School @ the Centre of Community


COVID-19 leadership lessons: A school principal’s perspective

This is the third article in a series of articles on Maximising the Leadership Lessons from COVID-19, brought to you by Symphonia for South Africa’s flagship programme, Partners for Possibility (PfP)



Declining state of health

I fell ill during the last few days of the first school term and was battling to recover. My immune system took a serious nosedive as news of the catastrophic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic spread. I became panic-stricken, and my flu symptoms refused to submit to the battery of antibiotics and flu medication I ingested. 

Amid this state of physical and psychological warfare, my mind turned to my staff at Kannemeyer Primary. I began thinking about my learners and their families. I was plagued with thoughts about how the pandemic was impacting their lives. My physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well-being deteriorated even further.

Finding relief

Digging deep, I discovered meaning in the words of Benjamin Zander, a classical music conductor and prominent speaker on leadership: "Why are you taking yourself so seriously?"

It then dawned on me. Although I claim to be "Superman", I am not. I am human and fallible, and in order to have impact on others as a leader I need to serve from a position of strength. This means that I must replenish my own cup. My reality – like so many of my colleagues – is that I was running on empty. Even my reserves were spent.

The Prophet of Islam is reported to have said: "If you put your whole trust in God … He most certainly will satisfy your needs. He satisfies those of the birds. They come out hungry in the morning but return full to their nest."

Those words give me solace. I realise that there are certain things that I cannot change and have allowed God Almighty to take care of it.  As much as I want to lend a helping hand, I need to distinguish between short term gains and the more crucial long term wins.

Plotting a new path

These traumatic three weeks have pushed me to consider a long term view. In order to be of greater service to our children and communities going forward, I have decided to take time to heal, while allowing my teachers to do the same. When schools eventually reopen, we’ll be ready to hit the ground running.

Right now, my only task as a school leader is to think deeply about these two questions:

  • How we can rescue the academic year for the sake of our learners?
  • How do we ensure that upon the resumption of schooling, we are able to love our learners unconditionally so that they, too, can heal from the emotional scars that this pandemic is sure to leave?

Let’s embrace this new norm. Everything as we know it will change, and as leaders of our schools and communities, we must be ready, equipped and energised to navigate this new terrain. 


Ridwan Samodien is the co-founder of PfP and principal of the first PfP school, Kannemeyer Primary in Grassy Park, Western Cape. PfP is committed to social change through the leadership development of school principals and business leaders in South Africa.



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