Effective school boards aren’t simply born. They’re built with a healthy combination of elements — from teamwork and strategic planning to alignment and accountability. Find out how to take your board to the next level with these 10 essential strategies.
1. Set Team Expectations
To ensure that your board is doing its best to support student achievement, each member must clearly understand what is expected of them. Documentation like the following can help communicate team expectations.
- School Board Norms: Board governance norms describe board protocols, such as how the board should interact with each other, conduct themselves during meetings, and communicate with the superintendent, staff and community.
- Code of Ethics: Each board should have a code of ethics that outlines the values and standards board members must uphold. Members should agree to abide by the code, and it should be readily available to stakeholders for review.
- Roles and Responsibilities: Board members should understand their own roles, and that of the superintendent. While the board defines vision and goals, the superintendent focuses on strategy and implementation.
Watch the webinar Leading the Learning – The Changing Role of Today’s Governance Team
2. Keep Everyone on Board
Build trust and make sure everyone is aligned through intentional communication between the board and superintendent. Regular communication is especially important as the governance team changes. Here are some ways to keep everyone aligned.
- New Member Orientation: New board members should be provided training and documentation to set them up for success in their role. They should understand topics such as: the governance structure, basics of serving on the board, and relations between the board, superintendent, staff and community.
- Superintendent Orientation: The superintendent orientation helps new superintendents learn about their new role and responsibilities, as well as build a relationship with the board and the community. These early days provide the opportunity to form a strong governance team.
Read the article Six Important Questions School Boards Should Ask Superintendents
3. Build Leadership Capacity
In order to effectively govern the district, school boards must intentionally build leadership capacity. Leadership starts with knowing your responsibilities, and strengthens as you get to know more about the school system. Here are some ways you can build leadership capacity in your own board.
- Elect a Chair/Vice Chair: The board chair leads members of the board, and serves as the direct link to the administration. If the chair is absent, the vice chair takes on those duties.
- Create a Board Training Plan: In order to continually improve their work, boards should develop and adopt a training plan each year, both for individual members, and the board as a whole. These should incorporate topics such as team building and conflict resolution.
Read the eBook The Essential Guide to High Performing Boards
4. Plan Intentionally
Focusing on student success starts with planning board work strategically and systematically. By planning intentionally, you can encourage growth and dialogue as you work toward board goals.
- Create a Planning Calendar: A planning calendar can help you document the important work your board should be performing each month throughout the school year. The calendar should include areas such as adopting budgets, aligning board and district strategies, updating your strategic plan, reviewing standardized test scores, and communicating progress in student achievement to stakeholders.
- Review Your Strategic Plan: Commit to a culture of continuous improvement for your board and school system by ensuring your strategic plan includes these key components: Mission, vision and beliefs, analysis of the current organizational state, strategic goals and priorities, performance objectives and measures, and initiatives and actions.
Read the article Top 10 Tips for Effective Strategic Planning
5. Understand and Use Data
To ensure students are performing at or above grade level, boards need to start with the data. By organizing, studying and aligning your data, you can better understand performance and identify areas of improvement without the guesswork.
- Discover Your Data: Find out what kind of data your board works with on a regular basis — both on the district and community levels.
- Measure Performance: Keep your board accountable and measure progress toward goals by creating strategic plan performance measures. Review progress during the board self-assessment, superintendent evaluation and annual review.
Read the article Create a Performance Culture in Your School District
6. Execute Strategically
Having a strategic plan is just a start. In order to effectively execute that plan, boards must understand and align their work to it.
- Align Your Work: From meetings to evaluations, boards should align their work to strategic goals to ensure the right things are getting done.
- Aim for Continuous Improvement: Keep your board growing and improving by knowing who you are, where you are now, where you want to go, and how you’ll get there.
- Manage Efficiently: From planning and meetings to policies and evaluations, board management software can help you keep your governance team running smoothly.
Read the case study Effective Board Governance with the Core Four
7. Hold Yourself Accountable
Accountability is an important element of an effective governance team. Teams should understand that they’re accountable, measure that accountability, and work with others to ensure they stay accountable.
- Conduct a Self-Assessment: A board self-assessment can help you identify how you’re performing and highlight areas of improvement. The assessment should happen at least once a year, be based on strategic plans, be constructive, and result in an action plan for improvement.
- Make It Electronic: Technology can help you make your assessment process more efficient and effective. Electronic self-assessments can help you more easily align actions to your strategic plan, attach evidence and streamline the overall process.
Read the article Meaningful Evaluations Begin with Appreciative Inquiry
8. Hold Your Superintendent Accountable
Boards are responsible for ensuring that the superintendent is leading the district effectively, and implementing improvement plans at each school.
- Conduct a Superintendent Evaluation: This annual review is a key component in holding superintendents accountable for their work. During the process, the superintendent should conduct a self-assessment while board members complete the evaluation form. Once the superintendent has met with the board, the evaluation instrument is updated to reflect new or updated expectations.
- Manage with Technology: As with the board self-assessment, an electronic evaluation can help simplify the process by allowing you to more easily align superintendent actions to the strategic plan, and attach evidence.
9. Build Community Support
Your governance team can build community support by sharing information about plans and accomplishments, as well as listening to what stakeholders, parents and business leaders have to say.
- Serve as Advocates: Board members can serve as chief advocates for the school system by continuously engaging with the community.
- Keep Communicating: Maintain transparency and open the lines of communication by holding public forums, community meetings, focus groups, and other community and media events.
- Get Some Help: The free Simbli Community Toolkit provides you with sample press releases, letters, talking points and other resources to help you strengthen board ties with the community.
Watch the webinar Bridging the Engagement Gap
10. Celebrate, Reflect, Plan and Grow
Effective governance teams set aside time to proactively celebrate and reflect on their achievements, as well as plan and grow. Here are a few ways to do just that.
- Hold a Board Retreat: Block out time to discuss roles and responsibilities, review board norms and code of ethics, do team building exercises, conduct a board self-assessment and review your strategic plan.
- Recognize Achievements: Publicly recognize board milestones and individual board member achievements.
- Host a State of the District Event: Invite key stakeholders and community members to a special event in which you celebrate goals reached and invite them to support work that still needs to be done.