School Board Training and Development

By Doug Eadie

The better educated and trained school board members are in the work of governing, the more likely they are to perform at a high level. So every board that is committed to high-impact governing must also be committed to its own continuing education.

There are two basic challenges in making sure this occurs. First, how can we help new board members be prepared to hit the ground running, not spend their first year on the job learning the ropes? Second, how do we keep members’ governing knowledge and skills up-to-date so they can participate productively and creatively in ongoing capacity building?

The good news is that you could not ask for a better group of students than your average school board members. The great majority I have observed over the years have been avid lifelong learners who are sincerely committed to doing a top-notch job of governing. This shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider the bright, high-achieving people who tend to make it to the boardroom. They set high standards, ask a lot of themselves, and dedicate significant time and energy to acquiring the knowledge and skills they need for professional or business success. Slackers? Definitely not.

The bad news is that many, if not most, initially are reluctant to invest in developing their governing knowledge and skills beyond the basic new board member orientation. This is really ironic given the critical leadership role we expect boards to play and their tremendous impact on district performance. These people would not blink an eye at investing handsomely in administrator and faculty staff development, but they question whether they should devote time and money to their own governing education.

It’s amazing, but all too often true. As far as I can tell, this is part misplaced altruism (“What happens in the classroom has first claim on our limited dollars.”) and part ego (“At this point, having climbed so far up the professional ladder, I really can’t see myself going back to school.”). Whatever the cause, truly high-impact boards overcome this reluctance. They recognize that not investing in developing governing knowledge and skills is a classic penny-wise, pound-foolish course.

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