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Upwards and Onwards
  • Annual Conference Speaker

An introduction from Chris Edwards, Senior Advisor, RSAcademics and speaker at the 40th COBIS Annual Conference

If you are an international Head who, after reading what follows, would like to take part in the project, please contact Chris Edwards at chrisedwards@rsacademics.

How can international school Heads get the best from their boards?

Complaining about, being infuriated by and even despairing of boards and their chairs is, at some stage, seemingly part of the cycle of being a Head. Some international Heads leave post citing the board as the reason. But need that be the case? And in even in schools where the Head and board work effectively together, what can international Heads do to proactively optimise board performance? Are there insights and strategies already out there that might enable international Heads to manage upwards (we appreciate the phrase is itself a contentious none) and catalyse board efficacy?

That’s what RSAcademics seeks to discover. We recognise, and we hope Heads would agree, that while there is extensive literature on the formation, running and evaluation of international school boards, there is very little practical training or guidance for Heads as to how they might better understand and work successfully with their boards in the particular cultural, social and sometimes political contexts of international schools. So, we seek to produce a piece of written thought leadership by July 2022 looking to reflect current good practice and offer guidance to international school Heads regarding how they might best manage upward in an international school context. Interim findings will be shared and explored at the May COBIS conference. That’s something we are excited about.

The final published document will be based on the insights and observations of between 50 to 100 interviews conducted with international school Heads by Chris Edwards, a Head of seventeen years who ran one of the world’s largest international Schools - the United World College of South East Asia - for five of them. Chris is now a Senior Advisor at RSAcademics.

As an international Head, you may be working for profit making proprietorial schools or not-for-profit charities. Your school might be part of a mighty chain or group, or it may stand proud but small and alone. The school could be legacy or de novo. The board itself might assume one of any number of models from an Advisory to Policy. But in fact, all of this variety adds to the richness of insights, and it is already clear that far from being siloed in their particular circumstances, international Heads have an immense amount of wisdom to share with one another.

Over the course of the interviews with Heads, Chris Edwards will explore the relationship between international Head and Board at the macro and personal level, and at the COBIS Annual Conference, Heads will have a chance to discuss findings and contribute further.

How often is a) leading a thriving mission-aligned school and b) pleasing the board, one and the same thing? Is what keeps a Head awake the same thing as what keeps the Chair awake? If not, why not? We will explore what international Heads really want from their boards (for example, are the strategic and generative board models always preferred to the simple fiduciary model, or are busy experts a hindrance, and is there in fact a prevalent desire from Heads to be left alone to lead while boards focus on matters such as audit?). Another area will be the importance of inclusion and diversity at board level and the strategies Heads are using to achieve their aims (especially in instances where neither inclusion nor diversity might be perceived as necessary or desirable by the board)? What say do Heads have in the board appraisal? And if the answer is “what appraisal?”, why is that?

More intimately, how do Heads build empathy? Or create shared understanding at board level? How important are one-to-one conversations with a chair and, as an extension, with other board members. Do Heads meet at the Chair’s place of work (if possible) and do they understand the pressure each board member is under? Are Heads tonally consistent, or - for example - do observers at board meetings lead to both a cramping of style and watered-down messaging? Do Heads leave a breadcrumb trail or favour the big reveal? Why? There is a wealth of insights to be unearthed and shared.

The RSAcademics team looks forward to meeting you during our COBIS presentation for what should prove a fascinating, enjoyable and, we hope, genuinely helpful session.

You can hear more from RSAcademics at our 40th Annual Conference this May in their session ‘Upwards and Onwards: Working Effectively with your Board’. Book your delegate place now.