Policy Leadership
Prepared for the SSTA by Loraine Thompson Information Services Ltd.
SSTA Research Report #99-09: 16 pages
 
Table of Contents

Introduction 
Describe the Desired Results in a Formal Policy 

Hold School Division Staff Responsible for Producing the Desired Results 
Monitor Progress to Ensure that the Desired Results Are Being Achieved  References
Overview

A board of education’s job is to govern those aspects of the education system that, under legislation or through practice, fall under its jurisdiction.  Most boards of education do this through policy leadership.  They develop policies describing the results they want to achieve, hold school division staff responsible for producing the desired results, and monitor progress to ensure that the desired results are being achieved. 

This document discusses issues relating to development, implementation and monitoring of board of education policy.  It is intended to provide boards with practical information on these topics and also to stimulate thought and discussion. 

 
List of Figures
 
Figure 1: Holding School Division Staff Responsible for Achieving Desired Results
Figure 2: Examples of Criteria for Success
Figure 3: Examples of Data Collected by School Division Staff as Part of the Monitoring Process
 
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Introduction
 
A board of education’s job is to govern those aspects of the education system that, under legislation or through practice, fall under its jurisdiction.  Within this framework, the board reflects the educational priorities of the taxpayers who live in the school division and tries to ensure a top quality education for all students.  The board of education establishes the school division’s goals, sets its direction and plans its strategies.  Most boards of education accomplish these responsibilities through policy leadership.  They develop policies that describe the results they want to achieve.

Then they hire competent staff who will administer the policies established by the board and manage the day-to-day operations of the school division.

Policy leadership involves more than writing policies, it also involves holding hired staff responsible for implementing policy and regular monitoring to be sure that the objectives of the policy are being achieved.

Policy leadership can be described as having three components:(1)

1. Describe the desired results in a formal policy.

2. Hold school division staff responsible for producing the desired results.

3. Monitor progress to ensure that the desired results are being achieved.

Each of these components is discussed in more detail in the sections that follow.

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Describe the Desired Results in a Formal Policy
 
Boards of education usually describe the results they want to achieve in a formal written policy.  The discussion of policy development that follows has the following parts:
 
  • Policy development – Benefits and pitfalls;
  • Keeping policies current;
  • Types of policies; and,
  • Policy development.
  • Policy Development – Benefits and Pitfalls

    Benefits

    Written school board policies have many benefits.  Written policies:

  • show that the board is operating in a business-like manner;
  • establish a legal record and legal basis for action;
  • foster stability  and continuity;
  • inform the public and provide them with a measure to evaluate board performance;
  • increase fair and uniform treatment;
  • aid in orienting new board and staff members;
  • provide a basis for appraisal and accountability and facilitates evaluation of board and administrative practices;
  • save time and effort;
  • add strength to the board’s position when legal actions arise;
  • increase orderly conduct of board meetings;
  • comply with requirement of The Education Act regarding what a board MUST do; and,
  • define responsibilities delegated to the director of education and other staff members and clarify the board-director of education relationship.(2)
  • Pitfalls

    Despite the many benefits of written policies, boards sometimes fall into policy pitfalls.  Some of these pitfalls are:
     

  • policy development in reaction to specific events – For example, a child is injured on the playground, so the board develops a policy about types of activities that are permitted and forbidden on the playground.
  • policy development as an academic activity – For example, the board of education decides it should have a policy manual.  A senior administrator is assigned the task of developing the manual.  This administrator writes policies for all possible issues that might arise and presents the completed manual to the board for approval.
  • policy development without consultation – Boards of education and/or administrators sometimes develop policies without consulting the people who will be expected to implement the policies and the people who will be affected by the policies.
  • excessively detailed policies – Policies should provide frameworks and guidelines for action.  A policy that is highly detailed and very specific cannot address every possible situation and may be so complicated that it is difficult to follow.
  • failure to review existing policy – Policies go out of date or are superseded by new policies.  Failure to review existing policies and to discard those that no longer apply results in contradictory, overlapping and sometimes irrelevant policies.  It may also result in legal trouble if questions about the applicability of various policies arise.
  • Developing useful policies

    When developing board policy, a good place to start is with the board’s core values and beliefs.  Boards of education often identify core values and beliefs such as:

  • providing a safe, orderly school environment;
  • providing equality of opportunity and of outcomes for all students (including students of both genders and of all racial and ethnic backgrounds); and,
  • creating a student evaluation program that promotes student learning.
  • Once core values and beliefs have been identified, the next step is to ask what the implications of these values and beliefs are for policy.  For example, if providing a safe, orderly school environment is a core value; questions the board might ask include:
     

  • What are the implications for this core belief for harassment issues (including sexual and racial harassment)?
  • What are the implications of this core belief for issues relating to students’ behaviour toward each other?
  • What are the implications of this core belief for the way teachers treat students?
  • What are the implications of this core belief for the physical environment on the playground and the school?
  • The objective of this exercise should be to produce several comprehensive policies that provide frameworks and guidelines reflecting the board’s core values and beliefs and to move away from the situation in which the board has dozens (or even hundreds) of highly specific and sometimes overlapping and contradictory polices that are seldom used.

    During the last two decades, school boards have developed policy manuals containing polices on virtually every aspect of the education program. Today, this approach is being questioned, because developing policies is a time consuming and labour intensive business, and because a policy that is not implemented, used or enforced does not contribute to the board’s governance role.

    Today, most boards develop policies that reflect their core values and beliefs and try to avoid many short policies on highly specific topics.  They develop only those policies that they are willing to put time and energy into implementing and monitoring.

    For example, a board might develop a student evaluation policy that includes subsections on more specific issues, rather than numerous individual policies on specific aspects of student evaluation.

    Large comprehensive policies that provide frameworks and guidelines for action:
     

  • better illustrate the relationship between a board’s core values and beliefs and its policies;
  • reduce overlap between policies and help eliminate contradictory policies;
  • are easier to keep track of than many small, separate policies; and,
  • ensure that board members and members of the public have information about all aspects of an issue and can more readily see the relationship among the various elements of an issue.

  •  
    Keeping Policies Current

    In the past, most boards of education have kept their polices in a three-ring binder. However, policies become outdated and are discarded, revised or replaced.  Keeping the policy binder up-to-date has always been a problem.  Keeping the binder up-to-date involves keeping track of everyone who has a policy binder (usually all board members, principals, and, sometimes, individual teachers) and sending them regular updates along with instructions for disposal of old policies.  This is a time-consuming task and frequently leads to misunderstandings because people fail to file new policies and discard old ones.

    A better approach is to keep the policy manual on-line and to dispense with the paper version.  When the policy manual is on-line:
     

  • changes can be made quickly;
  • the amount of work is reduced because it is not necessary to mail out printed changes;
  • there are no printing and mailing costs;
  • there is less potential for misunderstanding because everyone has access to the most current policy; and,
  • policies can be accessed by all students, parents and educators and thus are more accessible.

  •  
    Types of Policies

    Generally boards of education develop four different kinds of policies:
     

  • policies that specify the results the board wants to achieve – that is policies about ends;
  • policies that define the authority and role of the director of education and sometimes other staff;
  • policies that prescribe how the board itself will operate; and,
  • policies that prescribe how governance is linked to management.
  • Examples of each of these types of policies are given below.

    Policies that specify the results the board wants to achieve

    Usually policies of this type begin with a general statement concerning the desired results and then add specific information about priorities or objectives.

    For example:

    Operation of a fair and equitable student evaluation program is a fundamental
    commitment of the Sun Valley Board of Education.  This system shall:
     

  • be designed so that it provides useful feedback for teaching and learning and also provides accountability information to the public.
  • use a variety of evaluation methods including portfolios, performance assessments, self- and peer-evaluation, as well as teacher-made and standardized tests.
  • include a benchmarking component in which samples of students’ work are marked by trained teacher-scorers using rubrics and exemplars.
  • be designed so that students and their parents are informed of the criteria they must meet in order to achieve success.  This information must be specific, not general.  (For example, the student must be able to do 10 two-digit multiplication problems within a half an hour with at least 80 percent accuracy, not the student must get 80 percent on the math test.)
  • be free of bias.  The experiences of females and males, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students must be equally reflected in text content, vocabulary and examples.  Text content, vocabulary and examples shall be oriented toward the experiences of rural Saskatchewan students.
  • Policies that define the authority and role of the director of education and other staff

    These types of policies can define the authority of the director of education, the secretary-treasurer and other staff in regard to specific initiatives or in general.

    For example, in regard to specific initiatives:

  • The Director of Education shall, in collaboration with a committee of students, teachers and parents, develop a detailed written plan for the student evaluation program.
  • The Director of Education shall, at the beginning of each school year, provide the board with a detailed description of the status of Core Curriculum implementation.
  • For example, in general:

  • The Secretary-Treasurer shall settle all payroll and debts in a timely manner.
  • The Secretary-Treasurer shall establish systems so that only bonded persons have access to over $1,000 in cash.
  • Policies that prescribe how the board itself will operate

    These types of policies can describe how frequently and where the board will meet, how it will make decisions, the roles and responsibilities of the chairperson and others on the board, the board’s committee structure, etc.  A policy of this type might include guidelines that:
     

  • describe how and when the board seeks opinion from the community;
  • how it informs the community of its decisions; and,
  • how it handles complaints and concerns from the public.
  • Policies that describe how governance is linked to management

    Policies of this type usually describe how the board interacts with the director of education and other staff.  These kinds of policies might, for example, describe:

  • categories of decisions that the director of education can take without reference to the board.
  • the types of information that the board requires from the director and the frequency with which this information is to be provided.

  •  
    Policy Development

    The two steps in policy development are to:

  • determine if a policy is needed; and,
  • develop the policy.
  • Determine if a policy is needed

    The need for a new or revised policy is usually identified through one of the following methods:

  • the director of education or other central office staff express the need for a policy, often as a reflection of the board’s core values and beliefs. For example, a policy on a fair and equitable system of student evaluation could fall into this category.
  • the board of education expresses a need for a policy, often in response to an issue or concern raised by parents or others in the school division, or as a means of improving the general quality of education in the division.  For example, policies on harassment and equity often fall into this category.
  • as a response to legislation.  For example, the Regulations to The Education Act specify that school divisions must have a materials selection policy that outlines criteria and procedures for selection of resource and library materials.
  • Another issue in determining whether a policy is needed is whether the board has the will and the interest to ensure that the policy is implemented and monitored.  It is a waste of time and energy to develop policies that will not be implemented and monitored.
     
    Develop the policy

    Once it has been determined that a policy is needed, the next step is to develop the policy.

    Different Methods of Policy Development

    There are several different ways that policies can be developed.  Different methods are appropriate for different circumstances and each method has advantages and disadvantages.  The most common methods are listed in the discussion box below.
     
    Policy Development Process
    When might this approach be appropriate?
    What are the advantages of this approach?
    What are the disadvantages of this approach?
    A senior administrator writes a draft policy for review by the board.      
    A senior administrator writes a draft policy for review by the board and by affected groups and individuals      
    The board asks a stakeholder group to write a policy for its review      
    The board gets opinion from the public, asks a committee composed of stakeholders to write a draft policy. The board asks for public feedback on the draft policy before it is finalized.      

    The major variable in the different methods of policy development listed in the box on the previous page is the amount of public consultation and involvement.  Public involvement can vary from none to intense.  Generally, the more potentially controversial a policy is, the more public involvement is appropriate.  In addition, the people who will be affected by a policy should have input into its development.  Although public involvement increases the time required for policy development and makes policy development more complex, it usually results in greater acceptance and implementation of the policy.  The policy development process described below assumes a great deal of public involvement.  Modify the amount of public involvement to suit the situation.

    The steps in developing a policy are:

  • identify the stakeholders;
  • form a working group;
  • explain the need for a policy and ask for input;
  • get information about work that other boards of education have done;
  • write the first draft of the policy; and,
  • finalize the policy.
  • Identify the Stakeholders

    It is best to include key stakeholder groups in the development of policies that affect them and in policies that are potentially controversial.  Stakeholder involvement has several advantages.  It:

  • ensures the policy development process is open and transparent;
  • allows everyone who will be affected by the policy to express their opinions;
  • builds a sense of commitment and shared ownership;
  • makes people affected by the policy aware of its existence; and,
  • increases the knowledge base upon which the policy is built.
  • The composition of stakeholder groups varies depending on the nature of the policy being developed.  Students, parents, teachers and school administrators have an interest in virtually all policies that are developed.  When the policy addresses a narrow issue such as missed exams and tests, these groups may be the only stakeholders.  However, for most policies, there will be community stakeholders.  For example:

  • Human rights groups and First Nations and Métis groups would be stakeholders for a racial incidents policy.
  • Community sports and recreation groups and nonprofit organizations would be stakeholders for a policy on community use of school facilities.  School maintenance and janitorial staff might also be stakeholders for this type of policy, since increased use of the school could affect their workload and work schedule.
  • Form a Working Group

    In most cases development of school division policies is led by a small working group made up of one or two board members, a central office staff member or principal, a teacher, a parent, and one or two older students.  If the policy is one that is of great interest to community stakeholders, a community representative might be on the team as well.

    Explain the Need for a Policy and Ask for Input

    It is important to let all potential stakeholders know that the policy is being developed, explain the reasons why the policy is needed and ask for their input.

    The strategies that are used to inform stakeholders about the need for the policy and to get their input will vary depending on the nature of the policy, the range of stakeholders, and the size and type of community.  A few ideas include:

  • Explain the policy and ask for input at school staff meetings, meetings of the SRC and School Council, meetings of local community groups.
  • Put information on the school division’s website and structure the website so that community members can enter their comments.
  • Put a notice in school newsletters with a tear-off form for comments that can be returned to the school division.
  • During this process, listen carefully to concerns and issues expressed by students, parents, teachers and other stakeholder groups.  Record these concerns in writing if appropriate.

    Get Information About Work that Other Boards of Education Have Done

    Other boards of education may have developed similar policies, and you may be able to learn from their experiences.  Many school division policies have been posted on the SSTA’s website (www.ssta.sk.ca).  It might also be appropriate to call neighbouring school divisions to find out what they have done.

    Write the First Draft of the Policy

    After the working group has collected opinion from people who will be affected by the policy and decided on the content of the policy, one person is usually delegated to do the actual writing.  This person might be a central office staff member, a community member, a teacher or principal, or a capable older student.

    When you are writing the first draft of the policy, it may be possible to use (with permission) sections from similar policies developed by other boards of education, so that the entire policy doesn’t have to be written from scratch.

    Distribute the first draft of the policy to students, teachers and all community stakeholders.  Ask these groups for their comments and opinions.  This process may improve the quality of the policy, but more importantly, it gives those affected by the policy input into its development and increases their sense of ownership and commitment to the policy.

    Finalize the Policy

    Write the second (and, if necessary, the third) draft of the policy, incorporating comments and suggestions made in response to previous drafts.

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    Hold School Division Staff Responsible for Producing the Desired Results
     
    Writing the policy is just the first stage in policy leadership.  The next step is implementing the policy and ensuring that it becomes the basis for action and decision making within the school division.

    Typically, the board delegates responsibility for this stage of the process to the people it has hired to administer and operate the school division - the director of education, the secretary-treasurer, other central office staff, principals and teachers.

    Boards usually expect two things of the director of education and others responsible for implementing policy:

  • that they make the policy known to those affected by it; and,
  • that they take actions to produce the desired results specified by the policy.
  • A policy is not useful and does not improve teaching and learning if it is simply filed in a policy manual and is not incorporated into school division activities.
    The actions taken to let people know about the policy and to bring about end results specified by the policy will vary depending on the nature of the policy, the range and type of stakeholders, and the resources available.  A few examples are illustrated in Figure 1.
     

    Figure 1: Holding School Division Staff Responsible for Achieving Desired Results
     
    Type of Policy Telling People About the Policy Actions to Produce the Desired Results
    Missed tests and exams
  • Students - Teachers explain the policy to students at the beginning of school year, post it in classroom and review it each time an important exam is announced. 
  • Parents - The policy is explained once a year at a parents’ meeting.  A note explaining the policy is sent home with students at beginning of each year. 
  • Teachers - The policy is discussed at the first staff meeting each year.
  • Teachers refer to the policy when a student misses a test. 
  • Principals and director handle complaints from students and parents in accordance with the terms of the policy. 
  • School volunteers
  • Potential volunteers - Information about the policy invites community members to volunteer and describes typical volunteer duties. 
  • Teachers - Information about the policy includes descriptions of the contribution volunteers can make to the education program.
  • Workshops are held for teachers on how to work with volunteers. 
  • Volunteer appreciation nights, awards, ceremonies and other events are organized to recognize volunteers. 
  • Volunteers are given meaningful tasks that contribute to the educational program rather than busywork (listening to a slow student read aloud rather than photocopying). 
  • Critical incidents
  • Students - The policy is explained to students once a year in all classrooms. 
  • Teachers - The policy is discussed at the first staff meeting each year. 
  • Local police, hospitals, etc. - The director of education meets with representatives of these organizations once a year to remind them of the provisions of the policy.
  • Once a year a “crisis rehearsal” is held in which there is a simulated gas leak, bomb scare, roof collapse, etc. and all participants are required to take the actions they would in the event of a real crisis.
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    Monitor Progress to Ensure that the Desired Results Are Being Achieved
     
    Developing a policy and delegating responsibility for implementing it are two important components of policy leadership. The third component of policy leadership is regularly monitoring progress to ensure that progress is being made toward the desired objective.

    Monitoring has two components:
     

  • establish criteria for success; and,
  • collect data relating to the goals of the policy.

  •  
    Establish Criteria for Success

    Central to the process of monitoring is establishing criteria for success – criteria that will help you answer questions such as, “Have we met our goals?” and “What progress have we made since last year in meeting our goals?”

    Sample criteria for success appear in Figure 2.
     

    Figure 2: Examples of Criteria for Success
     
    Type of Policy Policy Goal Criteria for Success
    School Volunteers To increase the number of people volunteering at the school and to involve them in meaningful tasks.
  • The number of volunteers will increase by 10 percent this year over last year. 
  • At least 60 percent of volunteers will report their experience as satisfying on a volunteer questionnaire.
  • Racial Incidents To reduce the number of racial incidents in the school and on the playground. Each year the number of racial incidents will be less than the previous year.  (During the first two or three years, there will probably be an increase in the number of reported incidents, as students become less fearful about reporting. After that, a gradual decline will be evidence the policy is working.) 

    Collect Data

    As part of the monitoring process, the board will ask the people responsible for implementing the policy (director of education, secretary-treasurer, principals, teachers) to collect statistical and qualitative data.  This data can then be used by the board to determine whether progress is being made toward achieving success – as measured by the criteria for success.

    Examples of the kind of data that might be collected by school division staff are illustrated in Figure 3.
     

    Figure 3: Examples of Data Collected by School Division Staff as Part of the Monitoring Process
     
    Policy Data
    School volunteers
  • Number of individuals volunteering per year 
  • Total number of volunteer hours 
  • Questionnaire completed by all volunteers about the nature and quality of their experiences.
  • Racial incidents
  • Statistical information about number and type of incidents 
  • Anecdotal reports by students involved in racial incidents.  (These reports will allow the board to assess whether incidents are being handled in accordance with the terms of the policy.)
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    References
     
    1. This model of policy leadership is based on the work of Dr. John Carver.  For more detailed information about this model refer to:

    Carver, J.  Policy governance in a nutshell.  http://www.carvergovernance.com/model.htm

    Carver, J.  (1997).  Boards that make a difference:  A new design for leadership in nonprofit and public organizations.  2nd ed.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Boss.

    Carver, J.  (1997).  Reinventing your board:  A step-by-step guide to implementing policy governance.  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Boss.

    Carver, J.  (1993).  John Carver on board governance.  (Videotape).  San Francisco:  Jossey-Boss.

     Carver, J.  (1992).  Empowering boards for leadership.  (Audiotape).  San Francisco, CA:  Jossey-Boss.

    2. Benefits of written policies courtesy of Dr. Leroy Sloan, Senior Education Advisor, Alberta School Boards Association, Edmonton, Alberta.

    3. Sloan’s Model of Relationship Building courtesy of Dr. Leroy Sloan, Senior Education Advisor, Alberta School Boards Association, Edmonton, Alberta.

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