Ten Practices of Effective Boards

Independent school educators will all agree that positive relationships between the head of school and the board are crucial for schools to be thriving and successful. My dear friend and college professor Dr. Ken Coley has written a book on “Ten Practices of Effective Boards” that will be available in the next few weeks. Although Dr. Coley focuses on Christian schools, the information discussed is applicable for all independent schools. The following information is an abstract about Dr. Coley’s book. Please email us at CoachED for further information about Dr. Coley’s new publication, or how CoachED can help your school and your school leaders toward growth and success.

The number one concern in the Christian school community is the relationship between the head of school and the school board. Period. Nothing else comes close. Not finances or effective teaching or lack of a clear philosophy of Christian education. I based this statement on thirty years of personal experience, numerous interviews with school leaders around the country, and broad reading on the topic.

A fragile or cool relationship between an administrator and his board creates drag on the momentum of the school and sets up the potential for loosing traction toward achieving the organization’s goals. I have observed first hand stand Texas stand offs and figurative running gun battles. The end result frequently is the firing of the administrator, the loss of school families, and a toppling of school finances. Worst yet, the cause of Christ is hindered in the school’s community.

In my research for my new book (to be released this spring), I heard from a number of experienced school leaders and authorities on practices that strengthen the relationship between the administrator and the board. Soon a concise list began to take shape.

The What…do board members have a clear understanding of what the mission of the school is and do they support it whole-heartedly? Is this mission enthusiastically shared by board members throughout the community with current and potential stakeholders?

The Who…are board members vetted prior to joining the board based on biblical principles?

The How…are board members properly trained to carry out their responsibilities and exercise the authority vested in the position? How should a board go about establishing and maintaining a positive, fluid, and transparent relationship with its head of school?

This last category appears to be the one that is most troubling and proved to be the most motivational for me–“I can’t get my board members to read anything” is the statement I have heard across the country. To combat this challenge I chose to write a fable that features a collection of neighborhood canines who band together for one cause, to see that their puppies are trained to obey their Master. But not surprisingly these head strong dogs don’t always agree on how to accomplish this mission.

Another aspect of providing board training is resources– the time, the money, and the expertise of a presenter. I have developed seminar outlines that accompany Ten Practices of Effective Boards. Administrators and board chairs will have the flexibility to discuss the ten practices in a variety of formats, rather than bringing in a guest presenter who delivers a one shot training experience.

Everyone agrees, though many do not follow, the importance of establishing a process by which the head of school is evaluated annually in an equitable manner. In the fable the magnificent leadership of Duke, the head of school, is nearly derailed by the absence of an agreed upon evaluation process. The grist for this chapter came from dozens of anecdotes that have come my way over the years. The Christian school movement is littered with the wreckage of broken relationships, ruined careers, and schools irreparably damaged because the board and administrator had no agreement on what was to be evaluated and how it was to be assessed. The board in the fable wrestles with this necessity and comes out victorious.

I hope your board will do the same.