Feeling left alone with a can of sanitizing alcohol for protection: Voices of Icelandic preschool personnel during the first wave of the pandemic

Kristín Dýrfjörð, University of Akureyri, Iceland (
Anna Elísa Hreiðarsdóttir, University of Akureyri, Iceland (

Background: Icelandic preschools did not close during the first wave of the pandemic. Keeping one’s head above the water level was not a little task, but a task that head-teachers in Iceland faced during the first wave of the pandemic. They were hit with unprecedented decisions to make and to do their best to keep everybody in the preschools safe as well as maintaining the quality of education. Some of their staff as well as some of the heads were worried about getting the virus at work or carrying the virus to the workplace.

Aim: To learn how the preschools’ personnel viewed the performance of the head teachers during the first wave of the pandemic.

Method: An online survey with both open and closed questions was distributed online during the middle of the first wave of the pandemic, during the society’s lockdown. 658 preschool employees responded. Both statistical and thematic analysis was employed to analyse the data. Questions related to head teachers are the basis for this presentation.

Results: Mostly the staff thought the head teachers did well, they were thoughtful and praised the employees, they tried to use multiple tools to communicate with staff and were creative in how they conducted their job. However, some had problems asserting themselves and setting necessary boundaries for both staff and parents.

Conclusions: Preschool employees felt their head teacher performed well under duress, and did their best to keep both staff and children safe.

Implications for children: It makes a difference for you that your teachers are feeling good and not upset.

Implications for families: You want an assertive head that keeps everybody safe and secure.

Implications for practitioners: You understand that head teachers must be assertive leaders and emotionally there for the staff. But they are also human and are facing the same uncertainty as you are which can be emotionally exhausting.

Key words: COVID-19, Head teacher, leadership, workforce issues, pandemic

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: