When I was the Executive Director of a provincial association supporting publicly elected school trustees one of the more frequent calls for assistance would be about intra-board relations – trustees not getting along with each other. These calls would often spike at the beginning of the term, with newly elected trustees sometimes rocking what was previously a smooth running board. But sometimes they were the result of long-standing disputes that were pushing the board to the brink of dysfunction. The following and subsequent posts provide a list of observations and suggestions on how boards can work in a productive and respectful manner while still benefiting from the diversity of opinions and styles around the table.
Board Work is People Work
The reality is that board work is people work, and people work can sometimes be messy. Individuals come to trusteeship for a variety of reason, from diverse backgrounds, varying experiences with the school system, and a range of skills in board work. Some run for election because they want to see change. Some have a specific issue they want to promote or resolve – often related to a personal experience with the system. Some just want to serve and give back to their community. Some are retired educators who see trusteeship as a way to bring their professional expertise into a governance role. Some see themselves as advocates for a particular social or political cause. Some are angry. Some are skilled in team work, debate and group processes. Some are not. Some have been successful by being tough and assertive. Some are quiet or uncomfortable speaking their minds. Throw all of these backgrounds into a group that is tasked with running a multi-million dollar organisation employing hundreds of people and making policy decisions that will impact the life chances of the children in their community, and you have the potential for discord, disharmony and dysfunction. Happily, most boards get it right. Through hard work, training, patience and support, most trustees develop processes and skills for working together while maintaining their individual perspectives. Sadly a few boards don’t, preferring to bump along from meeting to unhappy meeting, to the detriment of students, staff and the important office they hold. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
In Part 2 (coming soon): Democracy Rules