What’s Keeping Your Board From Thriving?

An Overview of Chapter 18 of Healthy Boards – Successful Schools.

Is this the norm at your school? Or the hope? They may not realize it, but many schools have chosen “surviving” over “thriving.” It’s an easy out and perhaps preferable to a board challenging itself to escape the trap of mediocrity. It may also be a lack of awareness that the Board has slowly slipped beneath the waves and no longer has the perspective of what looks like a thriving Board.<

But a board can become the robust, vibrant governing board it was destined to be. First, it must recognize and become aware that it is not a thriving board that is leading an ever-improving school. Second, the Board should choose to view what has led to its current circumstances through positive reflection. Only then is the current Board able to take the steps necessary to change its course and begin making a positive difference. In my book, I describe eight fundamental themes that every Board should confront and correct to start thriving and not merely surviving. Below is a summary of these eight:

Ineffective or Poor Leadership

  • Surviving — The Board Chair is weak and uninspiring.
  • Thriving — Board leadership is encouraged to take on their appropriate leadership roles.

Deficiency in the Selection Process

  • Surviving — The Board’s committee on trustees struggles in its role of identifying excellent candidates for future service on the Board.>
  • Thriving — Trustee selection is a well-understood process that has priority with all trustees, the Board Chair, and the Head of School.

Lack of Commitment and Understanding of Roles and Responsibilities

  • Surviving — Board members are sometimes difficult, not engaged, or absent from meetings.
  • Thriving — Boards seek training and educational opportunities to increase their effectiveness and relevance in a changing environment.

Insufficient or the Absence of Ongoing Board Education

  • Surviving — The Board never or seldom seeks training and planning opportunities.
  • Thriving — There are regular Board retreats, orientation sessions for new Board members, and clearly defined expectations.

Failure to Utilize the Skills and Talents That Exist Within the Board

  • Surviving — The skillset of individual Board members are not communicated or understood how they can engage accordingly.
  • Thriving — Ask that Board members assist with tasks that align with their strengths, resulting in Board members feeling valued and appreciated.

Failure to Communicate With and Within the Board

  • Surviving — In the absence of positive communication and feedback, the negative alternative may fill the void in the form of gossip and rumors.
  • Thriving — Communication is regular and takes various forms outside of its meetings.

Absence of a Strategic Vision for the School

  • Surviving — There is no vision for the future of the school, signaling there is no direction.
  • Thriving — The Board and Head of School has articulated a vision, a strategic plan, and has made preparations to move the process forward.

Failure to Work in Support or Partnership with the Head of School

  • Surviving — There is a struggling or contentious relationship with the Head of School and senior staff leadership.
  • Thriving — There is a “culture” of support for the school’s leadership, and it is perhaps the most significant factor in what it means to be the best Board possible.

Taken together, these themes of responsibilities, skills, communication, and culture will set the course for Boards to thrive. The stakes are high. Independent and faith-based schools are preparing a new generation of leaders. Influencing this in a positive, productive way is critical.


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