School and District Structure Adaptations to the COVID-19 Super-Stressor

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Educational Administration






Emerald Publishing Limited

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Purpose The purpose of this paper is to present a conceptual framework that explains structural responses to external organizational shocks. The authors illustrate framework dynamics with one district's secondary schools' responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Design/methodology/approach The conceptual framework imagines structure as emergent, dynamic and responsive to external pressures, as the authors posited in an earlier publication. From an open systems perspective, the authors focus on restructuring for more effective sensemaking and bridging and buffering. Findings The framework in this paper shows promise for its descriptive power. Interview participants' recollections of their responses to COVID-19 revealed an emergent structure and displayed evidence of crisis management, sensemaking and bridging and buffering. Research limitations/implications The intent of this article, consistent with the special issue, is to propose a set of concepts that, together, shed new light on how researchers and leaders might think about structural adaptations to external influences. The conceptual framework shows promise, but has yet to be put to the test with systematic empirical research. Practical implications The conceptual framework the authors develop here may serve to guide empirical research that expands knowledge of how school and district structures adapt to external influences. Viewing structure as supportive of adaptation to changing circumstances also informs preparation for and practice of education leadership. Originality/value Capturing school and district leaders' recollections shortly after their schools' return to in-person learning is rare in the literature, and examining their reactions from an open systems perspective sheds new light on leadership under stress.