10 Lessons from Charter School Board Service

  1. ADOPT MEETING NORMS – Everyone has busy lives. Be respectful of your fellow board members and staff. Show up on time, put cell phones away, read your board packet in advance and always make sure to be respectful of other’s opinions and maintain your professionalism.
  2. TOO ENGAGED: Engagement is important; however, often well-meaning passion for the mission gets steeped in a path that is intrusive or too operational. This can create a challenge for the School Leader/Board Chair to manage good intentions gone sideways.
  3. LACK OF ENGAGEMENT: We all know this is volunteer work, but the school is trying to move forward. Showing up late, missing meetings or not following through with work promised can be defeating for school leadership and other volunteers.
  4. GROUP THINK: Your role as a board member is to ask questions if you do not understand or disagree with the direction. Studies show groups often make poor decisions because individual members don’t want to be difficult. It is your job to help the group examine the decisions carefully.
  5. DON’T MICROMANAGE –Depending upon the stage of the school, it may be that the board needs to be more engaged operationally. However, be mindful of the school’s evolution and respectful of the School Leader’s role. In general, the School Leader oversees operational issues. The board is strategic and upholds fiduciary duties such as legal and financial compliance.
  6. ONE VOICE – Sometimes the board can have a challenging discussion and the vote can be divided. When the board votes, that is the final decision. The Board Chair or School Leader can provide talking points to support board members with delivering a cohesive, unified message. Even if you disagree with the vote, you need to support the decision.
  7. HOLD THE BOARD ACCOUNTABLE – The Board’s job is to hold the school leader accountable. It’s imperative that the board sets its goals in alignment with school goals and then reflect on how the board has performed in their role of supporting and overseeing the school.
  8. MINUTES REFLECT BOARD ACTION – Sometimes boards can error on recording too much information in board minutes and they can be reflection of the note taker’s bias. Minutes should be a record of the board motion and actions. Any discussion captured should reflect only truly salient, but brief information.
  9. BE SUPPORTIVE – You will have challenges. Use the evaluation process to have honest and candid discussions with your school leader – usually the Board Chair or Executive Committee. Hold them accountable to their school goals, but also create a space of trust and respect. Remember, they have an enormously challenging role.
  10. STAFF COMMUNICATION – Well-meaning board members sometimes don’t realize what their words might communicate to the staff. Be friendly and supportive but remember only the school leader reports to the board. Staff shouldn’t feel like a conversation turns into a directive from a board member.

For more advice on board room best practices, please visit our website at http://www.chartersource.org.

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