No individual or group within our international schools has been spared from the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Students, faculty, staff, admin, and parents have all made and continue to make adaptations and adjustments in order to carry on with our main job of student learning.
A group that is often overlooked by many is the School Board. Since they do not have any direct and active role in the day-to-day instruction, management, and leadership of the school, the challenges they face may not be so obvious.
One must start with reviewing a Board’s role and responsibilities. Members of a Board set policy, oversee the financial health of the school, establish strategic plans for the future, and of course hire, support, and evaluate the Head of School. In the end, they hold the school in trust, hence the term “trustees.” The Board plays an oversight role over every aspect of the school’s operation and is ultimately responsible for its existence and long-term sustainability.
Members of the Board do this voluntarily and give of their time and energy in order to ensure that the school continues to not only exist but to grow and develop. They often do not have much if any background, experience, and training in international school governance and often draw on their experiences from other aspects of their lives to fulfill their responsibilities as Board members.
With the onset of the pandemic, like everyone else they have been thrust into new territory that they have never before traversed. There was always a certain amount of uncertainty and unpredictability in governing an international school because of the need to deal with a range of external factors over which a Board has no control. But the pandemic has brought some schools to a crisis level around declining enrollment, distance learning capacity and quality, and the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.
All of this, of course, falls under the umbrella of the host government, which has its own policies, rules, and procedures that affect a school’s operation. The pandemic has thrown many schools into chaos, as they determine how to survive in the short term while keeping in mind the long-term interests and sustainability of the school. And there seems to be no definite end in sight for Covid-19, nor is it clear how much of what we have established to cope with it (e.g., distance learning options) will become more permanently a part of what we do.
Thankfully, Boards now have a few tailored resources to support them in this current context, including some offerings from the new Governance Training Center (GTC), a program of the long-established Principals' Training Center (PTC).
These are the kinds of challenges that an international school Board has been grappling with and continues to face in the time of Covid. So the next time you see a Board member, you might reach out and thank them for their service on behalf of the school. And as with everyone else, the challenges that lie ahead are no less daunting.
Chip Barder has been an international school educator for 45 years in seven different countries, including 22 years as a head. His passion for best practice in governance began in 1984 when he was asked to facilitate a board retreat at ISKL. Since that time, he has worked with numerous boards and facilitated workshops on board governance. Most recently in cooperation with the boards of UNIS Hanoi and AIS Johannesburg, he has launched Governance As Leadership Training Institutes (GALTI), which are now annual events at those schools attracting well over 500 board members from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East in the last six years. He is co-founder of the recently launched Governance Training Center as part of the PTC organization. His home base is Bellingham, Washington, U.S.A.