Board policies directly impact the school’s ability to innovate and compete in today’s marketplace. The leadership modeled by the school board influences the administrations ability to continue to innovate and improve the school or district.
Below are example policies and practices that contribute to growing schools and increasing the capacity to innovate, broken down into the Three Core Contributions of Board Leadership: Vision, Viability, and Visibility.
Building an innovation culture requires a board that has a reasonable threshold for failure. By definition innovation requires experimentation: Some experiments that will be a home run, however, some won’t work. Remember that effective innovation is not an event, it’s a disciplined process. Whether an initiative is a success or failure, use it to build, measure, and learn from that process. A board that pounces on the administration to criticize and ridicule results of a failed innovation effort will severely limit the organizations capacity to achieve genuine improvement.
Be clear about your expectations and desired results as a board. Communicate to your chief administrator what is needed for he/she to “win” and succeed, collaboratively making adjustments as needed. Use structured two-way communication between the board and administration with the intent of building trust, not just being heard.
Commitment to Learn
Board members must have a commitment to learning. The highly effective board member avoids the "large-and-in-charge" attitude in favor of humility that seeks understanding and to be understood. Being a board member is hard work, learning about the issues facing education today, the challenges of working with the stakeholders throughout the school community, and the opportunities and threats to school growth.
Commitment to Discipline
Innovation is sustained through a disciplined process. It’s not enough to just walk in to a board meeting and throw out a bunch of great ideas. The board needs a disciplined process to approach it's innovation to effectively and sustainability govern the organization.
Be the Best Board for Whom to Work
In order for a school to achieve excellence across all areas, consistent leadership is a priority. Our research shows that the chief administrator has to be in place a minimum of eight consecutive years in order for the school to attain a consistent level of greatness. Help your chief administrator gain commitment to the mission, and then take care of him/her by becoming a phenomenal board for whom to work. I’ve never talked to an administrator who was excited about leaving an amazing board!
Boards often experience a conflict between speed, quality, and inexpensive. You can choose only two because the third will be determine by your decisions with the other two. Generally is extremely difficult to accomplish an initiative at top speed, highest quality, and cheapest price. Maintain balanced expectations as a board if you want to see sustained growth.
Model the Disciplines of Innovation
As a board, begin to implement the best practices of innovation before asking this of the administration. Consider the structure of board meetings, how new board members are trained, points of accountability, etc. Accept the responsibility of disciplined innovation before expecting it in the administration.
Communicate with Families about Directions and Expectations
The board should clearly communicate to families why they’re doing what they’re doing. Communication from the board should establish the attitude that, “We’re on the move! We’re innovating!” This often means...
Take the Heat Off the Administration
Show that you’ve got their back and you’re in this together! Be vocally and actively supportive of the administration.
Stay Out of Management
The level of involvement in management depends on the Stage of Board Development, but to often a board gets inappropriately involved in decisions that are not within the scope of effective governance. Stay focused on policies and setting vision, then trust and equip your administration to make the decisions required to execute that vision.
Celebrate Publicly and Rebuke Privately
Enthusiastically celebrate accomplishments publicly and provide genuine, constructive rebuke privately. You’re building momentum and innovating to figure out what works today! That’s a message for your families, faculty, donors, and prospective students. Communicate that you’re bought-in to this innovative vision! The stakeholders in the school community shouldn't have to wonder what the board is thinking.