Corporate strategies work in school management

Principals might be well served by taking a leaf out of the corporate management book and adopting some of the strategies that CEOs of large corporations rely on.
Jul 22, 2020
A corporation?
School principals should only do what no one else can't do

A school bears a strong resemblance to a business in its structure, there are hundreds of people involved, an executive leadership level and a principal atop it all attempting to point everything in one direction.

All things considered, principals might be well served by taking a leaf out of the corporate management book and adopting some of the strategies that CEOs of large corporations rely on.

Principals usually get to where they are by being good at teaching, but teaching and being a principal are different and require a different skill set.

Rochelle Borton Founder and Managing Director of Eduinfluencers is being kept very busy introducing corporate style procedures and management strategies to schools, a process which tends to relieve the stress on the principal and leadership groups.

"I came from a business faculty and did lots of business development work, executive recruitment and marketing. I worked alongside people managing big teams and I decided five years ago to work exclusively with schools,” she says.

What struck her was the demands placed on principals, often they’re asked to contend with activities well outside their field of expertise.

"Principals are incredible and 99 per cent of the time, their craft is teaching and learning, they’re educators. We expect them to run enormous organisations, some of my biggest schools have 1300 students, I work with their leadership team and they have 16 leaders and that’s just in the exec team.

"So, we’ve got this expectation that they would have all these skills to lead all these big organisations but essentially their craft is teaching.”

Principal training is often within a practical framework but the finer points of management and strategy are often missed.

"Lots of them upskill as they need to, what’s on offer first is the practical, we’ll teach you how to use this system, we’ll teach you legal requirements, we’ll teach you finance and how to manage a budget and it’s up to them to figure out ‘how do I get the best out of my team?'"

“I ask them the questions like; ‘Do you have a compelling vision for what you want to do do?’ and teach principals how to build more cohesion in their teams and how to build high performing teams.”

She works in about 20 high perfroming schools a year and alongside education systems, and there’s a lot of one on one coaching which is how Borton unlocks what she calls"individual genius and collective genius."

The first part of the process is for the principal to acknowledge that there might be a knowledge gap and that there is help available from consultants like Borton.

"They need to see that maybe they don’t have all these answers and maybe they weren’t  expected to anyway and that there someone that can help.

"99 per cent of the time they will come to me with an issue they have noticed, and ask ‘what do you think about that? Is there anything you would recommend?'

"We start with looking at the issue; what’s the problem? I work with them one-on-one to define that, and I might do that with a senior exec, we do surveys of staff, leadership reviews and structural reviews."

Regularly she finds teams working in silos or that there aren’t high levels of collaboration or that the stakeholders feel that the culture is not what they expected.

"We work with the exec team and we might look into working with the full school staff once or twice a year. We also do one on one coaching with all of the executives which is completely confidential, so that we can unlock what may be the next steps for them as individuals," she says.

The process depends on the school but it can take up to 12 to 18 months so there is a strong commitment required.

Several factors are apparent in high functioning school leadership groups, there are high levels of professional trust, a feedback culture, there are high levels of collaboration and it is used well and there is a diverse and inclusive team.

"If a team is not working well together, if they’re not cohesive if there is no productive conflict, nothing is going to improve, we want some conflict so we can have robust passionate discussion about education," she says.

The identification of an overarching vision of where they want to be is key to the system functioning at a high level.

"Education is complicated so their one big thing, their compelling big vision needs to be clarified. They’re basic things that you would see any great CEO do but they just get lost in the management of a school.

"Let’s not forget that the number one job as a school leader is to build the capacity of the people, we have to get principals thinking that their main job is building the capacity of others now.

"They’ll say ‘I’m so busy, time’s a problem’, my conversation with them is actually your job isn’t to do the doing, the only job you should be doing is anything that no one else can do.

"I was at a school last week and it was the principal’s birthday they had on his door ‘Chief’ and I thought that’s a really good analogy, he is the chief, and the expectation we should have of principals is discovering what the one big thing looks like, what is the strategy and vision?" Borton says.