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Leading Together:
The Head of School/Board Chair Partnership

May 16-17, 2020

The Curriculum

Leadership Responsibility... The Chair/Head 'partnership' shall lead the Board in...

1. BUILDING AND SUSTAINING TRUSTING AND PRODUCTIVE RELATIONSHIPS

The Chair and HoS develop and sustain a trusting and productive relationship with each other, with and among the Trustees and across the community. The Chair and HoS enhance board effectiveness by facilitating discussions, resolving conflicts, and building consensus.

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • The Chair and the Head are responsible for creating a common understanding of and commitment to the school's foundation documents (e.g., mission, vision, core values, beliefs).
  • Mutual trust requires communication that is candid, consistent, ongoing and respectful.
  • A trusting and productive Board culture (among the Chair, Head and individual Trustees) requires clearly articulated performance expectations, a commitment to agreed-upon norms, and deliberate, ongoing guidance from the Chair/Head team.
  • A strong, productive relationship between the Chair and the Head is THE critical factor in effective board governance.

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • employ strategies for building trust between each other and among the Trustees
  • build a deep understanding of each other’s strengths
  • guide the Trustees to listen for understanding; not to respond
  • utilize facilitation skills
  • prioritize
  • guide the board toward consensus when possible
  • make sound decisions, even in the face of opposition
  • manage differences/conflict between each other and among the Trustees.

2. UNDERSTANDING AND RESPECTING THEIR COMPLEMENTARY ROLES

The Chair and Head ensure that the roles and responsibilities of the Board of Trustees and those of the Head are both understood in theory and respected in practice.

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • The Board must consistently maintain a strategic focus, balancing taking care of routine matters (including fiduciary oversight) with long-term thinking and strategic decision making.
  • The Board focuses on strategic policy issues, leaving the operational matters to the Head, avoiding both micromanagement and “rubber-stamping.”
  • “Staying in one's lane” is not always clearly defined; it requires flexing with the context and situation.

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • clarify the “lane markers” for the Board and the Head
  • understand when situational flexibility is needed when monitoring “lanes”.

3. DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN POLICY AND PROCEDURE

The Chair and Head ensure that the Board understands the difference between Policy and Procedure, recognizing that policy is the board’s work, delegating procedures to the administration.

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • Policy states the “what, why, and to what extent;” procedures describe the “how, when, and who” of policy implementation by the administration.
  • There must be alignment among the school’s “foundation documents” (e.g., mission, vision), board policies, and administrative procedures.
  • Policy development is generally done jointly between the board and the administration. Policy adoption/approval is the Board's role; implementation of policy via administrative procedures is the responsibility of the Head.

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • craft good policies (Chair and Board)
  • develop policy-aligned administrative procedures (Head)
  • maintain policy-procedure “discipline” on the Board.

4. EXERCISING FIDUCIARY OVERSIGHT

The Chair and the Head guide the board in fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities and confronting, clarifying and solving problems.

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • Fiduciary oversight requires knowledge about a broad array of elements: crisis preparedness; risk management; resource sustainability; legal requirements; and much more.
  • It must be clarified and agreed upon as to which aspects of fiduciary oversight are Board's responsibility, which are the Head's, and which are shared by both.
  • Deliberate planning, appropriate policy development and regular monitoring are required to ensure fiduciary responsibilities are met.

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • jointly develop a calendar of fiduciary tasks to optimize Board and administration oversight functions and to clarify responsibilities
  • employ effective risk management analysis to assess relevance of impact and likelihood in determining the risk mitigation response.

5. BEING A STRATEGIC BOARD

The Chair and Head appropriately involve the Board in the development, implementation, and monitoring of the school's various plans, e.g. strategic, financial, facilities.

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • The school's foundation documents (e.g. mission, vision, values) should be explicitly affirmed by the Board annually, revised as appropriate, and used as a basis for strategic decisions.
  • The elements of the change process.
  • “Being strategic” means that the Board focuses primarily on strategic issues in developing its agendas and during board and committee meetings.
  • The Board must develop, implement and regularly review/update mid- to long-term plans in three areas: finances, strategy and facilities.

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • lead mid- to long-term planning processes
  • ensure that all board plans are comprehensive
  • differentiate between “needs” and “wants”
  • facilitate strategic thinking as well as strategic planning
  • prompt “sense-making” as well as problem-solving with the appropriate use of the generative discussions
  • employ change-management techniques.

6. ASSESSING FOR IMPACT AND EFFECTIVENESS

The Chair and Head lead the board in identifying appropriate metrics and using them to measure success, fidelity to mission and the effectiveness of the Board, the Chair and the HoS.

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • Any assessment should ideally be formative in nature, with feedback to respondents followed by responsive action based on the results, with the aim of seeking growth and improvement.
  • In measuring school success, performance indicators should be aligned with school’s foundation documents and articulated goals, reflecting both qualitative and quantitative factors appropriate for the school.
  • The Board's self-assessment must be done annually using a credible and fitting instrument, reviewing board effectiveness, adherence to the board’s articulated norms/’common agreements as well as goal achievement.
  • The Board must conduct a formal and growth-focused evaluation of the Head's performance annually based on his/her job description and board-approved goals.
  • There is a distinction between data and anecdote (e.g., “data is not the plural of anecdote”).
  • Trend data/patterns analyzed over time are generally more useful than snapshots.

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • identify appropriate “indicators” for each assessment, maintaining the Board's focus on impact.
  • select, gather, and interpret appropriate data, drawing relevant conclusions
  • use feedback from recent alumni to evaluate ‘preparing students for their future’.

7. EMPLOYING EXEMPLARY BOARD PRACTICES AND HONORING OPERATIONAL AGREEMENTS

The Chair and Head guide the board in using effective and efficient practices and in abiding by clearly articulated and agreed-upon operational norms in doing its work.

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • There should be established protocols for the full range of effective Board operations, stated clearly in the Policy Manual (broad expectations) and the Board Handbook (procedures and processes) which the Chair and HoS ensure are abided by.
  • All Trustees should understand, sign, and abide by the board’s Conflict of Interest Policy and Code of Ethics/Conduct.
  • The role of committees and task forces is to do “the work” of the Board as designated in the requisite Terms of Reference, developing recommendations for the Board. Committees do not “decide;” that authority belongs to the full Board.
  • Explicit common agreements regarding norms of operation complement established policies and principles in promoting effective board operations.
  • It is the Chair's responsibility to enforce observance of Board operating policies and practices.

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • develop an annual calendar of board work and strategic agendas, including scheduled reports to the board by the administration on matters of fiduciary importance
  • conduct productive and efficient meetings
  • oversee the work of the Board's committees and task forces
  • formally articulate and then skillfully enforce Board norms
  • effectively intervene or confront trustees who “wander”.

8. COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY

The Chair and Head support the Board by communicating effectively, providing appropriate information/reports, practicing the "no surprises" principle, and guiding the Board in appropriately engaging with the wider community via clearly articulated protocols via established channels of communication

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • The Board must have accurate information to support decision-making; however, the nature and amount of reports, presentations, and references must be thoughtfully determined.
  • While the primary “face” of the school is the Head of School and her/his staff, the Board does have a role in ensuring appropriate engagement with stakeholders, a role that must be carefully and deliberately planned and performed, balancing “transparency” with the need for confidentiality.
  • When sharing information, the nature of the audience needs to be kept in mind (e.g., avoid jargon; strive for clarity; avoid over- communicating).

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • manage the scope and flow of written and oral information; finding the Goldilocks balance - not too much.
  • communicate to the Board and to stakeholders in writing and orally, clearly, concisely, in a timely manner, and appropriately.
  • exercise good listening skills.
  • present information orally in an effective way.
  • model Adaptive Schools' Seven Norms of Collaboration.

9. BUILDING THE BOARD'S AND HEAD'S CAPACITY

The Chair and Head sustain the Board through thoughtful succession planning, high-quality, ongoing professional development, and periodic self-assessment.

Knowledge and Understandings

The Chair/Head need to understand the following:

  • Board composition (size, profile, how selected, etc.) plays a major role in the effectiveness of the Board, and should be optimum for the needs of the school.
  • Trustee succession planning must be deliberate, based on established protocols, and result in getting “the right people on the bus” and preparing them to assume full responsibilities of a trustee.
  • Board goal-setting and planned professional development should be based on the results of the Board's self-appraisal with an eye to continuous improvement.
  • Head succession must be planned for, executed according to best practice for Head Searches, and include a comprehensive transition process.

Skills and Competencies

The Chair/Head need to be able to:

  • ascertain the needs of the Board at the present time and in the future and manage. the response, be it through training, structural changes to the board, board protocols, or trustee admonition
  • translate appraisal results to follow-up action structure and guide the planning and execution of succession, that of both trustees and the Head.

Based on review of:

  • AAIE Leadership Challenge Survey 2018
  • NESA Governance Initiative
  • NAIS Principles of Good Practice; School Boards of Trustees
  • NAIS 2018 presentation by Donna Orem; Strategies for New Heads
  • BoardSource Twelve Principles of Governance That Power Exceptional Boards
  • BoardSource Ten Basic Responsibilities of NonProfit Boards
  • Accreditation Standards (CIS: MSA; NEASC; WASC; AdvancEd)
  • AISH A Leadership Tapestry: Threads of Leadership & Standards of Excellence
  • AASA Professional Standards for the Superintendency
  • McKinsey The CEO Guide to Boards
  • The Council of Chief State School Officers Educational Leadership Policy Standards: ISLLC 2008
  • National Policy Board for Educational Administration Professional Standards for Educational Leaders 2015

Leading Together by David Chojnacki and Rick Detwiler is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.