Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Building a New Board Team

Building A New Board Team

The leadership services department has been sharing information about the election and new board members making the transition to the district leadership team.  Several articles have focused on what boards and superintendents can do in preparation for the transition.  Today I wanted to share the following thoughts from the perspective of being one of the new board members.
In my experience with most new boards members they are excited about “making a difference” in their new role.  I have met very few that did not have good intentions related to serving the student in their district.  New board member struggles almost always revolve around learning how boards work and their role on the board.  The following list represents some of the questions and anxiety that might be associated with beginning their new duties:

  •  Will I be welcome?
  •  Will I be equally included?
  •  What is happening in the district now?
  •  Who are these people? Can I trust them?
  •  What is the job?
  •  How do I get my ideas on the agenda?
  •  Will my ideas be accepted?
  •  How can I do things “right”?
  •  What are the expectations of how the team members work together?
  •  How will things change?
  •  What if we don’t like each other?
  •  Are my needs going to be met?

When a new team is formed it is important that time is allotted to discuss the “nuts and bolts” of how the board works.  The new board member workshops this spring will allow new members a chance to understand boards in general but it is up to the current board to ensure a quality transition for all members of the new team.   Our experience has been that effective boards are built on the concepts of good communication, trust among members that intentions are focused on the right work, and relationships among members.  New team members may experience issues with inclusion and isolation, which are associated with change but how long a team struggles often depends on how willing experienced board members are at creating a culture that is open, welcoming, and supportive of change.

Take the time to support the new team, it will be time well spent.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Board Relations: Tips for Conversations in Difficult Situations

As many of you already know Dr. Jordan and I spend many hours working with boards and administrative teams across the state.  We are always dealing with great people that want to impact their district and their communities while serving students.  We often find boards working through difficult situations trying to find ways to communicate in open and honest conversation.  In many cases emotional or “hot button” issues come up around the board table and create a potential for disagreement and disappointment.

The following tips might be helpful for board members to review in preparation for difficult discussions when hot topics are looming on the agenda. 

  •  Promote a Spirit of Inquiry – Inquiring and developing a clear understanding of the beliefs of others before expressing and promoting one’s own ideas. This norm is important to a beneficial discussion within the group.

  •  Pause – Stop and wait before responding or inquiring about expressed ideas. This norm promotes thoughtful thinking and may assist with the dialogue and problem-solving process.

  •  Paraphrase – Use good listening skills and summarize comments made by others within the group to acknowledge and/or clarify a member’s point of view or idea.

  • Probe – Ask for more information during a group discussion by using open-ended questions like: “Tell me more about your perception…” or “I’d like to hear more about…” or “Can you clarify the point that you made about…” Using this technique may give the group a deeper understanding about a topic or a problem and assist with decision-making.

  •  Put Ideas on the Table – Ideas are the core of meaningful dialogue within a group. Clearly label your presentation of a possible idea or solution to a problem by saying: “One idea that I have is…” or “Here is a possible solution…”

  •  Pay Attention to Self and Others – Make an effort to be aware of what you are saying and how you are behaving within the group interactions. Also, be aware of how others are behaving and responding to the group discussions.

  •  Presume Positive Intentions – Assume that the intentions of others are positive as the group interacts within discussions and problem solving activities. Use positive language and interact with others in a respectful manner.
An old saying often heard:  “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”   Taking the time to prepare might make a big difference for everyone as we approach tough topics, maybe the board can create enough luck to turn obstacles in to opportunities.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How to enhance positive board and superintendent relations.

Principle 1: Clarify roles and expectations.
·       Hold forums or one-on-one meetings to provide school board candidates with a clear picture of what is expected of them if they are elected.
    • Establish the expectation that the entire team be committed to continuous learning such as KASB Regional Meetings-Seminars-Annual Convention.
·       Stress the importance of planning and policy making as the board’s primary functions. Let board members know how plans and policies relate to the district’s vision.
·       Revisit annually to reaffirm role expectations of the superintendent and administrators.

Principle 2: Develop a clear process for communication.
·       Develop a communication plan. Clearly state who needs to know what and when. Don’t forget to explain how you will communicate during emergencies.
·       Provide activities that encourage board members and administrators to build their listening and decision-making skills.
·       Hold periodic board meetings in the district’s schools and enjoy a student presentation or ask the building principal to conduct a tour before the meeting.
·       Hear accountability reports from principals on building effectiveness in reaching district goals.
·       Pick up the telephone instead of worrying about an issue—keep the lines of communication open.
·       Provide board members with regularly scheduled updates, including both good and bad news, in accordance with the open records law requirements. Include a calendar of any upcoming events which board members might attend.
·       Allow regular opportunities for principals to report directly to the board during board meetings.
·       The board president and superintendent should build the meeting agenda together.
·       Do not surprise others at the board table.
·       Clearly state the process governing board member communications about building-level issues. Clarify the superintendent’s role and that of the building administration and staff.

Principle 3: Actively work to build trust and mutual respect.
·       Develop a vision/mission statement for the district. Express and clarify core beliefs and develop an ethical behavior statement for the board, superintendent and administrators.
·       Respect the opinions of others, even if they differ from your own. Express disagreement openly and rationally, and agree to disagree when consensus cannot be reached.
·       Identify activities that build trust in a relationship and apply them to board/administrator work.
·       Recognize each other’s successes. Help each other succeed.
·       Remain focused on issues—not personalities—when discussions become heated.

Principle 4: Evaluate the whole team.
·       Conduct superintendent, board and district evaluations using district goals as the core ingredient of each evaluation.
·       Make sure a meaningful process is clear to everyone involved in the evaluation.
·       Identify indicators to be used to assess goals or evaluation criteria.

Principle 5: Actively work on improved decision making.
·       Recognize board members’ expertise in different areas and ask for advice when making decisions.
·       Provide information in a timely manner. Board members should communicate to the superintendent prior to meeting when more information is needed.
·       Seek the advice of legal counsel when necessary. Determine who can seek advice of the district’s legal counsel for the board.
·       Propose more than one solution to a complex problem. Allow for discussion.
·       Support the final decision of the board.