Strategy-making is really an exercise in placing bets about a school's future; bets that should be informed by environmental data and enriched by a deep understanding of mission. Too often, we see board participation in strategic planning being more about figuring out what to fix, rather than what bets to place about how the school will be successful beyond tomorrow.
The finding and fixing of what is broken about the organization should be the obsession of its administrators, not its governors. Boards that focus on fixing are either micromanaging or struggling with under-performing school management. In reality, though, both board micromanagement and administrative under-performance are usually symptoms rather than causes. Each reflects one or more antecedent factors that are present in abundance throughout the independent and international school universe:
- Chronic understaffing of school administration as a cost-saving tactic that in turn invites members of the board to perform quasi-administrative functions;
- Trustees, often parents of current students, who know too much about what is happening in the school this week and too little about what is necessary for school success far into the future;
- An accumulation of deferred maintenance--infrastructure and human resources alike--that periodically creates noticable and nasty effects; and
- Administrators who take an excessively short-term view, with the result that they unwittingly focus their boards on the here-and-now rather than the there-and-then.
[More about the antecedents will be coming in future posts.]
Strategic planning that results in a thorough roadmap about how to fix the school may be necessary, even essential, but it is a waste of time and effort by the board. Instead, administration, urged on by the head of school, should adopt a motto of "just fix it," and the board should stick with scanning for bets to place about future school success. Anything else just blurs the governance/administration boundary.