In any passionate group of leaders, there are certain to be times when disagreements present themselves. These are critical times for any board!
Your demeanor and actions have a great deal of power to help take the bite out of contentious board situations. Practice the following behaviors:
- Assume Good Intentions
With very few exceptions, all board members generally have the same goal in mind: positive educational outcomes and better lives for children. The disagreement usually surrounds how to get there. Keeping this simple fact in mind can help keep trust levels high and foster more productive dialogue among board members.
- Focus On The Primary Issue
When there is a problem to be solved, focus only on that problem. Don’t waste time assigning blame, or discussing what might have been
- Listen And Learn
In many tense situations, the ears close and the mouths open. Try to reverse this pattern, and see if you can identify some new piece of knowledge that will help you see the facts in a new light.
- Start With What You Can Agree On
By identifying common assumptions and objectives, you may learn that both sides are not so far apart after all.
- GO Back To Your Mission
Perhaps viewing the current situation in light of your board’s mission will help shed light on a better course of action.
- Open Communications To Prevent Future Disputes
Circle back continuously to ensure you keep trust levels high.
By understanding the dynamics of the board and working together in cooperation for the students’ best interests, as with any trying time, this too can be a time of growth and learning.
RESPOND TO CRISIS
The worst has happened! A student is injured, or a teacher is arrested, or an outbreak of food poisoning has originated in your school cafeteria. What do you do?
Every school should have a crisis communications plan in place. This plan should address your interactions with key stakeholders, the media, and other important constituencies. You will also want to keep your authorizer in the loop!
Consider the following pieces of advice when a crisis occurs:
- Have A Plan
As a board, you should work with your CEO to identify a course of action in light of whatever circumstance has befallen your school. Consider an emergency board meeting to discuss solutions and, if necessary, allocate necessary resources. If the food poisoning is severe, bring in a local health agency to test and support sick individuals. If a staff member has been arrested, provide counseling to upset children. Then work to support your CEO in executing whatever plan you develop together. Which leads to –
- Loosen – But Don’t Break – The Chain Of Command
The CEO is still in charge of carrying out whatever direction the board provides. However, he/she may need practical help and support, particularly in the area of communications and outreach. Be prepared to assist in whatever way you are directed.
- Appoint A Spokesperson
It is not necessary for everyone to talk to the press; name a spokesperson (typically the CEO) and keep that person visible to the press and the public.
- Use Consistent Messaging
Agree on what your message will be, and keep it as open as possible. When people are frightened, they become suspicious about what you might not be telling them. Within the bounds of the law and student confidentiality, be as forthright as you can.
- Be Proactive
Think of everyone who might need to be updated about your situation, and get in touch quickly. As a board member, you can help your CEO be as rapid and broad as possible in his/her outreach efforts. The list might include:
- Local Lawmakers
- Community Partners
- Document And Evolve Once the crisis has passed, make note of what worked well and what didn’t. Make/update your plan for next time.
MAKING UNPOPULAR DECISIONS
At some point, you may be compelled to cast a vote that will be unpopular with your school community. How do you manage the fallout?
The following tips may help:
- Remember Your Role
You are appointed to govern, and sometimes make painful decisions. If you are convinced you are voting in a manner that is in the best interests of the school, then you must do as your conscience dictates.
- Understand The Magnitude Of The Decision.
Some decisions may seem like a big deal, but may not be as important to the public as you perceive. Getting a good reading on the pulse of the school can help alleviate stress for you and the school community.
- Give Your Constituents A Chance To Be Heard
Invite comment, listen carefully, and try to understand. It may not change your vote, but your stakeholders will respond more favorably if they feel their views were incorporated into the board’s thinking.
- Explain Your Position Carefully
Be calm, thoughtful and thorough in describing your views.
- Consider Following Up In Writing
Depending on the circumstances, you and your colleagues may wish to do a written communication explaining the difficulty of the decision and asking for understanding.
- Keep Communicating, But Move On
There are many more decisions to be made. Don’t let one controversial decision hamper your ability to act in the future!
Knowing Where You are Headed
Knowing the Terrain
Managing Your Assets
Sending and Receiving Messages
Laying the Trail
Administering First Aid
Seeking Help if You’re Lost
Building the Team
Knowing When You Have Arrived
Communicating with Base Camp