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Boards Gone Wild: The Trusted Confidant

Posted by Grace Lee on Sep 14, 2012 1:46:00 PM

BGW Trusted Confidant Title

(Click Here for Recording)

Season 1, Episode 1 of "Boards Gone Wild" aired yesterday on a Webinar sponsored by RenWeb. The next episode, "The HR Pro," will be broadcast on September 27, at 12:00 PM ET/11:00 AM CT. 

Comments from viewers:

"The Boards Gone Wild webinar was excellent and I would like to
have access to it for several board members if possible."
"Thank you for today’s webinar.  I enjoyed the topic and would like
to request the recording to share with the entire board."
"Boards Gone Wild" features the most common and most costly mistakes of school board trustees. Usually these decisions are made with good intentions, but the unintended consequences undermine the leadership and viability of the school. By discussing these issues in an open and direct way, we hope to save your school from similar difficulties. These episodes provide an excellent tool for board orientation training or for discussion at a board meeting.

The Trusted Confidant

The Trusted Confidant is a school board member who is available to faculty in the hallways or other places to listen to their concerns and solicit feedback. He or she is the go-to-person when parents have concerns about a coach, teacher, or administrator.
You'll know this person because they might ask,
“What do you think of the head?”
“Do you think we’re going the right direction?”
“Are you happy with that decision by the?”
The Trusted Confidant will commonly present the feedback collected by starting off with, “I can’t tell you who, but your teachers are telling me….”  

If a trustee wants to create uncertainty and dissension within the school, this is a perfect way to do it.


What's at the root of this poor behavior?

  • Unhealthy Fear
    Some parents and teachers have developed a spirit of fear that inhibits trusting relationships. Such a parent might, for example, justify not going directly to a teacher or administrator with a problem because of fear that the student might face repercussions as payback. This type of unhealthy fears has damaging consequences for everyone involved, and it's incumbant upon the board to model behaviors that are more mature. These assumptions can be challenged in a productive way to raise the level of emotional intelligence.
  • Bad Habits
    Perhaps a trustee has simply developed the habit of soliciting comments about others in a manner that leads to uncertainty and doubt. Sometimes this happens under the guise of accountability, but at its root is self-serving gossip and manipulation.  
  • Lack of Trust
    Lack of trust impairs the ability to build relationships and usually produces stressful anxiety. The capacity for trust should be included in the screening process for new school board trustees. 
  • Misdirected Empathy
    Wanting to reach out and help teachers or parents may appear to be noble, but doing so in a manner that bypasses the leadership structure of the organization is destructive.
  • Desire to be a Hero, Counselor, or Peacemaker
    It's possible that a trustee will play the role of The Trusted Confidant in order to be the hero who comes to the rescue, the counselor who provides guidance, or the peacemaker who restores order.  All three are outside of the proper role of school board governance. 

How should the board support productive communication and accountability within the school?

  • Train trustees, administrators, faculty, parents, and students on ways to communicate effectively and appropriately

  • When a parent or teacher approaches a trustee (or the spouse of a trustee) with an issue about a teacher, coach or similar concern, the trustee should ask them to go to the appropriate person in the organization because the school board is not involved in the management of the organization.
  • Challenge their fear, even offering to take them to the right person if they don't seem to be willing to move beyond their fear.
  • Establish and communicate a whistle-blower process for school employees and parents to report qualifying issues.
  • Conduct a faculty culture survey, a parent survey, and/or a student survey to guage the quality of the school community.
  • Help the chief administrator implement a process for listening (e.g., open office hours, feedback box, easy access to an appointment, etc.)
  • Include high-quality communication in the chief administrator's performance scorecard or rubric.
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