Governing in Crisis: Sensemaking and Sensegiving in Virginia School Districts During COVID-19
COVID-19 caused the entire world to shut down. School systems especially were significantly impacted. On March 23rd, the governor of Virginia ordered schools to close for the rest of the year. Suddenly, school leaders in the entire state had to quickly adjust their decision-making process and rethink major aspects of their work and how schools should function. Existing processes and structures were not sufficient and caused many to change how they understood and adapted. The sensemaking and sensegiving taking place during the initial weeks of COVID-19, when major decisions were being made, is important to understand because school districts, while trying to manage the magnitude of the situation, were also managing the pressures to return to normal. COVID-19 is unlike any other crisis, and during the initial weeks as the enormity of the situation was unfolding, it challenged district leaders to reshape their thinking and priorities. The data found that there are multiple cognitive shifts occurring in school districts in Virginia. The data from this research shows that concerns about education equity and access to information due to limitations to technology and the nutritional needs of families as well as mental health of students and families are being prioritized during district leader’s sensemaking and guiding their actions. These sensemaking shifts have impacted the decision-making processes away from what the main function of school has been. Developing an initiative that is invested in change will guide district leaders as they develop their sensemaking and sensegiving in the future and create the new normal that many district leaders are ready for.