Principals as leaders in a post-disaster setting

In this study Gerard Direen investigates the perspectives of twenty Christchurch primary principals on school leadership in a post-disaster setting. He focuses on their experiences in late 2012 and from mid-2013 on.

Gerard's own experiences as a principal in Christchurch during this period provided the impetus for the study and led to his belief that something exceptional is required from leaders in post-disaster settings – or in similarly challenging and uncertain contexts.

He undertook the study in 2015-2016. He asked principals about what supported or hindered them, and the lessons they have learned during the post-earthquake years.

Gerard notes that while schools have had different experiences “this period of relentless change has had a significant impact on how principals led, their understanding of leadership, and has not surprisingly challenged them more than any other period in their leadership.”

He concludes that the foundations for successful school leadership in this post-disaster context are:

  • connected leadership – strong support networks and collaborative professional relationships
  • conscious leadership – a clear sense of moral purpose and self-awareness
  • adaptive expertise – making best use of previously acquired knowledge and skills to respond accurately to a rapidly changing context.

Reflective questions

  • Do the post-disaster experiences of the Christchurch principals hold any lessons for you and your school? Are there any parallels with the challenges or changes you and your team are dealing with?
  • How do you and your leadership team connect with others? How do you reach out to others and respond to invitations from others? Are your connections supporting your current needs?
  • What qualities, beliefs and activities support and sustain your determination to get the best outcomes for your school and students? What undermines it? What do you need now?


Direen, G. (2016). Principals as leaders in a post-disaster setting: Experiences in Greater Christchurch since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes

Related articles

Other principals have written about schools and change in Christchurch post the earthquakes.

Callaghan, C. (2013). Creating and maintaining school cultures in times of change

Tell a colleague | Back to top