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  • Writer's pictureMike Vachow

Top Five New Year's Resolutions: Governance

Updated: Jun 24, 2021

Strength, flexibility, agility--the same goals you might have for your own physical fitness in the new year--should be the defining elements of a renewed commitment to strong school governance. If you are fortunate enough to have a winter board retreat or some other mechanism for a mid-year governance booster or strategic check-in, I offer the following very concrete, very doable resolutions for your Board.

5. Participation: Show up for meetings. If you're leading the meeting, publish an agenda well ahead and formulate questions that guide the conversation to the level of strategy. Submit your materials for the Board packet before the deadline. Read the materials thoroughly--margin notes, highlighter, just like your freshman English teacher taught you--and come prepared with your questions. Have your homework ready, if work has been delegated at the previous meeting. Listen.

4. Head/Board Chair Communication: The Head and Board Chair should make time for a meta-conversation about their conversations. Is the frequency and form of our communication working? Will it accommodate the work ahead? Have any external conditions changed that would argue for a shift in how we communicate? Good teams talk about HOW they do the work together.

3. Mid-Year Goals Report: After the flurry of activity surrounding the approval of budgets in the December Board meeting, the agenda of the first meeting of the new year often has space and is ideally timed for mid-year reports from the Head on his/her goals for the year and from the strategic planning "whip" or committee chair on the Gantt chart you're using to track implementation tactics.

2. Succession Planning: Complete the information gathering process so that the slate for the trustee "Class of 2020" is voted on in the second to last Board meeting of the school year making it possible for new trustees to attend the final Board meeting. Confirm all non-trustee committee appointments before the school year is over. This is also the time for the Trustees Committee Chair, Board Chair and Head, in consultation with the other committee chairs, to move forward conversations with trustees and non-trustee committee members who will not be invited back.

1. Gratitude: Expressions of gratitude, public or private, are not only one of the most rewarding parts of trusteeship but a critical element of governance. Trustees, the Head of School included, should remind themselves just how powerful their authentic praise and appreciation is in the community. A Head who takes the time after a tough committee meeting to compliment the chair for her strong and diplomatic management of the discussion; a trustee who encounters a group of happy new parents discussing the Head's Special Friends Day remarks and relates how grateful the Board is to have a Head who articulates the mission so well; a Board Chair who recruits a successor through a frank discussion of what the work has meant to him professionally and personally; a Head who shares with faculty just how proud she is of the Finance Committee's hard work to improve benefits; all of these seemingly informal moments, multiplied exponentially by the total number of trustees and non-trustee committee members have the potential to be far more powerful than the entirety of the Board's formal communications.


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