Our readers might recall that the March 25 post at this blog dealt with two pieces of the board development puzzle: WHAT does board development mean? WHY is it critical that the superintendent spearhead board development, wearing the Board Developer-in-Chief hat? The post points out that your school board – like any other formal organization – can be consciously and systematically developed into an organization more capable of carrying out its mission: to govern your district. Of course, board development is an ongoing function because the field of K-12 governance is continuously evolving. Another important point the post makes is that an underdeveloped board means an underperforming board with dissatisfied, frustrated members who will be less reliable partners for the superintendent. Really board-savvy superintendents well know that they ignore board development at their professional peril.
Now we come to the HOW. Let’s begin by my telling you what 35-plus years of experience in the board development game have taught me NOT to do if you want to succeed. Don’t hire a consultant to study your board and submit a report recommending steps your board should take to strengthen its governing performance. And don’t rely on training as a board development tool. Neither approach will transform your board members into owners, and ownership is what fuels commitment to change. Both consultant reports and training sessions treat board members as a passive audience who are being told what to do, rather than being actively engaged in shaping what needs to be done.
Experience has taught me you can rely on two vehicles to get the board development job done so long as they are well-designed and meticulously managed: the board-superintendent-cabinet retreat; and the board task force. Both have proved to be very effective at generating technically sound board development recommendations that are actually implemented.
The governance retreat involves a daylong or 1 ½-day board-superintendent-cabinet work session, after which a follow-through action report consisting of concrete board capacity building recommendations is prepared by the retreat facilitator and presented to the board and executive team in a special work session. The retreat makes sense when intensive involvement of all board members from the very get-go is viewed as critical to eventual board adoption and implementation of the action recommendations. The governance task force involves a sub-set of board members (typically no more than a quarter of the board’s membership) and the superintendent coming up with the action recommendations with the assistance of a consultant over a series of 4 to 5 task force work sessions and presenting them to the full board and senior administrative team in a special work session. The governance task force makes sense when there is no compelling need for all board members to be engaged from the beginning of the capacity building process and/or it is not feasible to get all board members together for a retreat.
I can say with assurance that either the retreat or the task force will serve your district well as a board capacity building vehicle if it is meticulously staffed and managed. Both involve intensive board member involvement, which is critical to generating the ownership that is necessary for implementation of action recommendations. If you want nuts and bolts information on what’s involved in bringing off a successful board development retreat or task force, check out Chapter Six of my newest K-12 governance book, Building a High-Impact Board-Superintendent Partnership (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019: Order now from Rowman & Littlefield ).