11 Ways To Be a Better Leader

By Timi Tullis, Associate Executive Director

Congratulations to all of you that have been (re)elected as your board president or board chair. Here are some essential tips to remember in that role and by following these you will help lead the board in setting goals and make decisions focused on increasing student achievement.

1. Understand and emphasize the four key roles of school board members,

From our Academy for Experienced Board Members, a reminder of the four key roles for board members: Policy, Curriculum, and Instructional Material adoption, Budget and working with your ONE employee, the superintendent.

2. Establish a tone of cooperative leadership

Emphasize cooperation and work to reduce conflict. The board president has the primary responsibility for establishing good working relationships with the superintendent and among school board members.  Set a retreat or work session to build on getting to know one another better. You set the tone for board member relationships by speaking of the need for cooperation and mutual respect, and by allowing for diversity of opinion.

3. Be the leader that takes charge of school board meetings

Be prepared, positive, and assertive in steering discussion and keeping it on target. Use the power of the presidency to keep the board dealing with board business rather than wandering into unproductive, political or philosophical areas. Move on when it’s time to move on. It’s this power of the president that keeps a meeting from taking ‘bird walks’ away from the agenda. Learn your board’s operating procedure. The president often sets the tone for the board. If you are good, the board will be viewed as good. If you are weak or ineffective, the public will view the board as weak.

4. All decisions of the board are made by the Board at an officially noticed meeting.

You will be the leader that makes sure that all things are done legally and help folks understand that their individual ‘issues’ may not be the same issues that the board as a whole focus on. As president, you are the group’s leader and often expected to be the mediator. Don’t play to one side. Share information and consult each board member on an equal. As board president, you will be in close contact with the superintendent. Make sure your board members are immediately notified of any newsworthy incident. Develop a system of communication for other issues, whether it be a weekly report from you through the information packet, a telephone call or text.

5. Listen

People who address the board must be reassured that they have been understood and their concerns are noted. It helps for the president to say something like, “We appreciate you coming to voice your thoughts. While the board cannot respond due to open meeting laws, your comments have been noted.” People at meetings or hearings keep saying the same thing over and over because they are not sure the board understands since they do not respond to comments. Eye contact is an essential part of good listening; it shows that the board is listening.

6. Make sure your board members know you can be trusted

You may often be their sounding board for ideas or complaints. Members concerns are real; don’t gossip about them. Deal with these concerns without pointing fingers or naming names.

7. Prepare for meeting

Part of the board president’s homework is being involved in planning the board meeting agenda and going over upcoming items with the superintendent. It takes twice as much homework time to be a good board president as it does to be a prepared board member.

8. Plan for board development

It’s up to the president to ensure that the board continuously becomes more effective. This includes both setting an example and encouraging board members to attend local, state, regional, and national meetings — and bring back the word to the other members of the board. It also includes planning board retreats, self-evaluations and other workshops designed especially for your board. Most of your by-laws say that the board WILL do these things on an annual basis. Become familiar with the yearly calendar of the board.

9. Build the board/superintendent relationship

A board president needs to understand and model difference between the roles of the board and the superintendent. The board president should make sure board members understand their role as policymakers who work through the superintendent. There is definitely a teaching role on the part of the board president, especially when new members come on board.

Another part of the board president’s role in establishing the proper board/superintendent relationship. At the very least, the board and superintendent should generally agree to praise publicly and criticize privately.

10. Build good relationships

The board president is in an excellent position to help build good relationships between the board and the staff, the board and the public, the district and other community and government organizations and among board members themselves.

The president can encourage board recognition of staff accomplishments. S/he can ensure that members of the community feel welcome at board meetings and that they have access to the board. S/he can maintain communications with other community leaders and government officials and can serve as a board spokesman to the press.

11. Stay cool, even if you come under attack

It’s inevitable that some school board decisions no matter how carefully deliberated will upset some members of the community. Recognize that angry reactions go with the territory. When anger arises during a school board meeting, it’s up to the board president to defuse the situation using compassionate language. If you think you need a break, in your kindest tone, declare a five-minute break. The president must not give in to the impulse to yell, become combative or let anger show during a meeting.

Remembering these topics will help ensure your success as a board president/chair.

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