College Leadership in the Pandemic – Learning from Crisis

Blog post by Victoria Underwood, Head of Leadership, Governance and Research at CDN

Today we are excited to be publishing the latest report from the CDN Research and Enhancement Centre: College Leadership in the Pandemic – Learning from Crisis.

As with all our reports, it’s rooted in the experience and practice of colleagues in our colleges with a focus on how we can learn from, support and enhance their work of changing the lives of students (of all ages) and supporting the skills needs of employers.

In this case, we wanted to explore how leaders in colleges have responded to the uniquely disruptive challenges of the pandemic. Leaders across the sector supported their colleagues and their students, adapted their courses and services to provide as effective a learning experience as possible, and responded to rapidly-changing guidance and regulations as the country grappled with unprecedented challenges.

But what were the leadership skills required to do this? How did leaders adapt? What can we learn from this that will shape how we support our leaders in their future development?

This report is an attempt to answer those questions using research undertaken with the participants in CDN’s leadership programmes covering a range of levels from emerging managers and leaders, middle management to senior and executive. Our programmes support emerging and experienced leaders to develop their skills and build their leadership careers, which makes them an ideal sample group. All colleagues involved in our leadership programmes were invited to participate, and we are grateful to those who completed the survey and agreed to be interviewed.

Our research associate, Dr Karen Campbell, undertook the research supported by our very own Valerie Jackman, CDN Lead for Leadership and Governance, and Gordon Hunt, CDN Associate: Research and Enhancement. It rapidly became clear that there was a very strong link between the skills being identified by our participating leaders and the Inner Development Goals which underpin the Global Goals for Sustainable Development , and so we have mapped the report’s findings onto those transformational skills. This not only shows the universality of the leadership experience during the pandemic but gives us a strong base to build on as we develop our understanding of leadership within the college context.

As Roddy Millar of the Scottish Leadership Institute says in his foreword:

What Dr Campbell’s report highlights here is that the capacities that worked and enabled change to happen are well-understood. Well-understood both by those that study them, the leadership academics, and those that practice them, anyone who leads – which is just about everyone as we all lead ourselves. Dr Campbell’s mapping of the capacities self-identified by the survey and interview respondents to the Inner Development Goal (IDG) capacities demonstrates the huge overlap between the two sets.

I hope that this report will prove useful to all those who wish to understand leadership in the pandemic, and I am grateful to Karen, Valerie, Gordon and all the participants for their efforts in developing such a useful report.

To leave the last word to one of our college leaders:

Whilst it has been challenging and really difficult at times, I think that many of our leaders have really blossomed over the pandemic and have ‘stepped up’ in ways that we might not have previously expected. The clear focus on doing all we can in the interests of our students and staff has really focused what we do and how we work on a positive basis moving forward.

Read the Research Report Here

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