Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Patricia Reeves, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Ramona Lewis, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

June Gothberg, Ph.D.


COVID-19, crisis, disruptive events, educational leadership, pandemic leadership, principals


COVID-19 had a tremendous impact on schools across the globe. Educational leaders had to respond to executive orders quickly. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines focused on mandates regarding students’ and staff’s educational, health, and social-emotional needs. This study explored and described the experience and reflections of elementary principals and their staff members during this disruptive time in history.

This qualitative multiple case study involved the interviews of five elementary principals and staff focus groups from each of their buildings. The overarching research questions were: (a) How do principals describe, metacognitively process, and make meaning of their response to the COVID-19 disruption? and (b) How do such principals describe the influence that the COVID-19 disruption has had on their leadership moving forward?

Theoretical underpinnings included in this study are experiential learning/social constructivism and complexity theory. The leadership constructs included are transformational, situational, distributed, and flux leadership. This research will inform school leadership practices and approaches during disruption. Additionally, the stories of pandemic leadership will improve the collective ability of leaders to craft improved responses to disruptions in the future.

Findings from this study include the following themes: (a) principals used their established personal codes and mental models but altered their actions based on circumstances to make decisions; (b) principals shifted their leadership focus during crisis and how they responded and reacted to others; (c) principals participated in reflective practice to enhance their leadership meta-cognition and created opportunity post crisis; (d) principals used a collective and collaborative approach to build culture and efficacy during crisis; (e) principals created mindful two-way communication to empower others with information; (f) principals prioritized educating stakeholders about school system expectations post-pandemic; and (g) principals sought creative opportunities for professional learning to meet the differentiated needs of staff.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access