All organisations need clear policies and procedures. it is essential to document them and to create consistent behaviours that match these agreed practices. What can be fascinating is to consider why some schools have handbooks that are literally inches deep, hundreds of pages long and reflect minute detail while others seem to have much simpler models that work quite well. School policies, how we write them and apply them, need to be carefully considered.

School Policies
School Policies or Principles

School Policies Can Hold Us Back

Some school policies have a risk of limiting original and innovative ways of thinking. If staff feel as if they have no voice or buy in then they can feel like they are being driven by detached bureaucracy and have narrow and restrictive control over quality. If an organisation is driven by rules then it eliminates the opportunity for staff to be creative and unique in their approach to work. Especially in education, staff want to differentiate and adjust practice based on daily needs and the needs of a wide range of students or contexts.

Too many rules keep you from getting things done. As Yves Morieux shares “too often, an overload of rules, processes and metrics keeps us from doing our best work together.” According to Harrison Barnes, rules tend to isolate us. When we are bogged down by rules we don’t feel empowered, to innovate, and to collaborate.

Some School Policies Cannot Be Enforced

school policies
Compliance can be hard to achieve with school policies

When school policies are created in isolation and without discussion and involvement with stakeholders there is a risk that policies cannot be enforced at all times. It is hard to achieve compliance. Having policies that are not operating in practice or being enforced is worse than having no policy at all. It is confusing and challenging to staff when they do not know which policies are critical and which are not or even what the key purpose is that we aim to achieve.

Old School Thinking

Another challenge with traditional rule making is that this approach can be off-putting for younger workers or new generations. As we manage a new generation, we need to recognise how differently staff view rules, policies and procedures than former generations. We need to understand staff, what motivates them and how best to accelerate potential.

school policies

To generalise, baby boomers need firm and clear rules and polices, but Millennials and Generation Z prefer to break or bend the rules rather than follow them explicitly. It is their nature to want to achieve their goals without the restrictions of fixed rules. They feel that policies restrict them and require a particular course of action. They would argue that more rules make the workplace less flexible and less effective.

Fear tends to drive excessive policy-making. We need to remember that policies don’t ignite passion. Vision, mission and leadership creates smooth and highly productive organisations.

School Policies For Exception

We need to be cautious about responding to challenges merely with new policy. Are we sure that a crisis, challenge or problem requires a new policy? Too often we deal with generalities or change policy based on “loud or vocal minorities” that may not represent a large portion of stakeholders or a big issue at all. Show caution. Solve the problem. Don’t layer bureaucracy like a fire blanket over a team that could very well turn a crisis into an opportunity. Remember, history has proven that the greatest triumphs come from adversity.

How To Align Vision and Vision with School Policies and Procedures in Practice

Especially in international schools there is a relatively high turn over of staff. The challenge is how do we ensure consistency of vision and mission when the stakeholders are changing quite regularly? It seems an endless battle to first focus on articulating a very clear vision but then maintain it and retrain staff to ensure clarity and alignment.

What is the solution?

“Induction by leaders should start with a conversation that basically starts with “This is how we do business around here!” Almost a manual the reflects behaviours that match your core vision and mission. Don’t be afraid of helping staff know your very clear and passionate way of doing things.They want leaders not dark clouds of bureaucracy.”

Greg Parry, CEO

We can operationalise passion and vision by focusing on what matters most. When we aim to solve a problem and we think we have a solution we should use a guided question:

“Will this action, activity, decision, project, purchase or direction….. <insert key vision words> “

It is important to operationalise a vision and mission to make sure we truly embrace it. The ideas must be grounded and relevant for all. School policies, procedures and rules must reflect this.

(Learn more about Vision and Mission)

What is a Principle?

Principles are a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief. It can be the foundation for behaviour or for a chain of reasoning. It is a rule or belief governing one’s behaviour. Principles are often described as morally correct behaviour and attitudes. (Source)

Principles are much more powerful than rules or policies because they connect deeply to personal or group values. It is what makes a rule or policy “make sense.” Our energy must bounce from values and beliefs, not pages of policy.

Principles Must Drive School Policy and Practice

While some may say that rules make things clearer there is an argument that they are in fact often less clear. Unless there is an inordinate number of detailed rules covering every possible situation they cannot easily apply to everything. In contrast, principles cover more broadly, and deeper, most situations. For example, a school may have a policy specifically describing how a late piece of assessment should be treated for grading. Although that might seem simple and universal, what about cases where a student has a medical issue or an accident. If you reduce a grade based on lateness does it actually reflect quality of work, skills, or knowledge that exists? What about a student who misunderstands a poorly written or confusing task?

The “spirit of a policy” needs to be understood. What values or belief are underpinning that rule, policy or procedure? Are they being upheld in the application of a policy?

In practice, do we always refer to a book of rules or policies? Or is there an inherent understanding and the handbook is just used to jog memory? And if we do have to refer to a book or document to find the solution to a problem, then is the policy really “in practice” or just an arbitrary statement. Isn’t reference to “principle” more relevant than a rule?

Best practice is a focus on values, belief, good character and fine principles.

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CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry

Greg Parry

Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

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