Your successful election to the board of education has set you on an important course. As a representative of your community, you have set off on a new and exciting journey.
Think about how you want to be remembered at the end of that journey. Hopefully, you will say that you want to be the kind of board member who works diligently with the board and superintendent to make informed decisions that had a positive impact on all students and the community as a whole. Remembering the following five “Ins and Outs” will help you achieve the results you hope to produce.
1. The Board is an Ongoing Entity. You are only one member of a board that has existed before you and will go on in the future. Remember that the board you’ve joined has already been in existence. History and tradition have already been established. There is an assigned way of doing business and priorities have already been set. There are policies, legal mandates, practices and protocols in place.
Your early months on the board should be those of discovery. Find out how the board and the district do business. Familiarize yourself with the district’s goals, written policies and board protocols for behavior. Your board, working in concert with the superintendent will use agreed-upon team operating standards and procedures. Ask good questions that will lead to a better understanding of those traditions.
In addition to finding out how your board and district operate, you would be wise to understand why certain procedures are used. Once you truly understand and practice using district procedures and policies, you can begin to think about suggesting improvements that will create a more efficient or effective board team and lead to greater district success.
2. Keep the big picture in mind. Since it is the primary goal of our Ohio school districts to set policies that ensure that all public school students receive an effective and appropriate education, it’s important to focus your decisions on what’s best for all the kids. Remind yourself of why you’re there and keep the students first.
True governance leadership happens at the big picture level. To help maintain that focus, allow the superintendent and staff to take care of the day-to-day operation of the schools. Watch them as they perform and give them the tools they need to put out the fires, as you give guidance from the helicopter overhead. When micromanaging is the rule instead of the exception, roles and responsibilities are muddied, time and resources are wasted and we make much more work for ourselves than is necessary.
3. Act in the best interest of the district as a whole. You were elected to your position by a specific segment of your community and at times people who were loyal to you during your campaign may ask for special favors that will benefit them or their children. At times, acting to benefit these interests might also benefit the whole district. Very often, however, making decisions that benefit special interests is in opposition to what is best for the district as a whole.
You can best serve your community by getting information from those who are impacted by a given decision. Your board should realize that it must focus on what is best for the greatest good of the district and community.
Weighing conflicting viewpoints is not always an easy task. Facing a friend or neighbor at the grocery store or at a social function with your “board hat” on can be difficult. However, by taking an objective look at the pros and cons of potential decisions and keeping your attention on the greatest good principle, you can make decisions that will keep the district moving in the right direction.
4. Develop good working relations with your fellow board members. As an individual board member, you only have authority when you are with the corporate body in legally called board meetings. You will serve yourself and your district well by remembering that you are only one member of the team.
Therefore, one of the best things that you can do to influence other members of the team is to develop good working relationships with fellow board members and the superintendent. Listen and observe before passing judgment. Seek to understand other points of view and always work toward consensus. Remember that positive relationships help breed positive results.
5. Ask good questions about consequences. Consequences of board actions impact students. A board member needs to ask how the decision will negatively impact the students and how it will benefit all students. Experienced board of education members realize that big-picture decisions made by the board can have far-reaching effects on the district.
Your community and district expect your board to make decisions that are well thought out, reflect the greatest good principle, and are responsible. If you ask yourself and the other members of the district leadership team questions about consequences, you will ensure yourself one step closer to high-quality governance.