We are entering into a season when school leaders start to lose a bit of sleep as they anticipate retiring board members transitioning out and new board members starting.
This can sometimes be a time of turbulence, especially if there is a change in the Board Chair seat. The relationship between a school leader and the chair of the board is one of the most critical relationships in the organization. Most changes and major decisions in a school community often fall to these two individuals, and many times, we take this relationship way too lightly. But even with so much at stake and so many moving parts, there are ways to make board transitions deliberate, intentional, and positive for all involved.
Here are a few things for school boards and principals to keep in mind as we enter the season of new board members or a new chair of the board:
1) Use the school leader as a key resource
Principals have occasionally wondered if it is their place to voice an opinion on a potential board member. Let me go on record as saying that if school leaders miss this opportunity, they do their board and community a disservice. No one knows the community like the principal of a school. Most of the time, the principal has interviewed the families, knows their church history and spiritual walk, and has observed them both interact with staff and serve on other school committees. The principal has a good read on who is supportive of the school and who would be a good fit on the board. Being on the front lines of a school offers a wonderful view into the actions of members. There is a time and place to humbly share this invaluable information with the board (for the sake of the Kingdom) in the search for effective and committed board members. There is also wisdom in a board chair tapping into this valuable resource.
2) Take the time to train new board members
It is a bit frightening that we often take the addition of new board members so casually. Principals would never start a new staff member in September without a significant orientation; yet at times, we have elected new board members and started them without much ramp up at all.
At my school, Timothy Christian School in Barrie, we run a full 1.5-hour New Board Orientation Session every fall, which is a service we receive from Edvance. There are a variety of gems in Edvance’s New Board Member Orientation workshop, but none greater than the "Five Key Areas of an Effective Board". This session brings a new board member up to speed, gives them focus areas to be a quality board member, and also provides guidance on where to aim their energy while on the board. We have run these fall workshops for over four years now and see them as so valuable that it will be a tradition we will not break anytime soon. We already have Ian Timmerman lined up to facilitate the orientation session for us next fall.
3) Build a bridge one on one with new board members
Taking the time to meet one on one with each new board member helps so much with the transition period. This allows their questions to get answered so they feel comfortable in their role and, even more important, provides a time for you as the school leader to unpack the vision and core values of your school to help start things in a good direction. If missed, board discussions may begin to devolve into personal agendas rather than supporting the overall school vision.
4) Set aside meeting time for board professional reading
One final thing I would recommend to keep a board effective and focused is reading and studying a book together. Every school year, our executive picks a book for the board to study. The content varies each year, depending on where we need to grow or push ourselves as a board. Sometimes it is about Christian vision, other times it is about HR items, and still in other years it's about good board governance.
This year the executive chose Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. Each board member reads the assigned chapter before our board meeting. We find this practice really helps keep our board sharp and focused on the current issues of running a quality organization.
Welcoming a new board chair or several new board members to
the board table does not have to mean entering the danger zone. But it is a
critical time for a school leader and the board overall. If done intentionally,
the transition can be a time of growth and positivity for both your board
members and for your school.
Rod Berg is the North Toronto Cohort Leader for Edvance, and Principal at Timothy Christian School in Barrie, Ontario.