Teachers, principles and even students reflect on their practice and make changes as a result of those reflections. How often do we as boards stop and reflect and make changes? I have been giving this some thought over the holidays and wanted to get some of my thoughts written down to help clarify my thinking.
What things have worked for us as board?
A shared vision
The first thing that comes to mind is our vision. Our vision was created by our community around 10 years ago and it still helps to guide our thoughts and actions. Our goals and strategic planning fall out of the vision and decisions we make in all areas are linked back to the vision. One of the things I love about having a shared vision is that it is not mine or yours, it is OURS – we all own it and are in it together. It is not created by one person, it is created by everyone in the community. Bill Martin hits at the heart of what a shared vision brings to life and work of a school “Shared vision brings alignment, commitment and accountability to organizational culture as it is born out of the lived lives of the vision-creating community. “(Martin)
Alignment has been key to making sustainable change for us. How can we possibly make change when we are all going different directions? Alignment takes a lot work and holding people’s feet to the fire. It is easy to get sidetracked, make excuses and get caught up with the everyday events in a school. We all do it, but being committed to questioning, challenging and supporting each other when needed is a vital part of pushing through when things get difficult.
An example of working towards alignment comes from one of our initiatives to embed maker culture in our school. Taken first from our vision “We aim to give students experiences so that they can learn by doing, making sure that these experiences are relevant, purposeful and real” And then included in our Annual plan, maker culture is planned and resourced for. There is involvement at every level of the school from board members to our caretaker who has been involved in creating an interactive rubbish bin with the students, teachers and parents at Make Club.
A critical part of alignment and change for us has been how our principal and teachers involve the board in learning conversations. Operating in silos as individual agents is counterproductive to enabling change in schools. The conversations we have had helped us create a shared understanding of the life and work at Taupaki. The board is always invited to learning conferences and this has helped with alignment and allowing us to meet as people not positions.
Systems and structures
Systems and structures have helped make the cogs move more efficiently. For example:
- having a governance manual for clarity of governance verses leadership team roles
- a work plan to guide our work
- using a modified version the BAS (Board Assurance Statements) from ERO (Education Review Office) as part of our self-review
- using forums for pre meeting questions and discussions so our meetings are decision focused.
All of these systems and structures help to free us up for more of the strategic thinking and planning aspects of board work.
I notice that our board members talk about how much they ‘enjoy’ being on the board. It seems to come as a surprise to them, but I think it is an important point as working together isn’t always easy. Having fun acts as sort of social glue that bonds us, creating common ground. A mantra that I have on loop is to be hard on the issues and soft on the people. This is much easier said than done and we all make mistakes, but it is how we respond and move forward from those mistakes that makes the difference. We are after all, human, and when all is said and done schools are all about the people and the relationships between them.
What hasn’t worked and what are we struggling with?
Governance as inquiry was meant to be a deeper way for us to review ourselves as a board and deepen our practice. The biggest challenge has been finding time to do this work. Meetings are full with compliance work and board members are busy people with day work. The challenge this year will be ensuring we spend enough time in strategy, big picture thinking and reflecting and refining our work, as well as making sure all the compliance boxes are ticked. It is also election year along with an ERO visit around the same time. So as we reflect on what is working and what is not, the question of how we stay focused on future thinking while working through significant events, is firmly at the forefront of our minds.