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.

Top Tips for Middle Leaders

Steve Garnett, Senior Education Consultant, Dragonfly Training.

As a newly appointed or existing middle leader starting this new academic year, there is no question you will be entering unchartered waters in terms of knowing what to expect as the world attempts to navigate its way through the Covid19 pandemic.

 

These ‘Top Five Tips’ for middle leaders are designed not just for this period but hopefully will serve you well at any time too.

 

Some of them may have a slightly irreverent feel to them (and intentionally so!) but nonetheless will still support you in being entirely effective in the role. So here they are:

 

1. Top Tip: Always ask the same question: ‘Will it make the bike go faster?’

 

This seems an odd question for middle leaders of course but it relates to the notion of marginal gains. Briefly, David Brailsford revolutionised the success of the British Cycling Team with an approach known as the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’.  Essentially improvements were driven by continually asking how any small adjustment or innovation made would ultimately result in faster cyclists. We can take this principle to middle leadership too. For every new initiative, process, resource, and strategy that is suggested or promoted, then the middle leader needs to know and also show how it will ultimately improve outcomes for pupils from where they currently are. Otherwise, why do it?

 

2. Top Tip: Remember the 3 Ps of: Personalities, Politics, and Performance

 

Try to always remember it is the last one you and your department are judged on and not the first two! What I try to promote is the idea is that way too much of your emotional energy and time can be taken up with dealing with the politics and personalities within your department. This can then lead to a reduction in energy and motivation on you to focus on things that are related to improving processes and outcomes. Keep asking yourself whether you are getting side-tracked by the first two Ps and not focussing enough on the last one! So remember the 3 Ps!

 

3. Top Tip: ‘Keep Sharpening the saw’

 

I’ve adapted this phrase a little from the best-selling book by Steven Covey ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ which has sold in excess of 25 million copies worldwide. His seven habits allude to behaviours very effective people adopt and many of them can be applied to middle leadership. The habit described as ‘sharpen the saw’ relates to a continuous search for new knowledge that will enrich, improve, and build on existing knowledge. The effective middle leader sees the importance of professional growth. This could be anything from keeping up to date with educational reading to seeking guidance from an ‘expert’ within a school in order to learn something new such as for example ‘timetabling’.

 

4, Top Tip: Model what you want

 

The effective middle leader realises that their team is always watching them! This means that they have to ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’! Whether it’s meeting deadlines, approaches to teaching, and learning to the use of professional language with colleagues, you have to be the type of teacher you wish your team to be. We must of course recognise the differences we all have and indeed these should be celebrated. However, the effective middle leader recognises that for anything they expect from others they should be able to produce themselves. So always model what it is you want from others.

 

5. Top Tip: Smile for no good reason

 

This doesn’t mean appearing to have lost your marbles by having a continuous and unbroken smile on your face whatever the circumstances or situation! Instead, this tip alludes to the importance of managing your own emotional self. There are many psychological, physiological, and biological benefits to a smile! It’s a great stress buster for you but also potentially a great way to disarm a slightly stressed colleague or pupil! This tip really relates to the importance of you maintaining some kind of emotional sanity. Ask yourself: What strategies do you have for managing the emotional side of the role? Naturally, we would want those with zero negative health effects. So different people might draw on different approaches for example anything from mindfulness techniques to bouts of strenuous exercise or something in between. I would say however that the smile is one of the easiest ones and one that everyone can do!. So what technique do you have?

 

 

So, whilst this ‘Top Tips’ list may have a slightly irreverent feel, I do offer a more rigorous and detailed analysis of what is involved in becoming a highly effective middle leader when delivering my CPD courses.

 

I am delighted to be teaming up with ECIS to deliver the following 6 module course across this autumn term. It will lead to an accredited certificate in Middle Leadership called: ECIS/Dragonfly Middle Leader Award in Teacher Quality Improvement. Learn more and register here.

 

Module 1: The culture of leadership

 

Module 2: Designing learning

 

Module 3: Assessment and leadership

 

Module 4: Building and leading teams

 

Module 5: Developing your leadership style

 

Module 6: Leadership of learning

 

I will also be delivering a free webinar outlining what’s involved in being a highly effective middle leader and it will follow this 6 module outline. Joining details can be found here.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Garnett is a Senior Educational Consultant at Dragonfly Training, an international speaker, and an award-nominated author and teacher. He has delivered INSET to over 8000 teachers in the last ten years across the British Isles as well as Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. His book ‘The Subject Leader’ was shortlisted for the prestigious Education Resources Award 2013 (Best Secondary Resource).

BEING COMFORTABLE WITH LEADING UNCERTAINTY  

Sue Aspinall, Executive Leadership Team | Head of Junior School, The British School in The Netherlands

Leading organisational change from within 

Please first download this accompanying PDF

As a growing multi-campus international school, the British School in the Netherlands (BSN) prides itself on being a dynamic centre of excellence for both students and staff. In this article, I will be sharing the ways we are intentionally building alignment around our whole school improvement priorities across the five campuses whilst also enabling staff teams to follow their own lines of enquiries, so that new ideas for improving teaching practice emerge. I will be suggesting that the carefully balanced leadership of both of these intentional and emergent approaches is necessary to enable the BSN to sustain success over the long term. 

The intentionally constructed strategy  

It is important in any school to have clear priorities for improvement which are informed by a range of evidence, including students’ progress and attainment data. Across the three BSN Junior Schools, these priorities are agreed and clearly articulated annually along with the intended impact by the end of the academic year 

The intentionally constructed strategy for implementing the change to teaching practice is cyclical and ongoing. In each academic year there is a key priority eg.to raise student progress and attainment in logic and reasoning through a mastery approach to mathematical learning 

 

The key priority for improvement is the focus of the weekly one hour staff professional development sessions and all other on-campus professional learning opportunities. Hence time is spent intentionally, providing teaching staff with the pedagogical knowledge and teaching skills required to make the changes. These opportunities are mapped out across the academic year, which provides opportunities for teachers to trial and evaluate the impact of the changes they are making to their practice over time. Where necessary, lead teachers are available to plan, model and team teach in order to support the acquisition of new areas of learning. In this way, there is a collective endeavour to make a difference. Every staff member is involved in professional learning and the impact is evaluated on an ongoing basis. The foci is re-calibrated and the implementation strategy re-designed as progress is responded to throughout the year.  

We have found that this approach makes a significant impact to the quality of teaching practice, and ultimately, the equity in the quality of learning for all BSN Junior School students. There is clarity to everyone’s role and professional dialogue can be focussed around a common topic. With the three BSN Junior Schools working together for the same outcome, the opportunities for sharing learning and extending professional dialogues are tripled. 

Evidencing impact of teaching on student outcomes 

This academic year, the maths leads across the Junior Schools have been leading the strategy. The overall intended impact at the end of this academic year is to enable: 

All students to be able to explain their mathematical understanding using the correct consistent mathematical language in full sentences. 

 

Progress being made towards this is evaluated in many ways; such as through progress and attainment feedback sessions from year group leaders, book looks and student conferencing.  

 

Half termly evaluations of student progress data and teacher assessment indicate that most student are on track to meet their age related expectations. Importantly, there is consistent evidence that students are accessing manipulatives to explain their learning, demonstrating logical thinking and reasoning and building a fluency in their use of mathematical language. 

 

Emergence within the collaborative enquiry model 

The BSN values the importance of building professional collaboration and enabling teams to create their own improvement work within their specific field of expertise. A model that enables new avenues of professional enquiry to take place is being trialled at one of the Junior Schools by each year group team, each subject specific team and the inclusion teams. Based on examples cited by Weston, D and Clay, B. (2018), this model enables the teaching staff to identify a very specific question regarding their teaching practice and its impact on student outcomes. The staff agree upon the most useful evidence that will be collected and build a programme for this to be collated.  

 

The resulting collaborative discussion, built around the evidence collected, provides the opportunity to unpick very specific ‘tweaks’ that can be made to teaching practice and classroom management to make a difference to student outcomes. These ‘tweaks’ are built into the practice of teams incrementally throughout the year as the model is repeated. This cyclical process is slowly building team ownership and localised attention to school improvement. 

Evidencing impact of teaching on student outcomes 

During the collaborative discussion, emerging themes and questions are unpicked and future actions are agreed.  

Feedback from staff has been positive. They have welcomed the team ownership of the process, the range of evidence that is used to inform the collaborative discussion, and the immersive presence of the Senior Leader, who leads the enquiry alongside the year leader. 

“This approach is far better than a one-off lesson observation. Each class teacher in the year group is focussing on the same enquiry and we are continually talking about our findings. There is much more professional discussion with a purpose”  

“I like having Lucy and Miffy involved throughout the duration of the week rather than a one-off lesson observation. I think they get a better understanding of what learning is like for our students in the Year Group and their feedback is very objective and wide ranging.” 

Finding the balance and leading the process  

In the best cases, teams have been able to integrate the collaborative enquiry approach and the strategic improvement priority. The respective teams have then dived deeper into their understanding of the impact of their practice eg. the impact of the bar modelling strategy on Y5 students’ ability to explain their mathematical reasoning clearly. Equally, the emerging learning from the collaborative enquiry has often been able to inform the impact of the whole school improvement work, and where appropriate, has enabled these ideas to be adopted by different year groups.  

The success of all of this work is dependent on its leadership, staff engagement and commitment. Leadership of the school improvement approaches requires an understanding of their intentionality, so that collaborative enquiries stay within their parameters and inform the improvement priorities of the whole school. A shared accountability for outcomes and a sustained commitment to find a balance between the approaches is becoming established 

Team empowerment and leadership capacity building 

The BSN provides opportunities for team leaders to enhance their leadership skills, knowledge and attributes by enrolling on programmes such as the international Professional Qualifications in Middle Leadership (iNPQML) and international Professional Qualifications in Senior Leadership (iNPQSL) delivered through the BSN International Leadership Academy (ILA). These programmes enable team leaders to learn about research and theoretical models that inform their leadership in practice. They also learn practical techniques to help them facilitate team meetings, design collective enquiries, critical analyse evidence and hold honest conversations. Their roles as leaders of intentional strategy and/or collaborative enquiries are all supported by the requirement to embed their learning from the face-to-face modules into their leadership projects. By integrating their requirements for the iNPQ assessment with their contribution to the school improvement priorities, the BSN is building informed collective leadership capacity within the organisation, and more broadly, within the international education community 

Next steps for the BSN 

Creating this balanced approach requires class teachers to be continually observing the impact of their teaching on student learning. It is an incremental approach to school improvement that is responsive and adaptive; it requires flexibility, open-mindedness and a commitment to continuous learning and development. This is the ultimate challenge for us as school leaders: are we comfortable with leading this level of uncertainty within our school improvement work? Are we flexible and adaptable enough to intentionally construct a strategy and then to re-calibrate and re-design it, as new learning emerges from the collaborative enquiries?  

I believe we need to be if we are going to build leadership capacity across our international schools, and equip staff with the pedagogical knowledge and teaching skills to meet the needs of our students. We need to be comfortable with the uncertainty of what will emerge when teams are empowered to take their own lines of enquiries to improve their teaching practice. As Woods and Roberts (2018) summarise, “leading this way is not only challenging but also a creative, inspiring and feasible way of advancing learning in its best and fullest way”.  

Bibliography 

Datnow, A., and Park, V. (2019) Professional Collaboration with Purpose. New York: Routledge 

Hargreaves, A., and O’Connor, M. (2018) Collaborative Professionalism. London: Sage  

Seel, R. (2006) Emergence in Organisations”, http://www.new-paradigm.co.uk/ 

Weston, D., and Clay, B. (2018) Unleashing Great Teaching. Oxon: Routledge 

Woods, P., and Roberts, A. (2018) Collaborative School Leadership. London: Sage  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Over the last twenty years, Sue Aspinall has been leading schools through significant change, intent on raising the quality of learning and teaching available to their students. Having been both a Head of an inner London state school and three British international schools based in different countries, Sue knows how it is to live a global life and transition between cultures and across countries. She has the ability to build diverse teams and motivate staff around
common goals. She empowers staff to lead from within and coaches them to reach their highest aspirations. An experienced facilitator, Sue provides an impactful learning experience for leaders who want to make a difference.

Intention to Impact Leadership

Kim Cullen, M.A., M.S., B.A. Upper School Director, The American School of Madrid.

A manifesto for new and aspiring leaders.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with the saying “Well done is better than well said”.  At the American School of Madrid, one of our school-wide goals this year has been to determine what concrete steps each of us can take to transform words into action.  There is a considerable difference between intention and impact. Most of the time, our intentions are honorable. We are a community of caring, generous people:  we mean well.  It takes more than meaning well, however, and we sometimes shield ourselves behind intention when things didn’t go completely as we had hoped. “I didn’t mean it that way” or “It was just a joke” is something I often hear students and teachers say. 

 

In leadership, we must recognize that intention is a powerful motivator, and we need to help our community members think more specifically about impact.  This means we need to walk the walk and talk the talk.  We must ask ourselves What is the impact my words will have?  What is the impact I want to have? Related to this are questions like  What do I want to be known for, remembered for? What legacy do I want to leave?   As a school administrator, my daily challenge is to move from the what to the how.   It is in the how that I will define the impact I have on others.  

 

As I reflect on the leadership lessons I have learned over my twenty-three years in education, below are some of my personal highlights – a manifesto, if you will, on how to transform my own best intentions to real impact.  For new and aspiring leaders, developing one’s own manifesto for intention to impact leadership can be a powerful way to define the role one wants to play in the lives and growth of the communities one serves.  

Be committed to growth. 

Every experience in life is an opportunity to learn and grow.  One actually CAN teach old dogs new tricks.  Just because someone might refuse to change doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t.  Commit to learning new things, seeking out new challenges, and helping others do the same.  Learn to learn. 

Fear is healthy.   

Fear means we care, we want to do well.  But we fear fear, and we stay in our comfort zones, thus limiting our opportunities for growth.  Rather than perceiving fear as a force of evil, learn to embrace fear as a driving force for doing your best.  Don’t be afraid to say yes.  

Be authentic.  And be vulnerable. 

There is no magic leadership formula – be true to yourself.  Identify your strengths and don’t be afraid to leverage them.  Also, be honest about your shortcomings and commit to working on them.  Knowing yourself and allowing for both authenticity and vulnerability are fundamental so successful leadership.   

Be compassionate.  

Everyone has a story – a lifetime of experiences, beliefs, and history that defines who they are.    Don’t be quick to draw conclusions about others, and remember that understanding people’s context is critical in building strong, trusting relationships.  It is important to note that compassion is different from empathy.  Empathy is the intellectual awareness and appreciation of someone’s circumstances.  Compassion takes it a step further and involves a desire to make a difference.  In short, compassion is caring. 

Everything is a gift, even if you worked hard for it.  

If your baseline is that everything in life is a gift, even if you worked hard for it, you will be less inclined to hold onto that sense of entitlement that sometimes creeps in despite our best intentions.  Gratitude means you will be less likely to get upset when things don’t go the way you planned or expected.  Gratitude gives you the ability to give situations only the attention they deserve.  It also gives you the ability to move on when it’s time.   

Balance your approach. 

Know the difference between reacting and responding and which one is most appropriate under what circumstances.  Reaction is quick, usually involves emotion, is often uninformed and sometimes misguided.  Response takes time and requires thoughtfulness, getting to the bottom of something, considering all the options and all sides.  Find your balance between instinct, insight, and improvisation. 

Act in accordance with YOU. 

Live into your values with confidence and integrity.  Identify your beliefs and wear them on your sleeve.  Don’t sacrifice your values.  Boundaries are important; learn how to set them.  Know when to say no.  Integrity leads to reliability and trust. 

Lean on others.   

No one succeeds alone, no one knows everything, no one can do everything. Lean on others.  Seek out allies.   Find a thought partner.  Listen more than you speak.  Offer help along the way.  Be someone’s mentor.    

Celebrate others. 

Recognize the contributions of others as much as you can.  Everyone needs and deserves validation.  No one can work at their best when they feel unsupported, underutilized, unappreciated or underpaid.  Celebration is fundamental to emotional and professional well-being and, ultimately, growth.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kim is a thoughtful and committed educator with twenty three years of experience in international education. As a American citizen born in Brazil and raised in Texas and Spain, Kim is an adult TCK (*third culture kid) who understands the unique benefits and opportunities that come from having cross-cultural experiences during the developmental years. Kim cares deeply about young people and how they learn and she has devoted her entire professional career to fostering supportive, impactful and relevant learning for both students and educators. Having served school communities in a variety of capacities, Kim’s professional profile is comprehensive with experiences in visioning, strategic planning, relationships, team-building and compassionate leadership.

Along her journey in education — from behind the scenes in fundraising and community relations, through teaching and counseling, and almost a decade in leadership laying the groundwork for systemic change – Kim has to come to firmly believe that if educators are thoughtful, open-minded and willing, they have the ability to create powerful educational experiences that will transform the future for our children, our society, and our planet. Kim is the founder of i2i Education Consulting, helping forward-thinking education leaders create meaningful learning for students (www.i2iedconsulting.com). She also publishes insights and learnings on life on her personal blog, ebb and flow, www.kmcullen.com.