It's probably never happened to your board, but sometimes school board members can lose their minds and get a little crazy.
Boards Gone Wild is the School Growth Tuesday Webinar series for June 2015 and centers around board leadership impact. How can you overcome the distractions and chaos when school board members go off the reservation in violation of good governance practice, creating heartache, hardship, and chaos?
The Trusted Confidant
The first role we'll discuss is the Trusted Confidant, which describes that board member who seeks out faculty members and parents to gather "real data" on what is really happening in the school or district.
Behaviors or statements you might hear from The Trusted Confidant include:
> Available to faculty in the hallways or other places to listen to concerns and solicit feedback.
> The go-to-person when parents have concerns about a coach, teacher, or administrator.
> Might ask: "What do you think of the Chief Administrator?" "Do you think we're going the right direction?"
> They are digging sometimes with good intentions, but it undermines trust and the chain of command and relationships. Ultimately it is not worth the damage it can do to play this role.
> They will commonly present data with, "I can't tell you who, but the teachers are telling me ..."
The Trusted Confidant undermines trusting relationships and a healthy board and school culture.
The root of the problem for the Trusted Confidant:
- Unhealthy fear. This board member is afraid the board isn't doing its job, afraid there is not enough communication, and afraid they as board members are going to get fooled.
- Lack of trust. This person doesn't trust the leadership of the board and the leadership of the school. They want to bypass the chain of command to get the "scoop."
- Misdirected empathy. In a desire to perhaps listen and encourage, this board member allows their empathy to create distrust and insubordination.
- Desire to be a hero, counselor, or peacemaker. This person may want to be the hero that "fixes" the problem, the counselor to give the advice and listen to troubled hearts, or be the peacemaker. All of the above produce unintended negative consequences that can cause great damage to the organization.
- Underestimates the impact on the culture and relationships.
- Poor communication habits.
How can these issues be addressed?
- Communications training. Establish a clear communication protocol that specifies the sequence for how messages are shared. Train board members to understand confidentiality and where the communication lines stop.
- Stick to the process. Enforcement is key, especially by the chair and other board leaders.
- Challenge the fears.
- Establish a clear whistleblower policy.
- Establish a clear process to listen and respond for the administration. Open office hours may be appropriate, along with a servants heart and a listening ear. This is more about attitude and culture. If the parents have an outlet, they are less likely to turn to the board as trusted confidants.
- Define a performance rubric for the chief administrator and for the board reinforces the desired expectations. The leadership should model open communication and demonstrate the highest level of relationships and performance.