St Mary’s College

Sarah Dwan
Principal Sarah Dwan: "Effective communication was key to her leadership during Covid-19."

When Covid had arrived in New Zealand and was beginning to seriously impact people’s lives and it looked like there might be some significant consequences for schools, Sarah Dwan principal of St Mary’s College, had only been a principal for eight weeks. 

Having a very competent and well-functioning senior leadership team meant that the school was already being well managed.  Sarah’s leadership as the principal was able to guide the school community through the pandemic, by applying what she had learnt and the insights gained from when she was a senior leader during the Christchurch earthquakes in 2011. 

Sarah understood clearly that having accurate information available in a timely manner, was going to be one of the biggest challenges when needing to make decisions.  “In some cases a decision cannot be made”, while in others she accepts that “you make the best decision possible with what you can for the students at the time”.

“I am okay with making a decision and then changing it if you have to, because of the other information when it comes in,” says Sarah.

Due to her experience in working through a time of significant crisis and her first-hand knowledge of the disruption it can be for student learning, Sarah has learnt to be prepared in advance, and before there is any urgency to do so. 

An example of the school’s preparedness was in establishing a quick and effective way to distribute digital devices to students before they were actually needed.  These plans also included how to distribute learning resources such as musical instruments, portfolios and other supplies.  

Students and staff even had a practice day of what learning and working from home would be like - well before the first lockdown was introduced.  This enabled everyone to be informed and learn what they had to do, test the learning and working from home programmes and therefore modify them as needed.  Sarah believes that the success of the learning and working programmes when the lockdowns were introduced can certainly be attributed to the school’s effective advanced planning and the trials undertaken. 

A focus on effective communication has also been a hallmark of Sarah’s approach to her leadership during the pandemic.  While online learning was occurring, student engagement was reported to parents and caregivers, which gave them information to assist their child if needed, and also provide a measure for the school to track student engagement overtime. 

Regular online feedback was also obtained from students on how they felt about their learning and shared directly with teachers.  Receiving this feedback was very much appreciated by staff and commended them for their hard work and effort. 

As Sarah reflects about her leadership experience, she acknowledges the support and help from good mentors, a network of like-minded colleagues and a caring and thoughtful Board.   Being well-connected to these people has enabled Sarah to have a true sense of belonging and knowing that “there are people there who will always have your back”.


About the school

St Mary’s College


Ponsonby, Auckland

School type

Y7-13 State-Integrated Catholic Girls’ Secondary School

Approximate roll



Sarah Dwan

School website

St.Mary's College - Home (

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