The Need of the Virtual Principal Amid the Pandemic


  • Lee Westberry The Citadel Military College of SC
  • Tara Hornor The Citadel
  • Kent Murray The Citadel



This mixed-method study evaluates P–12 principals’ and district officials’ experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic amid the abrupt change to virtual leadership. Professional learning needs are identified in relation to the three domains of leadership as seen in literature: school management, instructional leadership, and program administration. The quantitative study instrument, which included an online survey given to 270 principals and district officials in South Carolina, allowed principals and superintendents to rank order their professional development needs to be better prepared for the virtual principalship. The top need expressed across all races, genders, and school settings was virtual instructional leadership. The qualitative measure includes interviews of 10 principals/district officials, and five major themes were identified as administrative struggles/priorities in the virtual principalship during the pandemic: increased presence and communication; projecting calm during uncertainty; displaying flexibility, empathy, and patience; knowledge of technological capabilities; and a systems approach to sustained instructional leadership. The study showed a heightened need for soft skills development.

Author Biographies

Lee Westberry, The Citadel Military College of SC

Dr. Lee Westberry is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership in the Zucker Family School of Education at The Citadel Military College in Charleston, S.C. She also serves as the Program Coordinator for the Division of Ed Leadership and the Director of Program Development and Enhancement for the ZFSOE. Prior to working with the Citadel, Dr. Westberry worked as a school administrator at the middle school, high school, and district levels. She provides principal professional development across the state and has recently published a new book entitled Putting the Pieces Together: A Systems Approach to School Leadership. Dr. Westberry’s research agenda focuses on school leadership.  

Tara Hornor, The Citadel

Dr. Tara Hornor currently serves an Associate Professor in the Zucker Family School of Education with a joint appointment to The Citadel’s Department of Leadership Studies.   She previously served as Associate Provost for Planning, Assessment, and Evaluation and Dean of Enrollment Management at The Citadel from 2008-2019, providing leadership for the institution’s strategic planning, accreditation, assessment, institutional research, admissions, financial aid, and graduate college offices.  Dr. Hornor holds a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration from the University of Arizona and master’s degrees in school counseling, instructional design, and human resource management. She is also a 2014 graduate of Harvard University’s Institute for Management and Leadership in Education (MLE) and a 2009 graduate of Harvard University’s Performance Assessment in Higher Education Institute. 

Kent Murray, The Citadel

Dr. Kent Murray has served as a teacher, middle school assistant principal, high school principal, director of secondary schools, and college professor since 1988.  He has degrees in History (B.A., University of South Carolina), the Professional Program in Education (University of South Carolina) for Teacher Certification, Master of Education in Educational Leadership (M.Ed., The Citadel), Specialist in Education (Ed.S., The Citadel), and Doctor of Education (Ed.D., South Carolina State University).  In addition to his position at The Citadel, Dr. Murray serves as Graduate Clinical faculty at the University of South Carolina working with doctoral students in educational leadership.  Recently, Dr. Murray completed eight years of service on the Berkeley County School Board serving, in part, as Chairman. 




How to Cite

Westberry, L., Hornor, T., & Murray, K. (2021). The Need of the Virtual Principal Amid the Pandemic. International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership, 17(10).