The Connection Between Policy, Power & Leaders’ Responsibility

Over the years that span my professional career as both a teacher and as district and school administrator, I’ve heard the term “policy” thrown out there constantly.  All of us educators have heard about “technology policy, student behavior policy, grant management policy, teacher evaluation policy to even dismissal of obsolete materials policy”.  For me, as I reflect about this, policy in its simplest form always meant “rules”.  Instructions that need to be followed that were put in place to support the operation, organization and support of a classroom, a building, a district department or an entire school district. As I think about what policy means to me and the multiple definitions that Fowlers offers, the one that resonates the most is what Crosby & Bryson defined (as quoted by Fowler, 2013) “Policy as substantive decision, commitments, and implementing actions by those who have governance responsibilities….as interpreted by various stakeholders (Fowler, 2013, p. 5).

As a school and district administrator, I believe to be in a position with governance responsibilities and as a stakeholder as well. As a coordinator for Title I and EL services, I had the responsibility of reforming the bilingual programs of our district. We did that over the course of three years and with every decision that we made, we had to ensure that it met specific policy. For example, program design policy that the state of Illinois allowed, identification of student’s policy, or grand expenditure policy that allowed us to hire or not specific staff to work in our programs.  At the same token, as we interpreted state mandated policy, and as we reformed the language programs of the district, we had governance responsibilities with our district to create district related policy that our schools, principals and teachers needed to interpret. Some of these district level policies included language allocation plans, non-negotiable instructional practices, intervention and IPS procedures, progress monitoring procedures and student identification procedures.  All of which, were made formal policies with specific rules and procedures that needed to be interpreted and followed by various stakeholders.

What is interesting is the relationship between policy and power. Mutch (as quoted by Fowler,2013) defines power as “the ability of an actor to affect the behavior of another actor” (Fowler, 2013, p. 23).  Fowler writes that “the ability to exercise power depends on possessing appropriate resources, such as money, social status, and information” (Fowler, 2013, p. 23).  Naturally, those with power have leverage to influence policy in a huge way. At the state level, lawmakers and legislators possess the appropriate resources and insider information to create policy.  Agendas, and collations are formed, and policy gets developed, sometimes without actual consideration of those it affects.  As a district administrator, I also see how school and district leaders hold some level of power to act as policymakers.  However, I strongly believe that as leaders, with or without power, we have the moral responsibility to ensure that whatever policy we decided to make, it does in fact affect the students, the teachers and the community in a way that is supportive, responsible and most importantly ethical.


Fowler, F. C. (2013). Policy Studies for Educational Leaders 4ed. New Jersey: Pearson Education

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