An effective strategic vision is one of the most powerful tools the board can have at its disposal for guiding the school towards a better future. Of course, the board’s role is not limited to developing and promulgating the strategic vision. Having articulated the strategic vision, the board has a continuing role to play in its implementation and monitoring.
Typically, only small parts of a strategic vision will refer directly to the board’s own operations. This is appropriate, as the strategic vision should focus on the school and the benefits that will accrue to the students. Therefore, most of the work to operationalise the strategic vision will fall upon the faculty and staff of the school, under the leadership and direction of the Head.
The main responsibility of the board is to monitor this process of implementation to ensure it is being carried out faithfully and effectively. The board’s monitoring will be most effective and inclusive if discussion of the strategic vision becomes a significant and integral component of each board meeting. Indeed, it makes sense to use the strategic vision as the organising framework to structure each board meeting, given that the strategic vision should articulate the key goals and direction for the school in the coming few years. In this way, the strategic vision will provide the board with coherent direction as it performs its central role of governance.
There are two ways of ensuring that the strategic vision is kept at the forefront of board members’ thinking at every meeting. The first way way is to print the vision statement at the top of every agenda. This simple act will help to keep board members focused on the reason they are attending the meeting, and it should help the Chair keep the discussion focused should it begin to wander. With the strategic vision printed on every agenda document, it should be much easier for trustees to ensure that they apply the key criterion for the approval of any new proposal – it must enhance the mission.
In general, there should be three types of reports presented at board meetings:
There is no place for reports that simply talk about how busy someone has been!
This leads to the second, and more significant, way in which the strategic vision becomes the focus of every board meeting. At the beginning of each meeting, type (c) reports should all be taken as ‘read’ during the consent agenda, unless a member specifically asks that the paper be discussed. On that basis, a board meeting agenda with a strong strategic focus might look something like this:
This meeting structure should enable the board to operationalise its strategic vision effectively, focussing on the school’s direction without deviating tangentially, while at the same time maximising the effective use of trustees’ time. Assuming the board is also operating solely within the realm of governance and not interfering in the school’s operations, achieving these three points would be indicative of a truly exemplary board.
-Dr Stephen Codrington