Diversity enhances effective school board leadership

“It is not our differences that divide us.  It is our inability to recognise, accept, and celebrate those differences”.

I love this quote by US writer Audre Lorde that appears above the Library entrance on the United World College’s Dover Campus Library in Singapore. 

The message is intended to inspire students, but it should equally inform every school’s board composition and leadership style.

Differences of opinion among school board members are common, and indeed, conflicts are to be expected.  More significantly, they should be welcomed and embraced.  The whole point of having a board is to explore and respectfully consider a diverse range of opinions and suggestions.  After all, if every member of a board held the same viewpoint on every issue, you may as well have a board of just one person.  

A diverse board will always be better positioned to consider a wide range of perspectives than a board whose members share similar demographics such as age, gender and cultural background.

Board diversity

Therefore, it is perhaps even more important that boards seek to secure a balanced range of decision-making and enquiry skills (rather than occupational skills) among their members.  Effective school boards tend to recruit members who:

  • are open-minded and willing to consider new ideas
  • have a sense of curiosity, who seem to find everything interesting, and are thus willing to ask questions
  • are inspired and driven by the mission
  • have a balance of perspective and expertise
  • have good networks and connections
  • can fill needs on board committees
  • have leadership potential (for succession planning) and
  • are neither “too busy” nor “too important” to contribute effectively.

We know that different people prefer to engage through four foundational learning styles:

  • People who search for meaning (and thus ask “Why?”)
  • People who search for order (who ask “What?”)
  • People who like to experiment (and ask “How?”)
  • People who love to create (and ask “What if?”).

Of course, everyone operates through a mix of these different styles, often at different times and in different situations.  Nonetheless, everyone has their preferred ways of learning, and high-functioning boards ensure that all four learning styles are proportionally represented

-Dr Stephen Codrington

You can assess the balance of learning styles and skills set of your board as part of our ‘best practice’ workshop OSG-S3 ‘Future-focussed board leadership’.

Tips and advice on processes to select and recruit new board members are included in the “Board Composition and Succession” module of the workshop OSG-S1 ‘Board Operations’.  This is also developed in depth in the book "Optimal School Governance", which can be ordered directly through Pronins.

You may also be interested in previous articles which are archived at https://optimalschool.com/articles.html.