From the Executive Director’s Desk: Leading Together

POSTED: June 2, 2020Category: Executive Director BlogBY: Barnabas Suva

It is not an enviable time to be a school leader. The chances are that the wellbeing – emotional, physical and financial – of the people you lead presses more heavily on your shoulders than ever before. Whether you are weighing up the critical balance of when, how or if, to safely re-open your school in the face of COVID-19 with the gaps in learning that may result from not doing so; or making financial decisions such as temporary or permanent layoffs in the face of reduced enrolments; or wellbeing decisions as you try to guide and counsel your community without being able to offer any guarantees; or having to figure out how to simultaneously ensure your school’s financial health while prioritising the health and continued education of students, the sustained employment, wellbeing and motivation of teachers and the support of parents and communities. Not an enviable position by any means.

It is in times such as these, with high levels of ambiguity, while also tasked with impactful decision making, that previous experience, learned skills, collaborations and partnerships prove their worth. Schools that have invested in the professional development of their Leadership and Governing Boards are no doubt seeing the benefits. Previous advice received from expert consultants, specialising in effective leadership and good governance, is now showing its value. The resources, support, guidance and networking made accessible and available through strategic relationships, can be the lifeline a school needs in times of crisis.

Having started in 1969, the Association of International Schools in Africa (AISA) has had occasions before COVID-19, to demonstrate its fortitude, agility and resourcefulness in times of crisis. Many of our schools shut down temporarily as a result of the September 11th attacks. AISA had to relocate our annual conference almost overnight. Some may recall the US Embbasy attacks in Tanzania and Kenya that once again sent our school communities into a heightened state of alert. Our West African schools encountered many of the same issues during the Ebola virus epidemic, with schools in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone having to close to safeguard children and staff. Schools in southern Africa had to adapt to severe water shortages in recent years that threatened to force some to close. Almost all our schools have experienced the uncertainty and security issues associated with terrorist threats, the social and political unrest that takes place in our respective host countries and we have survived it all. However, there has been nothing as far-reaching and as disruptive to international education as COVID-19, a crisis experienced by all AISA member schools and their communities. Nothing has called on our ability to innovate and transform our way of doing things as this global pandemic. As a result, the crucial role of good governance and effective leadership has once again come to the fore.

Like your school, AISA’s strategic focus on school leadership and governance and our related Professional Learning programmes, advisory services, events and resources are undergoing a period of transformation. Thankfully, from the feedback and evidence received, they are proving their worth. In 2016 AISA presented the AISA Code of Governance for all member schools to refer to or incorporate into their own school’s governance policy. The framework set out the fiduciary, strategic and generative responsibilities of an effective school Board. To develop the code, AISA secured the services of Rick Detwiler, Teresa Arpin, and David Chojnacki, each well known and recognised in the field of school governance. Commencing in August 2020, AISA has invited these seasoned consultants back for a series of virtual governance and leadership workshops covering key aspects from our Code of Governance. You can find details of these here. We also look forward to our next annual Heads of School Retreat, which we anticipate will take place in May 2021 and during which there will be much for us to reflect upon.

Perhaps the most valuable of all our initiatives, not just in school leadership and governance, is the support we receive from, and can offer to, our community. In times of crisis, nothing can be more supportive than human connection, empathy, and engagement. It is the sense of community fostered amongst AISA member schools and our network of associates, strategic partners and consultants that I, as a leader myself, most value and I thank you all for that.

Stay Well and Stay Connected.

Dr Peter Bateman

AISA Executive Director

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