Cohen, Michael I.

Committee Member

Seedorf, Stephen

Committee Member

Warren, Charles R.

Committee Member

Correa-Torres, Silvia


College of Education & Behavioral Sciences; Department of Leadership, Policy, and Development


University of Northern Colorado

Type of Resources


Place of Publication

Greeley, (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



150 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


In the spring of 2020, the coronavirus (COVID-19) triggered a pandemic, caused schools to close, and created a crisis for school leaders. They led during unprecedented times and negotiated an unfamiliar environment. School principals managed the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their schools for nearly two years. As principals led through the pandemic, the question arose as to what influence this experience had on their professional identity. Scholars such as Burke and Stets (2009) identified that changes in professional identity are generally gradual over time. However, when a situation does not match how an individual identifies as a leader, distress may be created, and a leader may adjust their professional identity to reduce distress. The COVID-19 pandemic was a worldwide event, and each principal had their own experience based on the context of their school and community. The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand elementary school principals' perceptions of the influence that the COVID-19 pandemic had on their professional identities within the context of their school and community. Six elementary principals from Colorado were interviewed on two separate occasions. Principals represented four community types, rural, town, suburban, and city. The findings from the interviews were compared to the scholarly literature on leading during a crisis and professional identity change. This study found that principals relied on existing professional identities, recognized an increase in the ethic of care, and shifted toward shared leadership. During the pandemic, principals relied on existing strategies, beliefs, and values to move their schools forward. As principals spent additional time caring for staff and communicating transparently, they adapted their practices for extending care. Also, when principals faced unknown situations, they demonstrated vulnerability and engaged staff collaborative leadership to problem solve. Their professional identities may have shifted as they found value in these new practices. The findings from this study may support new and existing leaders to understand they may rely on existing professional identities during uncertain times and that their identities may evolve. Leadership development programs can assist new leaders in understanding that their professional identities may shift and the importance of establishing reflective practices. Policymakers may benefit from the knowledge that individual school leaders need the flexibility to respond to their community's and school's specific needs during a crisis or uncertain times.

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