Motivated and effective boards are not the result of low expectations
Does your school board set high expectations? Or do you tend to have a soft sell: “Please come in and be on our board. We need you and it won’t be that hard--we just really need you on the board?”
Low expectations set the stage for low results! Instead, communicate expectations that will deliver the type of motivation and performance that you want. The school (or district) will never be better than its board in terms of the quality of the leadership and the investment made in professional development and growth.
Raise the bar by setting goals that help the board see how to make a significant difference. When a new person joins the board, whether through election or trustee cultivation, they’re there because them want to make a difference. The Sustaining Board intentionally trains new people to understand governance and leadership, as well as how they can make a tremendous contribution to the vision and the quality of the school by working collaboratively with the the board and chief administrator.
Annual Board Goal Categories
Here are three categories in which annual board goals can be grouped:
1) Compliance - Every board generally has various documents and/or commitments that need to be executed by each trustee: conflict of interest, annual fund, statement of conduct, etc.
2) Engagement - Board leadership includes actively participating in the culture and life of the school, not just attending board meetings. Trustees should be able to share the unique value story of the school through their engagement in:
- Giving - Each trustee leads by example when it comes to donating to the school.
- Admissions Tour - Take an enrollment tour once a year to gain understanding from the view of a prospective family to get an idea of the buzz words and ideas that get families excited.
- Tour Similar Organization - Visit similar organizations, whether local or elsewhere, to learn from a broader idea of what is and isn’t working in schools.
- Donor Cultivation - Trustees should be engaged in finding and building relationships with individuals who have a passion for the mission of the school and would like to support and further it by donating.
- Student-for-a-day - Schedule a time to shadow a student, sitting in on classes and experiencing the program from the perspective of a student.
3) Leadership - Focus on how to further each members influence, setting the tone for the board's vision, viability, and visibility. Suggested goals:
- Trustee Cultivation - Trustees can be expected to build relationships with current trustees, the chief administrator, as well as prospective trustees in an intentional recruiting effort.
- Attendance - Members should be expected to attend a certain percentage of board meetings. It isn’t “come if you can,” but rather "lead by example."
- Committees - Trustees can be expected to be involved in committees to help work towards the goals of the school.
Goals vs. Resolutions
Do you know the difference between a goal and a resolution? Resolutions are expressed in a general way which makes it hard to attach accountability. Goals, on the other hand, add concrete and measurable specificity and visualize how, when and where it will be achieved. Too often we see under-performing boards in early stages of development that offer vague expectations.
Trustees should be able to distinctively tell whether or not they have accomplished their goals. When you state goals such as “every board member will go on an admissions tour once a year” or “every board member will cultivate a relationship with at least two prospective trustees,” there’s no confusion over results; they either accomplished it or they didn’t. Make it clear how board leaders can make a significant contribution.
This is part of the integrity of the board--if you’re going to hold the chief administrator accountable and responsible for goals, then the board has the same responsibility. If you are going to be the board that is responsible for the entire organization, it is incumbent upon you to set the tone of goals, accountability and responsibility. That’s what good governance does.
A good way to track progress toward board goals is with a dashboard tool like the Board Index. A well-designed and updated spreadsheet can also be used for this purpose, though may be more cumbersome. Reviewing the board's goals at every meeting to measure performance and give feedback.
It’s never too late to start setting goals that will raise the bar and reflect the quality you are looking for in your school board to build momentum towards more effective leadershipf.