This paper examines the political and relational dimensions of leading and managing schools in the early stages of pandemic-induced school closure in the four nations of the United Kingdom. It draws on in-depth interviews with 12 headteachers from primary, secondary and special schools. Headteachers used adaptive leadership strategies, including bridging, brokering and buffering, to recalibrate provision at pace. School closures demanded enhanced levels of coordination and communication around what mattered most. However, despite exercising creative agency, headteachers spoke of “clipped wings”, with some feeling “vulnerable” or “alone” in attempting to mitigate often unknown risks amid constantly shifting guidance.