School Governance in the Age of Covid-19: How Effective Boards Ensure School Survival and Continued Success

Ray Davis, Senior Consultant, The 5Rs Partnership

 

There has been much speculation about the longer-lasting outcomes of the remote learning challenges that schools across the globe have experienced as a result of Covid-19. The pandemic has brought unparalleled challenges but has also been a catalyst for some exciting thinking and invigorating ideas on the nature of the future of pedagogy and learning.  Educators, school leaders, and students have responded well and adapted very quickly to a new paradigm which has tested and challenged the traditional way of teaching and learning. Our education systems are not known for initiating rapid changes to the ways in which they operate, however, the experience of adapting teaching and learning in response to the current pandemic has demonstrated that effective change can take place more rapidly than previously thought.

 

As educators look toward implementing new ways of teaching and learning it is also a time when school Boards can begin to identify what they have learned about effective governance during the Covid-19 crisis. Forward-thinking Boards are now asking themselves how they might turn the crisis into future opportunities and how they might implement more effective ways of operating to ensure the continued sustainability and the promotion of continuous school improvement. School Boards have grappled with a wide range of challenges that have necessitated rapid decision making, often in realms that they previously had never considered. Good governance and strong leadership has always been the key to school success. For many schools during the present crisis good governance and s leadership is now a necessity for survival as well as success.

 

Sound Governance during Crisis Situations:

 

The schools that will emerge in good shape from the current world health crisis will have Boards that have implemented sound features of accomplished governance such as those below:

  • Having a positive mindset and taking the opportunity to be aspirational and ambitious. (Considering how the school may emerge from this challenge stronger, more engaged, and more capable than before);

 

  • Ensuring that there is a strong degree of trust in and amongst the Board and the school leadership and that the Head of School/Board partnership is functioning effectively;

 

  • Creating trust amongst all stakeholders through dialogue and actions and not just through public statements;

 

  • Reaffirming the Head of School as the leader of the school community and ensuring that the respective roles, responsibilities, and authority of leadership and governance are fully understood and acted upon;

 

  • Ensuring that all Board members are engaged in the decision making and not just the Board Chair and Head of School;

 

  • Ensuring that all decisions are well-aligned with the school’s guiding statements and protect the interest of students;

 

  • Creating the understanding that decisions taken during the crisis may affect the school well into the future;

 

  • Creating operational practices that allow for agility in decision making and strategic planning – (Many of the most successful organisations have moved to 90-day strategic planning and have reshaped Board committees and committee membership to bring in specific expertise to address particular challenges);

 

  • Insisting on confidentiality of Board discussions and decisions, and identifying who is responsible for communicating decisions to stakeholders– (usually the Head of School);

 

  • Keeping the school community connected and engaged by having a well-developed and comprehensive communication policy to keep all stakeholders, families, students, and staff, informed in a timely and considered manner;

 

  • Having established policy and practice in relation to privacy and the disclosure of information;

 

  • Ensuring that the Board understands the pressures that school leaders and staff have been under during the crisis and supporting them with their task as well as supporting their well-being.

 

  • Reviewing and adapting strategic initiatives and their timelines;

 

  • Having a predetermined proactive role with risk management and compliance requirements and making realistic assessments of potential outcomes;

 

  • Advocating for and facilitating staff training to manage risk;

 

  • Keeping the school community connected and engaged by having a well-developed and comprehensive communication policy to keep all stakeholders, families, students, and staff, informed in a timely and considered manner;

 

  • Having well established and effective links with external agencies – (health, law enforcement, local and national government agencies, social service agencies, specialised professionals and embassies);

 

  • Actively engaging in dialogue and sharing information with other schools and with educational associations;

 

  • Shifting development priorities where necessary to ensure that the school has the technological capacity to provide engaging distance and remote learning;

 

  • Ensuring financial stability by considering new models of financial planning and management;
  • Establishing an early commitment to the issue of refunds to parents in areas such as tuition fees, transportation, catering, Boarding, activities etc.;
  • Establishing future fee levels based on data as well as objective market evidence;
  • Identifying alternative forms of income;
  • Developing sound models to predict future enrolment;
  • Reviewing and revising future contingency commitments;

 

Establishing a compensation philosophy and reviewing school leader and staff salaries to ensure retention and recruitment of staff in uncertain times with the challenges of international travel, nationally imposed travel and quarantine restrictions, and uncertainty about future enrolment levels;

 

Establishing a plan to retain school leaders: Ensuring that the Head of School and senior leaders feel valued by the Board and developing a long term succession plan for school leadership;

 

Recognising that the pandemic has brought another  dimension to the management of well-being and ensuring that strategies are implemented to manage student and staff self-care, emotional well-being, and mental health;

 

Ensuring that appropriate protocols are in place to ensure the safeguarding of students engaged in remote learning;

 

Ensuring that appropriate support is provided for the individual needs of students.

 

Questions Boards should consider as schools begin to re-open to students:

 

As schools begin to reopen their doors to students it now makes sense for Boards to spend some time over the coming months reflecting upon what they have learned from the experiences of responding to the Covid-19 crisis. Some useful questions for Boards to reflect upon include:

 

  • How prepared were we to face the immense challenges of such a pandemic?

 

  • Did we have the organisational structure necessary to review the challenges faced and make appropriate decisions in a timely manner?

 

  • Did we have the necessary data that was required to inform our decision making?

 

  • Did we have a communication policy that satisfactorily kept stakeholders informed?

 

  • Did we have the necessary external links with experts and professional bodies to assist us in our decision making?

 

  • To what extend were our risk management protocols effective in dealing with the challenges faced?

 

  • Did we have a suitably nimble and agile approach to implementing our strategy?

 

  • To what extent are we now prepared to meet the challenges of a future crisis?

 

  • If we could go back in time, what would we have done differently?

 

Looking to the future, it will be necessary for Boards to consider these three questions:

 

  • Are we accurately able to gauge the effectiveness of the actions taken over the past months on the school’s reputation?

 

  • Do we have a suitably effective and renewed plan for a marketing plan to ensure the sustainability of enrolment?

 

  • Are we able to accurately assess the most appropriate level of tuition fees and ancillary fees for the coming and successive school years in order to ensure the financial stability of the school whilst maintaining its affordability for parents?

 

In conclusion, schools that emerge from the current health crisis in a strong position will do so because of sound governance and strong and informed leadership. The attributes necessary to govern well during the risks and uncertainties of a crisis have been outlined above. It is now time for Boards to take the opportunity to reflect upon their response to the crisis and to develop governance action plans that not only enable them to strengthen the effectiveness of their governance responsibilities but enable them to become more proactive in successfully meeting the unknown challenges that lay ahead.

Please contact Ray Davis at r.davis@5rspartnership.com. for further information on governance support.

 

Thoughts to share about this article? Let us know below.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ray Davis is currently the Senior Consultant with The 5Rs Partnership (www.5RsPartnership.com)  and is based in Melbourne, Australia. He has been a Head of School in three international schools and a national school in the UK and is the former Director of School Evaluation with the Council of International Schools (CIS). The 5Rs Partnership is a global consultancy specifically for schools in strategy planning, marketing, and market research, reputation management, and governance, established in 2004.

Ecosystems for Innovation

Paul Magnuson, Director of Educational Research, Leysin American School.

I just stopped in our school garden, built on a hill as everything is when you live in a ski village, and climbed up to a newly installed bench to test it out.

 

It’s a simple pleasure sitting on a bench, in a garden, taking in the view. Disconnected for a while, just lots of green growth and a pond with fish, clay pots of seedlings everywhere, a few shovels and a pitchfork leaning against the fence, white and brown chickens a couple levels down, two picnic areas and a swing set further down still. Behind and above me is a new fenced-off section of grass left to grow as it might, for the next few years, and nestled among the wildflowers are three wooden beehives literally humming with literally busy bees. Higher still are tomatoes, fruit trees, rock paths, compost, and more flower beds.

 

It’s wonderful.

 

And a lot of work.

 

But there’s a human ecosystem supporting this biological ecosystem that is perhaps an interesting example of how we might like to work across the school, on many of our short and long term projects, not just this one.

 

The ecosystem I’m thinking about is composed of the faculty that have made and continue to maintain this garden. When I arrived here, a number of years ago now, this expanse was a hill of grass, weed-whacked a few times a year for some inexplicable reason. Old cracked stairs led nowhere in particular, and if you kicked the dirt around on the one flat strip (where the pond is now), you could tell that there used to be a bit of a walk and a terrace, or maybe a place to play boules, back in the days when the student dormitory at the garden’s edge was a sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis.

 

One long term employee, Tony, took care of the grass and planted a few flowers at the bottom of the stairs. Alone he couldn’t do too much. (But now as one of many he has been a gardening force to be reckoned with.) Once during the summer program, we tried to sit on the hill for a presentation, but it was too steep. Sometimes the students used to cut through this space to cross the train tracks and disappear beyond the school limits.

 

Then along came Hugh. Hugh taught Spanish, comparative government, and economics. He was passionate about the environment. And he decided to turn a corner of the former terrace into a garden. Soon he had some student volunteers with pickaxes breaking out the cracked cement. Some other teachers helped convert scrap wood from old double beds into raised garden beds. First one, then two, then three.

 

Hugh learned about permaculture and gardens that sustained themselves through clever planting. He told anyone who would listen about building hugels, big bumps of logs and earth, on top of which you could plant whatever you liked. Over the years the logs break down and keep the dirt fresh.

 

Others joined Hugh. Gardening was offered as an after school activity, and then as an exploratory class with the middle school. A carpenter on staff and a science teacher turned a playhouse into a chicken coop the year before they left for other positions, and another science teacher, a biologist, bought our first five chickens.

 

Some teachers and faculty members, maybe less green-thumbed than they would like to be, constructed paths between the flower beds and the hugel, and then to the second hugel, and then to the first hobby flower beds started by families living on campus. Our first member from the local town, not an employee of the school, claimed a patch and planted lettuce, strawberries, and plants I never identified.

 

A scrap woodpile was used for a campfire, and soon there was a ring of stones. A new place for friends to meet. Some Italian staff members installed a pizza oven, and not long after, a bigger pizza oven. (Their pizza is very good and word got around.) Someone organized two hammocks, someone else some tents for shade, with picnic tables underneath. Another picnic area sprang up, with Tony’s help, complete with repurposed furniture from the school to store dishes and matches and cups and knives.

 

There has been no director of the garden. There have been some deeply committed faculty members who served, for a while, as the principal advocates and go-getters, no doubt. There were plenty of us who spent considerable time and energy in the garden. And there has been some money available through the research department’s citizen science efforts, which saw value early on in learning about sustainable agriculture and getting children who may never have been in a garden before to get their hands a little dirty – also literally.

 

So how did we go in five years from no garden to a massive community garden? And couldn’t we do the same for some other school projects which seem so infernally hard to change?

 

Here are some factors that I think contributed to the garden’s success, and that, in translation, might be usefully applied at school.

  1. Administration didn’t really care too much if there was a garden or not. Meaning, administration let it develop as it might. Translated for consideration in other areas of the school: Give your faculty space to develop new initiatives. See if there is enough commitment to build and sustain a new program. Allow the space for innovation to happen. It just might.
  2. There was enough money to buy some equipment from time to time. If there had been no money at all, the project may still have worked. But the project benefited from having enough tools to distribute to students, enough money to buy some fruit trees and chicken feed and pizza ovens and so on. Translated: Giving space for innovation is critical, but it might not be enough. Give a little cash, too, and trust the innovators to use it wisely. They know most about the project they are working on.
  3. There was space for innovation in more than one program. While the space for this specific project, the garden, was allowed, it would not have been as successful if there hadn’t been space in other programs, at the same time, too. Notably, the activities office, the middle school, and the research center took advantage of the development of a garden by offering activities and a class that brought students face to face with the plants, weeds, and bugs. I’m sure there’s a term for this phenomenon (tell me in the comment section below). It is some sort of co-creative factor where multiple initiatives can use each other to be more than the sum of their parts. “Bootstrapping” comes to mind as a term, but there must be something better. Translated: allow space not just for one pilot program, but for several, each with at least some funding. Don’t get overly involved, but see where the synergies take you. Perhaps that’s the term, as worn out as it seems – synergy.
  4. And aesthetics. The garden is a nice place to be. It’s beautiful. It draws people to it. Translated: the learning spaces you create matter. The entrance to the building, the teacher lounge, the cafeteria, it all matters. Make your school a place where people want to be and they’ll stick around and apply their creative energies on campus.

 

There was space for innovation in more than one program. While the space for this specific project, the garden, was allowed, it would not have been as successful if there hadn’t been space in other programs, at the same time, too. Notably, the activities office, the middle school, and the research center took advantage of the development of a garden by offering activities and a class that brought students face to face with the plants, weeds, and bugs. I’m sure there’s a term for this phenomenon (tell me in the comment section below). It is some sort of co-creative factor where multiple initiatives can use each other to be more than the sum of their parts. “Bootstrapping” comes to mind as a term, but there must be something better. Translated: allow space not just for one pilot program, but for several, each with at least some funding. Don’t get overly involved, but see where the synergies take you. Perhaps that’s the term, as worn out as it seems – synergy.

 

And aesthetics. The garden is a nice place to be. It’s beautiful. It draws people to it. Translated: the learning spaces you create matter. The entrance to the building, the teacher lounge, the cafeteria, it all matters. Make your school a place where people want to be and they’ll stick around and apply their creative energies on campus.

 

I’m sure there were other factors. And I’m sure you might interpret differently how to leverage those factors for innovative curriculum development, new approaches to teaching and learning, personalized assessment that deemphasizes tests and quizzes, expansion of what we think of as after school activities into the daily curriculum, freedom to emphasize skills over content, and much more. But starting with a good-looking space for multiple innovations to develop in parallel, with just enough funding to keep the projects going with minimal administrative intervention, seems like a very good start.

 

The bees will buzz and the harvest will be impressive, to say nothing of that Sicilian pizza.

 

Thoughts to share about this article? Let us know below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Magnuson is the director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and adjunct faculty for the International Education Program of Endicott College. His interests include student agency and self-regulated learning for students and teachers.
pmagnuson@las.ch

Reimagining School Together

John Burns, ISS Chief Innovation Officer 

Reimagining School Together with ISS CHALLENGES: 

What practices should carry forward from online learning? 

COVID-19 has forced schools to rethink how they operate, educators to re-imagine their practice, and students to adapt and learn in new ways. Although this pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for schools, it is also an opportunity that enables us to reimagine and reinvent schools in ways never seen before. 

To scale these great practices, we recently opened our innovation management platform, ISS CHALLENGES, to educators around the globe.  At its core, ISS CHALLENGES allows us to pose questions and then crowdsource ideas from the wider community. Our first external challenge asked educators around the globe to reflect on the question, “What new practices should schools keep or implement as a result of our experience with online learning?” 

Image: International School of Aruba virtual field trip to the International Space Station.

The response was tremendous. Not only did educators submit a plethora of fantastic ideas, but they also supported others in further developing their thinking. Many ideas were moved through the innovation pipeline to become scalable initiatives. In the end, seven winners were announced. 

Perhaps even more interestingly, across the many entries, six broad themes emerged. Here are the six action items that all schools should continue to engage with going forward. 

Parental engagement 

Many schools reported a significant increase in parent engagement during this period due to accessible technology and efforts to create learning partnerships. Suggestions included: 

  • Giving parents the option of online or in-person student-led conferences 
  • Regularly inviting parents to virtually join the classroom as subject matter experts or learning support staff 

Learner agency 

Learning at home has shown the importance of making time for students to asynchronously work on projects of interest to them and for all members of the community to share their passions. Ideas included: 

  • Dedicating a significant block of time every week to a student passion project 
  • Providing an a-la-carte list of STEAM, SDG, or other focused challenges for students to pick and choose from 

 Authentic learning 

Online learning demonstrated the ease and power of using technology to bring the world into classes and open classes up to the world. Suggestions included: 

  • Participating in virtual field trips which are abundant and free online 
  • Using learning portfolios to showcase what students know and do and encourage discourse with the wider community 

Low-tech, sustainable solutions 

Not everything needs to be online. Educators discovered that some of the most meaningful learning happens off-line and beyond the formal curriculum and schools need to make room for that. Ideas included: 

  • Creating urban farms. These can spring up even in apartments and high rise living 
  • Introducing no-tech days to encourage physical activity and exploration of other learning opportunities 

Student-centric design 

There is a clear need for schools to be redesigned to reflect students’ needs, rather than have students accommodate the standard design of schools. Suggestions included: 

  • Providing more asynchronous opportunities; for example, shift school timetables to reflect the needs of different groups of learners 
  • Use social media more as a mechanism for both student engagement and also learning showcase and reflection 

Faculty support 

School closures have catalyzed incredible collaboration among faculty in schools and around the world. Ideas to keep up this positive momentum included: 

  • Snapshot professional learning experiences co-created by staff and shared with other schools worldwide 
  • Transfer faculty onboarding and orientation to an online mode. This can be a great pre-emptive strike before staff even join the team. 

ISS will continue to launch new challenges for educators and students through 2020-21. Keep an eye on ISS.edu and #ISSedu on social media to get involved! 

What are your thoughts? Share them below for the world to see!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John focuses on sparking creativity and innovation across ISS learning communities. He has worked on founding and designing both LEVEL 5 China and LEVEL 5 Bahrain, agile spaces for design thinking in education. John has developed apps featured worldwide and has also previously worked for Apple in assisting schools with organizational change. 
Connect with John on LinkedIn.

 

ABOUT INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL SERVICES (ISS)

ISS.edu 

ISS a leading nonprofit with more than 60 years of experience in international education. Whether it’s developing and managing world-class international schools, staffing schools, ordering equipment and supplies, performing accounting functions, or supporting best-in-class teaching and learning approaches, ISS provides the full range of services necessary for your school to thrive and deliver an outstanding global education to your students.