting any concerns about students’ well-being to the superintendent, and notifying authorities of any contagious illness outbreaks (Pollock & Hauseman 2015 in Pollock 2020). In other words, principals’ leadership was in charge of numerous elements, including policy, local context, program change, and many others (Pollock 2020a).
In LEBANON, school closures have been widespread in order to encourage social distance, keeping a high level of security (Abdelaziz & Elsheikh 2022). The LEBANON government required the closure of all educational institutions on March 8, 2020, and all online pedagogical approaches were used (ibid). Distance education has been extended till the end of the school year. Meanwhile, the government began working with school principals to seek online and remote education (Houalla 2020 in Abdelaziz & Elsheikh 2022). Students and teachers from all over the world log onto the cyberspace of teaching and learning, and as a result, the academic planning process has changed drastically (Diez et al. 2020 in Pla et al. 2021). In my case, the principal of my former school was compelled to adapt the educational system to a short-term circumstance in which new approaches to leadership and management were required to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. The purpose of this study is to determine the influence of COVID-19 on principals’ leadership in Lebanon. It will begin with a review of some of the most important previously published research.
Following that, the methodological design is discussed. Year after year, the Lebanese people are unable to live in peace, security, and prosperity as the crisis devastate everything but hope for a brighter tomorrow.The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated the vertical collapse of all public services in Lebanon, which was already depleted by political and economic issues. It has had a disastrous impact on a public education system that was already undermined by successive governments’ failed policies, pushing it to the brink of collapse. Instead of supporting public education, government policies destroyed it, favoring the private sector.
The COVID-19 outbreak caused widespread concern because more than 90% of young people worldwide did not attend school (UNESCO 2020 in Flack et al. 2021). All activities were carried out remotely to ensure that pupils’ learning was not hindered.(Department of Education 2020 in Burke and Dempsey 2020). Burke and Dempsey (2020) agree that navigating the epidemic was as difficult as solving cryptic crossword puzzles without clues. The research goal is to investigate the obstacles that principals faced in various circumstances (before and during the covid-19 pandemic) and the solutions they devised to solve these challenges.
The research purpose has been broken down into the following questions, which must be answered:
- What challenges did school principals face in the period before and during COVID-19?
- How did the principal leaders overcome the challenges they faced during COVID-19?
The Significance of the Study
Teachers have been committed to delivering education despite a wide range of problems, from the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic to the degradation of the Lebanese Lira, since the onset of the economic crisis in 2019. In fact, when the Lebanese government lacked the resources and the strategy to deal with the crisis, education unions were among the first to assist teachers in developing abilities for distance teaching and learning. It wasn’t until much later that the government eventually established teacher training. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to compensate for the enormous impact of the economic and living challenges. Neither parents nor teachers could afford the technology needed for distance learning. The situation deteriorated day by day until the national currency collapsed spectacularly. A dollar now equals 60,000
Lebanese Lira, implying that a teacher’s monthly compensation is $40 or less. The government made minor contributions, but they were all undermined by the currency’s steady rise. The Lebanese Lira has reached its lowest point in decades. Donors have also contributed, but aid has not been able to keep up with the exorbitant inflation. Teachers have always been in survival mode.
As a result of COVID-19, the education system is affected by numerous challenges varying from changes in educational curricula to policies (Burwell 2021 in Moussa 2021). This research is significant as little research has been done in the LEBANON (Lebanon) context (Alfalasi et al. 2021). Moreover, it will be beneficial for school principals in Lebanon as it is imperative to gain a better understanding of the challenges they faced as well as the educational reforms’ requirements to implement these reforms appropriately.
According to Leithwood et al. (1999 in Bush & Glover 2003), the concept of leadership is very subjective; consequently, there is no agreed-upon definition because some definitions are more complete than others. Leadership is generally characterized as an art, and as a result, leaders aim to influence individuals and society (Constantia et al. 2021). School leaders create a vision for the school based on professional principles and aim to make the school a good environment (Rapti 2013 in Constantia et al. 2021). This description was chosen by the author because it includes the following traits of an effective leader: fostering constructive connections among teachers, parents, and students, as well as developing suitable communication methods with employees (Day & Sammons 2016 in Constantia et al. 2021).
A challenge is described as a difficult activity that puts someone’s skill or ability to the test (Wise 2015a). One of the challenges for principals is balancing multiple obligations such as building upkeep, assessment, supervision of staff and teachers, student discipline, parent expectations, and curriculum development. As a result, principals face a limitation of time, which means that a devoted principal has a limited amount of time to complete all of those varied obligations in a single day (Wise 2015b). Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, school administrators’ responsibilities have increased considerably, resulting in a dependency on COVID-19 procedures such as social distancing for employees and kids that require extra work.
According to Nudge’s philosophy, the ideal method to influence a group or individual is to provide indirect suggestions or encouragement to make better decisions while still enabling them to voice their viewpoints and make their own decisions. As a result of the epidemic, this hypothesis advocates for a change in the educational process.
Hence, principal leaders should act as facilitators for teachers and students, allowing them to make decisions about change. To summarize, reform should not be imposed on teachers and students, but rather accomplished with the cooperation of all stakeholders (Ebert & Freibichler 2017).
It is worth remembering that the issues faced by school principals are not new. As a result, there is a plethora of research on this subject. This research reveals four often recognized motifs, which will be discussed in this section.
2.1 The LEBANON’s educational reforms and initiatives enacted under COVID-19.Despite global attempts to prevent the epidemic, many countries were compelled to close schools in order to limit the pandemic (Onyema et al. 2020). As a result, Covid-19 has significantly altered the concept of leadership and the practices of leaders (Moussa 2021). Fortunately, before the pandemic, schools and institutions in Lebanon were familiar with the growth of digital learning through the use of effective e-learning programs (Almarashdi & Jarrah 2021). During the epidemic, however, the Lebanon government implemented a number of pandemic-control measures (Moussa 2021). MOE took initiatives such as continuing remote learning until the conclusion of the school year and appointing committees to monitor its success (LEBANON Ministry of Education 2020 in Almarashdi & Jarrah 2021). As a result, educational leaders must follow external authorities when adopting new standards and regulations that may alter the current reform strategy (Diamond 2012 in Shilon & Schechter 2019). Furthermore, the education and knowledge departments in lebanon collaborated with schools to provide the resources required to activate the remote learning system (Sebugwaawo 2020 in Almarashdi & Jarrah 2021).
However, as a result of the epidemic, teachers and students became isolated, significantly impacting the learning process. As the entire education system transformed and principals’ leadership was put to the test, learning and teaching practices changed dramatically and now relied primarily on technology, online activities, and remote learning (Moussa 2021). Many learners, educators, and parents, particularly those in developing countries, may face significant challenges as a result of factors such as poor power supply, inaccessibility, distractions, technical issues, poor digital skills, and others that can impede education (Onyema et al. 2020). To respond to the new conditions, school administrators and instructors were forced to redesign their schools as technology-enabled instructional facilities (Harris 2020 in Rehm et al. 2021).The pandemic surely posed numerous obstacles to the education industry. However, capable chief executives converted these crises into opportunities. One of the most important initiatives that principals did was successfully addressing school closures by following health and safety procedures and preventing education postponement by maintaining online learning (Chaudari et al. 2020 in Resmi & Hasanah 2020; Moussa 2021). When the scenario of distance education arose, principals made every effort to guarantee that all methods of communication were available to instructors, students, and stakeholders (Metcalfe & Perez 2020). Principals also devised arrangements for distributing the devices to the school community (ibid). Some principals also attempted to bridge the internet connectivity divide by providing internet access to instructors and students (Metcalfe & Perez 2020). As a result, staff camaraderie grew as teachers aided one another in developing their online teaching skills (ibid). In terms of consistency, teachers were required to stay to a schedule of reaching out to students’ families and assuring them that everything would go smoothly and that their learning needs would be met (ibid). To accomplish the school’s objectives and discover the best method to prevent such threats, strong leaders are clearly required (Sham 2012 in Resmi & Hasanah 2020).
To summarize, this literature analysis has investigated four important problems concerning principals’ leadership challenges during COVID-19:(A) Educational changes and policies established by Lebanon during COVID-19; (B) School principle leaders’ challenges before and throughout the epidemic; (C) Distance education problems; (D) Principal leaders’ implementation in addressing challenges during COVID-19.
The literature on school principal difficulties has grown in recent years, making it critical to develop this topic in Lebanon setting. As a result, the author hoped to contribute to the existing body of literature by incorporating information regarding challenges faced by school principals. The synthesized data could help to find a more effective solution to the problem.
The main research questions for this study are:
- “What challenges did school principals face in the period before and during COVID-19?”
- “How did the principal leaders overcome the challenges they faced during COVID-19?”. This section of the essay will describe the research design, sample, and data collection method adopted to investigate these questions.
A qualitative design was used to answer the research questions because it provides comprehensive descriptions of occurrences and helps to build more relevant explanations of research issues (Sofaer 1999). As a result, textual data was gathered to perceive principal leaders’ perspectives and experiences in order to acquire a thorough understanding of the issues faced by principals in Lebanon. The qualitative design was appropriate for my research objectives since it reveals gaps in the existing body of literature and clarifies overall comprehension of the topic (Pathak, Jena, & Klara 2013). According to Bengtsson (2016), qualitative research design aids in understanding the human condition in a variety of circumstances.
The social constructivist reality underpins qualitative design, claiming that there is no such thing as one reality, but rather numerous realities implying multiple interpretations because people see the world through different lenses (Pham 2018).
From a social constructivist standpoint, I prefer to delve deeper into the phenomena and its complexities in its context rather than attempting to generalize to the entire population (Creswell 2007 in Pham 2018). Similarly, Hammersley (2013 in Pham 2018) claimed that because diverse explanations for human relationships have been produced, constructivist social researchers must recognize the various ways of perceiving and seeing the world in different circumstances.
It is tough to represent the full population because it has a qualitative design. As a result, the sample was selected from principals who work in schools or educational institutions in the United Arab Emirates, notably in Lebanon. The sample included both men and women. Originally planned to interview ten principals, however due to the researcher’s and principals’ busy schedules, it was extremely difficult to organize suitable dates and locations for the interview. As a result, 5 principals from various schools and educational institutes were interviewed, taking into account their age, degree of education, and job position.
The non-probability sampling method was used. As a result, members of the targeted group will not have an equal probability of getting chosen. The researcher utilized convenience sampling, in which the sample was chosen simply for its convenience (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison 2017). I picked this strategy because I had a limited amount of time and needed to collect data quickly in order to acquire findings soon. The researcher used this sample technique to identify the key leaders based on their experiences throughout the pandemic.
To answer my study questions, I used semi-structured interviews. This comprises chief executives of educational institutions. In the semi-structured interviews shown in the appendix, open-ended questions were employed. This allowed the principals to shed more light on the issues, experiences, and major topics of debate (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison 2017). As a researcher, I made it a point to make the questions simple to grasp, non-threatening, non-leading, and unbiased. Rowley (2012) emphasizes the importance of open inquiries in providing ample room for respondents to speak freely about the issue. The interview guide was produced ahead of time to facilitate data collection. I performed 5 semi-structured interviews at the right time and location, taking preventative measures into mind.
Semi-structured interviews were conducted to collect qualitative data, which was then thematically analyzed to discover common answer patterns. As a result, the thematic analysis indicated the obstacles that school principle leaders faced as a result of the transition to remote education mode. The results were first documented, then transcribed and examined to verify accuracy (member-check) of the data’s reliability. The most important information related to my study questions was examined. The replies were then aggregated to generate categories. These categories were examined to identify patterns of answers, and these patterns (themes) were then combined to produce major themes using NVivo.
This section contains a summary of the study’s findings. This section is critical because it displays the data that was studied and provides answers to the research questions. As previously stated, the key research objectives for this study are as follows: “What challenges did school principals face before and during COVID-19?” and “How did principal leaders overcome the challenges they faced during COVID-19?” For this qualitative design, semi-structured interviews were done. As a result, thematic analysis was utilized to examine the interview replies and identify common themes. It may be inferred that the responses of the five principals to the obstacles and how they overcome these challenges were comparable. As a result, the following are some of the significant themes and findings obtained from the five conducted interviews:
One of the most difficult challenges, according to all of the school principals, was keeping up with a variety of activities such as school building maintenance, policy implementation, curriculum development, ensuring that teaching and learning ran smoothly, budget management, and other school administration problems. The principals frequently reported negative experiences while shifting from face-to-face to online due to the three primary reasons that were consistently highlighted.
One of the most important challenges that principals faced during the pandemic was a lack of interpersonal interactions between teachers, students, parents, and other stakeholders. One of the founders, for example, stated, “Suddenly, I began to function via emails.” Because it was no longer able to connect in person, I had to carefully study every single email because they contained instructions for school administration.
The second main issue is school principals’ challenges in dealing with parents during the pandemic. The workload associated with following up with parents and caregivers was a recurring criticism from principals. “I had to keep the parents up to date on the precautionary measures and reassure them that this abrupt situation would be temporary,” said Principal #2. As the COVID-19 criteria changed on a daily basis, it became increasingly difficult for school leaders to keep up. On the one hand, they wanted to focus on digital education in order to assist teachers when using online platforms; nevertheless, dealing with parents’ and teachers’ concerns was tough, especially because the school was run from home.
Another issue raised by school principals was the consistent complaint from the parents to reduce the tuition fees since there were no activities, excursions, or seminars for the students. In addition to many students who dropped out of school due to the high fees which led to financial problems for many schools. As Principal #1 said, “ I had no incentive to persuade the parents to retain their children in school while everything was suspended, so the parents favored schools with low tuition fees”. As a result, school principals were forced to lower tuition fees and instructor wages, which caused some concern among teachers. The combined impacts of a devastating socio-economic crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have caused a rapid deterioration in access to inclusive and quality education and learning in Lebanon. The unprecedented compound crisis has forced many families to prioritize basic needs, such as food and health, over education. The past three years proved to be an exceptionally difficult year for Lebanon, severely impacting the education of children. More than 700,000 children are out of school. In addition to learning loss, missing school can lead to mental distress, exposure to violence, and reduced development of social skills. It also puts children at increased risk of being forced into child labour, early marriage or other forms of exploitation. Risks are particularly high for children with disabilities, girls, refugees and the poorest families. In addition to overstretching of the public education system caused by the protracted nature of the Syria crisis, the deteriorating economic situation coupled with the financial collapse and the political instability and the COVID-19 outbreak have taken a heavy toll on learning. At the individual learner’s level, families heavily impacted by the economic crisis and increasing poverty in Lebanon are increasingly unable to afford spiraling transportation costs or school supplies and hence are unable to enroll their children to schools or have many children drop out of school.
Teachers are also experiencing the impact of the economic crisis. They have frequently gone on strike due to their wages and are highly demotivated in their profession. Public schools across the country are increasingly unable to afford running costs to keep schools open; including the costs of fuel, teaching materials etc. and are unable to sustainably open. The strikes and school’s closures caused severe effects on the quality of education provided and also slowed down the planned activities and reforms, such as early childhood education, addressing learning outcomes, new curriculum, rehabilitation works to improve efficiency, national scale-up of teachers’ performance standards, etc. This has resulted in growing learning gaps and the deprioritisation of education. While there isn’t national evidence on the extent of learning losses in Lebanon as a result of nearly three school years of education disruption, regional evidence details substantial losses in math and reading skills proportional to the length of school closures. Many families who relied on daily wages have lost their jobs and rely on irregular incomes or send children to work to supplement meagre pay, putting children and their families in extremely stressful conditions
Because it was such a new problem, the school leaders had a lot to learn about how to effectively connect and educate children digitally. This added to the workload of principals (and teachers) as they tried to figure out the most efficient means of online instruction delivery. Surprisingly, all of the principals claimed that they had accepted responsibility for protecting the safety of children and instructors by developing a visual platform that responds to the current scenario. Principal #5 noted, “My primary goal was not to suspend learning.” Instead, I needed to establish an environment conducive to learning.” Furthermore, because professors were required to simplify the content for the sake of students, online didactic materials were not up to the same level of quality as on-campus materials. Unfortunately, these materials lacked engagement, interactivity, and meaningful feedback.
The goal of this study was twofold: first, to investigate the obstacles that principals faced prior to and during the covid-19 pandemic and the economical crisis , and second, to find the solutions they devised to manage these challenges. I chose a strictly qualitative strategy to data collection because I wanted to take an exploratory approach to answering the study questions. Finally, data analysis demonstrated that the pandemic had a significant impact on Lebanon’s education system, as well as schools worldwide (Sintema 2020). When school principals reflected on the issues they had previous to the COVID-19 epidemic and the economical crash, they were small in comparison to the difficulties they faced with online and blended learning during the pandemic.
Moreover, we all agree that everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. Education is considered a fundamental right and it is crucial in an economic and political environment. Education is the key to prosperity, and even before the economic crisis, only a certain part of the Lebanese population was able to pay these fees and thus provide their children with a good education. With the depreciation of the national currency and the shortage of US-Dollars, this share has halved. More and more parents are forced to take their children out of private schools and students have to interrupt their studies. The lack of resources available for public institutions and the lower paygrade for teachers result in a lower education level. This is why I choose this theme for my research, to speak for all the parents who are suffering to provide a proper education for their children, when no organization or government is shedding light on the tragic consequences on education the economical crisis and covid caused.
On another hand, school principals faced six major challenges:
- Implementing distance education was a huge problem at the onset of the epidemic because most schools did not have any policy or system in place to allow online learning.
- Concerns from parents – Principals were inundated with complaints from parents about the low quality of remote teaching and learning.
- Financial concerns – as mentioned previously, parents did not want to pay the entire tuition payment.
- Principals have to devote a significant amount of time, energy, and money to learning about various eLearning settings and virtual platforms.
- Continuous technical training was clearly required since teachers were unable to cope with the transition to online instruction and required professional development training.
- Communities of Practice – There was an obvious need for collaboration and internal assistance.
These difficulties are comparable to those discovered in prior investigations.
Ferrandino (2001), Pollock (2020a), and Tintore et al. (2020). To overcome these obstacles,
Principals were required to find innovative and effective solutions to problems. These included the formation of teacher communities of practice to facilitate professional development. They provide instruction to their colleagues. Furthermore, in order to address parents’ objections and concerns, some institutions reduced their tuition costs. Furthermore, during these special times, school administrators devoted a tremendous amount of time, energy, and financial resources in order to give the finest online learning experience possible.
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My research paper is entitled “Investigation into the effect of COVID-19 and the economical crisi on the leadership of principals in Lebanon Schools”. The study is designed to investigate the challenges that principals have encountered in different contexts (pre and during the covid-19 pandemic) and the solutions they made to overcome these challenges.
- Please designate your gender.
- Please designate your age.
- Please designate your qualification.
- Please allocate your designation.
- In general, tell me about your current school. (prompts: describe your school’s vision and mission).
- What motivates you to be a school leader? (prompts: What drives you to be a school leader?)
- What did you learn the most as a principal leader? (Prompts: as a leader, what lessons did you learn during your journey?)
- What leadership skills do you usually employ to build your staff? (Prompts: How do you lead your school?)
- what procedures do you use as a leader to ensure a successful change? (Prompts: as a leader, what practices do you employ to guarantee a successful transition?)
- What do you think as a leader about taking risks at school? As a leader, what are your thoughts on taking risks in your school?)
- Describe a time when you started a new strategy at your school. What steps did you take to make this work? (Prompts: Describe an innovative idea that you have employed in your school. What did you do to make this successful?).
- What are the secrets to being a successful leader? (Prompts: What are the keys to successful leadership?)
- School leadership necessitates conflict resolution and communication. Could you give me some examples of how you dealt with a difficult scenario at school? (Prompts: Communication and conflict resolution are essential components of school leadership. Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a challenging situation at school?)
- As you know that time management is important, how do you manage your time to make sure that you are a peak performer? (Prompts: How do you manage your time?)
- Describe a time when you tried something and failed at.
- What did you learn from this experience? (Prompts: describe a time when you tried something new and didn’t succeed. what did this experience teach you?)
- What makes a distance learning program effective? (Prompts: What factors contribute to the success of a distance learning program?
- How did you deal with the educational challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic? (Prompts: What are your strategies for dealing with educational challenges during outbreak of the pandemic?)
- During the pandemic, how did you ensure that teachers and students have access to the materials they needed? (Prompts: how did you make sure that teachers and students got the educational resources they need?)
- What are the major problems that you have experienced as a leader during COVID-19? (Prompts: What have been the most significant challenges you have faced as a leader during the pandemic?)
- Is there anything else you would like to add to this discussion that I have not asked you about?
- Do you have any further questions for me?
- could you please tell me more about that?
- Can you provide me with some examples?
- What makes you feel that way?
- What do you need to change to make this happen?
- Can you elaborate on how you worked that out?
- That’s interesting, what makes you say that?
- During that time, where were you?
- Where did it happen?
9. How did you feel about that?
10. What made you decide to look for a solution right now?
“Thank you very much for your valuable time.”