Experiences of transformational leaders practising social-emotional learning in a time of crisis


  • Mariksa van Reenen University of Johannesburg
  • Paul Triegaardt University of Johannesburg




COVID-19, crisis management, head hearts and hands, staff wellbeing, ongoing staff training, transformational leadership, social-emotional learning


This research focused on investigating how adopting a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) approach to leadership influenced the learning culture in low-decile Limpopo, South African schools amid the challenges posed by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) crisis. The study employed the Head, Heart, and Hands Transformational Leadership Model as its theoretical framework. Through workshops with school leaders, the researchers gathered the leaders experiences and insights, revealing the difficulties faced by them during the pandemic and the strategies they employed to ensure continuous learning. The study underscores the significance of SEL in fostering mindfulness, self-mastery, and effective communication and relationship-building skills. The researchers recommend providing SEL training for school leaders and integrating SEL into teacher training programmes. Ultimately, the study contributes to advancing both theory and practice in the realm of SEL leadership, particularly in crises.

Author Biographies

Mariksa van Reenen, University of Johannesburg

Mariska van Reenen is an experienced educator with a passion for nurturing organisational excellence and fostering inclusive cultures. With a diverse background spanning across different continents and roles, she brings a wealth of experience in educational leadership, operational management, staff training and community development. Her research interest is Leadership during a time of crisis and the role of Social Emotional Learning. Mariska solidified her expertise in educational management with a Master of Education from the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. In her role as a Student Jobs Project Coordinator at Massey University, New Zealand, Mariska spearheads initiatives to develop a student talent pool, with a focus on mental health and wellbeing. Her previous roles in South Africa, notably at a Cambridge International Assessment Education school, showcased her versatility, ranging from Head of Primary School to Exams Officer. Beyond academia, Mariska has engaged in counselling, supply teaching, home tutoring, EQ4Kids and market research, exhibiting her multidisciplinary approach to personal and professional growth. 

Paul Triegaardt, University of Johannesburg

Paul Triegaardt has a DEd in Education and is a Research Associate in the Department of Education Leadership and Management at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. His research interests are in distributed leadership, teacher well-being and the use of technology in education during the Fourth Industrial Revolution. He supervises postgraduate students in the field of Education Leadership and Management. He is also a qualified trainer who provides training to aspiring teachers as well as qualified teachers who want to develop their knowledge and skills resulting in progression into employment or career development in the workplace. He has written and published chapters in books and peer-reviewed articles in his field of interest. He is also an external examiner and moderator for many universities. 


Amnesty International. (2021). South Africa: COVID-19 pushes inequality in schools to a crippling new level, risks a lost generation of learners. Amnesty International South Africa. Retrieved 18 March 2021 from https://www.amnesty.org/en/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/AFR5333442021ENGLISH.pdf

Anderman, E. M. & Anderman, L. H. (2020). Classroom motivation: Linking research to teacher practice. UK: Routledge.

Ary, D., Jacobs, L. C. & Sorenson, C. (2010). Introduction to research in education. (8th ed.). California, Wadsworth.

Bagwell, J. (2020). Leading through a pandemic: Adaptive leadership and purposeful action. Journal of School Administration Research and Development, 5(1), 30-34.

Baker, J. (2019). Transformational leadership and workplace effectiveness. PhD dissertation. Northcentral University: San Diego, US.

Bergmark, U. (2020). Rethinking researcher-teacher roles and relationships in educational action research through the use of Nel Noddings’ ethics of care. Educational Action Research, 28(3), 331-344.

Bowers, H., Lemberger-Truelove, M. E. & Brigman, G. (2018). A social-emotional leadership framework for school counsellors. Professional School Counseling, 21(1b), 1-10 https://doi:10.1177/2156759X18773004

Cambridge International Examination. (2015, November). Educational leadership. UK: Cambridge.

Coll, S. (2018). System-level policies for developing schools as learning organisations. Paris: OECD.

Costa, R. & Ostariz, P. (2019). School culture on school effectiveness: Cooperation with the environment as a leading way of learning. Kulture - Przemiany – Edukacia, 7(1), 113-121. https://doi:10.15584/kpe.2019.7.7

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Research design, qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approach. (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Dinsdale, R. (2017). The role of leaders in developing a positive culture. BU Journal of Graduate Studies in Education, 9(1), 42-45.

EDHUB. (2021, May 6). The Sandbox blog. Learning at home through stories: The Sandbox@Home COVID-response intervention. Retrieved 11 June 2021 from NECT: EdHub. https://sandboxblog.home.blog/2021/05/06/learning-at-home-through-stories-the-sandboxhome-covid-response-intervention/

Hannes, K. & Wang, Q. (2020). Photovoice methodology in master thesis projects: Outlining a pedagogy of ethics and participatory visual research. Research Report Centre for Sociological Research (CeSO). Retrieved 15 September 2020 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341121434_PHOTOVOICE_METHODOLOGY_IN_MASTER_THESIS_PROJECTS_OUTLINING_A_PEDAGOGY_OF_ETHICS_FOR_PARTICIPATORY_VISUAL_RESEARCH?enrichId=rgreq-63d91ebf09f78f48324ae3c16dd48cde-XXX&enrichSource=Y292ZXJQYWdlOzM0MTEyMTQzNDtBUzo4ODc0MzEyNTU1NzI0ODBAMTU4ODU5MTUwNzAwOQ%3D%3D&el=1_x_2&_esc=publicationCoverPdf

Harris, A. & Jones, M. (2020). COVID-19 – school leadership in disruptive times. School Leadership & Management, 40(4), 243-247. https://doi:10.1080/13632434.2020.1811479

Harris, A., Azorin, C. & Jones, M. (2021). Network leadership: A new educational imperative? International Journal of Leadership in Education 1(1), 1-17.

Hood, J. (2020, March 8-11). Integrating Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning (S.E.A.L.) into school culture: It starts with all of the adults. 31st Annual Nyar Conference. Thriving YoUniversity. https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/nyar_savannah/2020/2020/121/

Issah, M. (2018). Change leadership: The role of emotional intelligence. SAGE Open, 8(3). https://doi:10.1177/2158244018800910

Jones, M. J. & Doolittle, E. J. (2017). Social and emotional learning: Introducing the issue. The Future of Children, 27(1), 33-40. www.jstor.org/stable/44219018

Joubert, R. (2017). The law of education in South Africa. Pretoria, Van Schaik Publisher.

Kamga, S. (2020). COVID-19 and the inclusion of learners with disabilities in basic education in South Africa: A critical analysis’ African Human Rights Law Journal, 20(2). https://doi:10.17159/1996-2096/2020/v20n2a9

Kivunja, C. & Kuyini, A. B. (2017). Understanding and applying research paradigms in educational contexts. International Journal of Higher Education, 6(5), 26-41.

Kok, T. (2018). The relationship between the professional wellbeing of teachers and principals’ leadership styles. PhD thesis, North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa. https://doi:orcid.org/0000-0003-3903-3996

Lai, F. Y., Tang, H. C. & Lu, S. C. (2020). Transformational leadership and job performance: The mediating role of work engagement. Sage Open 1(1), 1-11.

Lan, T., Chang, I., Ma, T., Zhang, L. & Chuang, K. (2019). Influences of transformational leadership, transactional leadership and patriarchal leadership on job satisfaction of Cram School faculty members. Sustainability 11(12), 3465. https://doi:10.3390/su11123465

Landa, N., Zhou, S. & Marongwe, N. (2021). Education in emergencies: Lessons from COVID-19 in South Africa. International Review of Education, 67, 167-183.

Louw, L., Muriithi, M. & Radloff, S. (2018). The relationship between transformational leadership and leadership effectiveness in Kenyan indigenous banks. South Africa Journal of Human Resource Management, 15(1), 935. https://doi:10.4102/sajhrm

Madsen, S., Miller, D. & John, C. (2015). Readiness for organisational change: Do organisational commitment and social relationships in the workplace make a difference? Human Resource Development Quarterly 16(2), 213-233.

Magampa, M., Sodi, T. & Sobane, K. (2018). Orphans and scholastic performance in Mankweng Circuit: Policy implications for Limpopo Province. Human Sciences Research Council: Pretoria.

Merriam, S. B. & Tisdell, E. J. (2015). Qualitative research: A guide to design and implementation. (4th ed.). USA: Jossey-Bass.

Millard W. & McIntosh, J. (2020). Social and Emotional Learning and the New Normal. London: Centre for Education and Youth. Retrieved 15 September 2020 from https://cfey.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Social-emotional-learning-report-A4-digi.pdf

Miller, P. M., Brown, T. & Hopson, R. (2016). Centering love, hope and trust in the community: Transformative urban leadership informed by Paulo Freire. Urban Education, 46(5), 1078-1099.

Miller, R. J., Goddard, R. D., Kim, M., Jacob, R., Goddard, Y. & Schroeder, P. (2016). Can professional development improve school leadership? Educational Administration Quarterly, 52(4), 531-566. https://doi:10.1177/0013161X16651926

Portney, H. & Watkins, M. (2015). Foundations of clinical research: Applications to practice, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.

Quinlan, K. (2014). Leadership of teaching for student learning in higher education: What is needed? Higher Education Research and Development, 33(1), 32-45. https://doi:10.1080/07294360.2013.864609

Ozamiz-Extebarria, N., Mondragon, N. B. & Santamaria, M. D. (2021). The psychological state of teachers during the COVID-19 crisis: The challenge of returning to face-to-face teaching. Frontiers in Psychology, 11(1). https://doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2020.620718

Sezer, S. & Uzun, T. (2020). The relationship between school principals' social-emotional education leadership and teachers’ organizational trust and job performance. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 1-20. https://doi:10.1080/13603124.2020.1849812

Shaikh, U. & Lachman, P. (2021). Using the head, heart and hands to manage change in clinical quality improvement in the time of COVID-19. International Society for Quality in Health Care, 1(1). https://doi:10.1093/ijcoms/lyab012

Singleton, J. (2015). Head, heart and hands model for transformative learning: Place as context for changing sustainability values. The Journal of Sustainability Education, 9(1), 1-16. http://www.susted.com/wordpress/content/head-heart-and-hands-model-for-transformative-learning-place-as-context-for-changing-sustainability-values_2015_03/

Sutton, J. W. & Austin, Z. (2015). Qualitative research: Data collection, analysis, and management. The Canadian Journal of Hospital Pharmacy, 68(3), 226-231. https://doi:10.4212/cjhp.v68i3.1456

Thanh, N. C. & Thanh, T. T. (2015). The interconnection between interpretivist paradigm and qualitative methods in education. American Journal of Educational Science, 1(2), 24-27.

Wangaard, D., Elias, M. & Fink, K. (2014). Educating the head, heart and hand for the 21st century. SouthEast Education Network Magazine, 16(2), 16-19.

Yassim, K. (2021). Department of Education Leadership and Management (DELM) hosts. Edubrief 18, Johannesburg: Faculty of Education.

Zaman, M., Novitasari, D., Goestjahjanti, F., Fahlevi, M., Nadeak, M., Fahmi, K. ... Asbari, M. (2020). Effect on readiness to change and effectiveness of transformational leadership on workers’ performance during COVID-19 pandemic. Solid State of Technology, 63(1), 185-200.




How to Cite

van Reenen, M., & Triegaardt, P. (2024). Experiences of transformational leaders practising social-emotional learning in a time of crisis. The Independent Journal of Teaching and Learning, 19(1), 93–109. https://doi.org/10.17159/ijtl.v19i1.18855

Similar Articles

1 2 3 > >> 

You may also start an advanced similarity search for this article.