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Strategic Policy: A Missing Link in International School Governance

By Chip Barder
Strategic Policy: A Missing Link in International School Governance

As international schools continue to deal with the ongoing challenges and crises that are unfortunately inevitable, what is clear is the need for a well-crafted and strategically written set of policies. Strategic policy helps the board to govern effectively and guides the administration, faculty, and staff in actions that ultimately fulfill the mission of the school.

A good portion of the board’s work is strategic, and its policies should support that work and not draw it into tactical, operational, or procedural decisions. Unfortunately, current policies are too often NOT strategic. They often consist of many pages of “policies” that are not policies at all, but regulations or procedures meant to guide the administration in the day-to-day operation of the school. Thus, boards often find themselves caught in a micro-management posture because of a poorly developed set of policies.

Another challenge is when the set of policies is incomplete or inadequately developed. Too often this fact is discovered when the school faces an impending crisis or complicated issue in the school community. So, the board ends up spending too much time on solving a crisis without the benefit of a good policy to guide their actions. And there is no follow-up to ensure that, should this type of situation come up again, a good policy is written and available for use.

A policy is a guiding principle used to set direction in an organization. It is the link between mission and operations. Good policies help the board to fulfill their oversight responsibilities without getting too deep into the daily operation of the school. Good policies are specific enough to give the administration the clarity it needs to successfully do its job.

It should be remembered that a policy is a key tool available ONLY to the governing board. No one else can create policy for the school, and the board is responsible for the adherence to school policy by all school community members including the board members themselves.

In the end, the board needs policies for anything that could dramatically change the nature or direction of the school. The Board cannot govern solely from the mission. It needs policies which firmly establish the direction and nature that is intended by the mission. Thus, it is the link to best practice in international school governance.

Chip worked in international schools for 45 years including 22 years as a head in five different schools. He currently serves on two different international school boards. He has been a facilitator and trainer in governance since 1984 and is currently the Director of the Governance Training Center. In the last 18 months he has co-developed and co-presented over 10 two-hour modules focused on various themes in international school governance such as head evaluation, new board member orientation, board chair training, and developing strategic policy.


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05/25/2022 - Mary Langford
This is so true, and another question I often wonder is how school strategic policies are impacted by or reflect strategic policies of the big groups that are increasingly investing in international schools.