I’ve had the privilege of talking with almost 100 Heads and Board Chairs of small schools over the past 3 weeks through workshops I co-led (with the amazing Dr. Valaida Wise) on reentry and recovery for small school heads and Board chairs. I am always so energized by learning with such intelligent and creative folks! These school leaders are confronting the need to plan and strategize this summer in dramatically different ways than normal in order to be ready for school in the fall. Along with just about every other school leader in the world, they are thinking about health and safety while physically distancing, how to effectively implement a robust, mission-aligned curriculum from a distance, and how to support the social and emotional well-being of all of their constituents- students, faculty and staff, parents; while respecting and responding to their diversity. These school leaders are unique, however, in that they lead small schools and this context provides both distinct challenges and significant benefits and opportunities.
From the myriad of discussion topics we engaged in (over 2 sessions each, with schools in 3 different associations), here are five things that emerged as themes that all schools should be considering:
By gathering small school heads and board members together to share information, ask questions, and (sometimes) commiserate, we affirm the strength, value, and need for our small schools. The wisdom of these school leaders is vast and important. Together, they have weathered the pandemic-required emergency at-home learning this spring, and together they will reenter school and recover from this unprecedented time by sharing insights and support. I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from them!
Is your Board leading your school using the most effective governance practices? The Building Better School Boards Professional Development Program enables independent school Boards and Heads to improve their governance practices so they can ensure the sustainability of their schools without wasting time or money.
The end of the school year is here. And what a year it has been! This winter, some of you had no snow days, some had too many, and some dealt with wildfires. You then helped your teachers switch, overnight, from teaching in-person to teaching remotely, you’ve written heartfelt, inspiring statements about anti-racism and promoting social justice, and you’ve facilitated physically-distanced graduation and moving up ceremonies for your seniors and students transitioning to other divisions. You have worried about your current students and faculty and wondered about future ones. If you haven’t already crossed the finish line, you will cross it soon. And most of you will be battered, bruised, and exhausted. My question is: How well has your Board supported you this past year? Have they made this remarkable year a little easier or have they added to the stress?
In my research on small school leadership and governance (with the incredible Dr. Valaida Wise), we found that Heads of small schools typically need to take a more active role (than larger school Heads) in ensuring that their Boards are effective in their work. Small school Boards often have fewer members who deeply understand the work of independent school governance and how to make decisions and act strategically to ensure the long-term viability of the organization. Heads usually have the most experience and expertise in these areas and need to actively help Boards to fulfill their responsibilities.
What I know about your Board members, even though I have never met them, is that they are passionate and dedicated champions of your school. While some may seem indifferent or disengaged, they all want the best for your current and future students. And most feel like they are putting in a lot of time and effort - over and above their other, everyday responsibilities. I also believe that many of your Board members know that they could be more effective and yet don’t know how to achieve this. They want to feel like they are making a difference!
If you have a good relationship with your Board Chair (and I hope you do!! This is one of the most important relationships in a school and one that needs to be carefully cultivated), I invite you, this summer, to talk candidly about your feelings regarding the Board’s work. How helpful were they? Did they meet your expectations? What would you like to see done differently? Here are some specific areas you can discuss:
There are many other questions you can and should ask one another! Ideally, the Head and Board Chair are able to have regular, open, honest conversations about their relationship and the work of the Board. I recommend creating time and space for these kinds of intentional conversations at least once or twice a year. This relationship will help you to set goals for your Board that will enable them to perform at their best.
Do you want your Board to be more effective? The Building Better School Boards Professional Development Program enables independent school Boards and Heads to improve their governance practices so they can ensure the sustainability of their schools without wasting time or money.
Writes about small school leadership and governance