By Dr Chip Barder, International Consultant
Governance continues to be an ongoing area of focus and concern for many international schools around the world. Even with all good intentions and enthusiastic efforts of countless heads and volunteers who serve on international school boards, the problems persist. When queried, international school heads often cite governance and board relations as the top challenge facing their schools.
To respond to this need, the Governance As Leadership Training Institute (GALTI) had planned its 3rd year on the African continent for September 2020. Due to COVID-19 this has had to be postponed to 2021. Sponsored by the Board of the American International School of Johannesburg and hosted on their Johannesburg campus, the approach is to give boards and heads a chance to be proactive, thoughtful and intentional in their governance work. In its 1st two years, GALTI Johannesburg attracted approximately 150 participants including over 100 board members from 11 AISA schools.
The first GALTI in the world was hosted by the UNIS Hanoi Board in September 2014 in Vietnam, and next year will be the 7th annual event on the UNIS campus with anticipated attendance averaging 120 participants including over 90 board members. GALTI Johannesburg is modelled after GALTI Hanoi while taking into account the unique governance needs on the African continent.
Governance As Leadership (GAL) is a conceptual model of governance developed by Dr. Richard Chait, Dr. Bill Ryan, and Dr. Barbara Parker at Harvard. Dr. Chait came to Hanoi for the first two GALTI events in Hanoi and Dr. Ryan has continued the work there with Ms. Bambi Betts and Dr. Chip Barder, both of whom are experienced heads but more importantly have been involved in international school governance training for many years. Dr. Ryan and Dr. Barder will facilitate the GALTI Johannesburg event for the third year.
GAL reframes the purpose and practice of international school governance by drawing on theories that have reshaped the concept and practice of leadership. This new approach invites board members to think and govern like leaders at the appropriate level. It describes three modes of governance – fiduciary, strategic and generative – that together enable more effective boardsmanship.
While the first two modes are more familiar to most boards, it is the generative mode that can transform the governance work. By deciding and spending time on the most important items, by stopping to make better sense of the circumstances, by finding and framing problems and opportunities, by entertaining alternative questions and hypotheses, and by reconciling realities, values and choices, the payoffs are potentially game-changing:
Governance becomes more “consequential”, thus, attracting and retaining the best and brightest in the community who want to have impact on the current and future success of the school.
We hope that participants leave with an enhanced knowledge base of the Governance As Leadership model including all three modes of governance, a clarified understanding of the impact on roles, responsibilities and relationships that the GAL approach demands, the ability to move away from micro-management to macro-governance, an improved working relationship with fellow participants (board members and head) from their own school, an expanded network of board members and heads from all over Africa regarding governance, and an action plan based on insights gained that participants hope to initiate back home in the coming days, weeks and months.
A few things have been learned over the last 7 years from this work. One learning has been the importance of the mindset of the participants. Those who come in believing there is something to be learned and are committed to listening – a learning mindset – are not only able to understand things more clearly but are ready and able to begin to transform the work of governance in their school back home. The consistent feedback from the more than 700 participants over the last 6 years has been that the learning mindset is the single most important characteristic of those seeking to improve their effectiveness in governance.
Another learning has been the power of the board member-to-board member interaction. When board members have the time, energy and focus to talk meaningfully with each other in guided conversations, whether they are from their home school or from another school, the result is a greater understanding of governance and a clearer idea of what needs to happen back home.
A further learning has been around the need to understand and make use of all three modes of governance – fiduciary, strategic and generative – and to realize that they sometimes are all in the same conversation about an issue or problem. Thus, there are learning opportunities at the Institute for all three modes.
Finally, dedication to the inculcation of this work is a potentially successful strategy when managing turnover at the board and head level. By establishing a culture of functioning that is not dependent on who is in the board member or head positions but is rather based on sound thinking and strong values and principles, the long term sustainability of a school is assured, and the board will be able to fulfill its responsibilities to hold the school in trust for now and into the future.
GALTI provides the environment and not only allows for but encourages all of this to happen. All AISA heads and board members are encouraged to participate in the planned 2021 event in Johannesburg. Please do look out for further online updates about the event.
About the Author
Dr Chip Barder
Dr. Chip Barder is entering his 47th year as a professional educator. He has a BA in Economics with a teaching credential in the Social Sciences, a Master’s in Counselling, and a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Teaching. He has been a counselor, a teacher and principal at all three levels: Elementary, Middle, and High School. He has also been a university faculty member in teacher education and school administration.
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