Should school boards be innovative?

Boards rightly expect excellence from their teachers and administrators. One important aspect of excellence is innovation – implementing change that has been demonstrated to enhance student outcomes. How many board members place these same standards of innovation upon themselves? How many school boards genuinely strive to be innovative in ways that have been demonstrated to enhance their effectiveness in achieving better outcomes?

When I speak with Heads of Schools and describe my role of assisting school boards to preserve and enhance their effectiveness, I typically receive one of three responses:

In answer to the second response, it is usually unwise for Heads to take on the role of board improvement, which ought never to be part of the Head’s formal job description. Heads who devote energy to board training will often find that:

As for boards identified as currently functioning well, it is helpful to ask, “Would everyone else in your organisation agree with this summation? And what measures are in place to ensure such perfection is perpetuated?”

The idea of training for school boards to improve effectiveness might seem innovative in Australia.  In other parts of the world, it is not only expected, but it is often mandated. Independent schools in the US, for example, must be accredited in order  to operate, and most accreditation agencies require that board members receive regular − usually annual − external training as a condition of accreditation. This reflects a professional approach to school governance that, if my colleagues are to be believed, is the innovative exception rather than the rule in most schools in Australia.

-Dr Stephen Codrington