School leaders’ perspectives on how to improve the Board / Principal relationship 

January 2023 sees the launch of a new report from RSAcademics, based on in-depth interviews with 75 Principals of international schools across the world.  The report, entitled “Upwards and Onwards”, reflects current practice and offers guidance to Principals on how they might best “manage upwards” in an international school context, with the aim of creating productive and happy relationships with their Board.

From our consultancy work over the last 20 years with schools around the world, one common and consistent learning point stands out: the Principal and the Board must have a highly effective working relationship for their school to thrive over the medium to long term. Eventually, this affects everything.

However, when we explored the topic, we found very little training or practical guidance for Principals on what they personally can do to understand better and work more successfully with their Boards in the cultural, social and sometimes political contexts of international schools. “Upwards and Onwards” aims to fill that gap and has been researched and written by Chris Edwards, Senior Advisor at RSAcademics, who has experience of school leadership and Board development in Singapore, New Zealand, South America and the U.K.

What Chris found is that for all the superb international schools around the world whose Principal and Board enjoy a positive, high-functioning relationship, instances of massive dysfunction also exist. The two main issues that cause most concern and stress to the Principals are:

  • Boards sometimes cross the boundaries between oversight and executive authority
  • Boards sometimes engage in group-think and do not encourage different perspectives and arguments

So what can Principals do to address these and the other problems that this report exposes in order to improve their working relationship with the Board? How can they enjoy this part of their job? After all, as one of the 75 Principals put it:

“There is pleasure in managing a Board well – invest time, energy and thought in that.”

Each of the nine chapters in our report finishes with a section called “Points to consider and things to try” to help useful reflection and provide practical advice. We will also be considering the actions Principals can take in our webinars.

You can download a copy of the report here.


January 2023