This is one of those posts that I wish I didn’t have experience in. I mean I REALLY wish I didn’t have experience in. Conflict resolution never seems to be a topic people are willing to dive into joyously.
We’ve been involved now at several private schools who have had school boards ultimately detrimental to the school. What do I mean by that? It doesn’t mean that they haven’t put some good things in place or aren’t good people, but ultimately they just aren’t functioning the way a strong organization should be.
In fact although they appear to be moving ahead, the cracks they leave in their wake are irreparable unless their course is altered, ultimately leading to the demise of the school itself.
Perhaps let’s say you’re dealing with a dysfunctional school board. The actionable steps and tips below will help you to get to the true root of the problem and how to move ahead.
No one is perfect, that’s for sure. But there’s something about power and vision that can ultimately either strengthen or tear down an organization, whether it be a school, church, business, or any other type of organization – this includes teaching teams too!
Reasons Why Your School Board (or Committee) May Be Dysfunctional:
Lack of Vision or Strategy.
This definitely seems to be the biggest issue that we have dealt with. At the surface your school board may seem to have it all together…..until it’s not. And sometimes that seems so sudden you’ll wonder how you missed it all along. Things seem to be moving forward for your school, good ideas are put out, fundraising is on point…..but ultimately the cracks will begin to show. Maybe not in one year or even a few but eventually cracks will get larger and larger until they either take down the foundation or demand to be fixed.
Many times this is due to either an imbalance of power or a lack of organization. Too often we’ve seen school boards be spear-headed by one or two members effectively splitting the work done to the opinion of a few instead of moving together as a cohesive board group.
Just because there isn’t a solid goal or vision in place doesn’t mean that you school board can’t move forward. It simply means that your school board cannot be as effective as it should or could be.
I have found the same thing pertinent in my business or even in life. There are plenty of ways to hustle and keep things bumbling along, but the biggest successes come from those that have a solid eye on the prize. A plan where everything you do leads to one point ahead.
Imbalance of Power.
You’ve seen it before. The parent that’s been on a committee the longest. A person in a position of power that seems absolutely untouchable. There is a reason school boards, committees, and other places of leadership should have a checks and balances system. Whether that means rotating board members off of the board or having a strong checks and balances system in place to ensure that the school board is functioning properly.
A school board, and any other committee, should run cohesively as a group and only move on collective agreements based on the strategies and goals in place for that organization.
There is no place in a school board or committee for the wishes of only one or two individuals to rule everything. Checks and balances are SO important in scenarios exactly like this. If you find yourself in a position to be involved with a school board that answers to no one, and has that long standing committee leader who has never been “dethroned” from his or her position, it’s a red flag to be very wary of.
Your school is only as good as its leadership. Just “filling” a vacancy can sometimes be worse than having no one at all. It’s a tough call to be sure.
One of the worst pieces of advice I’ve heard recently is that in order to be on a committee you need to have 100% positivity all the time. Always smile no matter what. Always support no matter what. What a disastrous effect that would be! Never ever blindly follow anyone – you may just find yourself following a wrong path simple from being complacent, if not more.
History alone has shown us the disastrous effect this can have. A strong leader will understand that sometimes you must take the hard road and stand up for what is right or best for their institution….no matter what the cost.
Listening to the “Squeaky Wheel”.
The phrase “the squeaky wheel gets the oil” couldn’t be more commonly understood than in a school setting. The parents that complain the loudest get the most attention. The teachers that complain the loudest get the most attention. But a strong leadership will not bow down to the squeaky wheel of one or two opinions.
They may step back and consider all options to search for validity in the complaints, but they will not waste their time AND the organizations’ resources following the whim of every person who comes across with the loudest complaints.
Could it be ME?
Anytime you are dealing with people there are always two side of the story. There are two sides of the situation and unfortunately not everything is cut and dried. The waters can be muddied by extenuating circumstances, personalities, financial constrains, or any other myriad of problems. You need to consider whether your problem with your school board or leadership is truly a problem with their leadership and direction or whether it’s a deep hearted issue with yourself.
If you take all opinions out of the equation and look only at the facts of your situation, where does that leave you? Would someone not personally attached to the situation draw the same conclusion? Does your concern meet what YOU want or does it show an ineffectiveness of driving forward to meet the school’s goal? Standing up and continuing with the ideas below on how to deal with a dysfunctional school board also means taking a closer look at yourself, your emotions, and your motivation.
Once you’ve been able to ensure that you are not part of the problem, then you can step ahead and decide what to do when dealing with a dysfunctional school board that’s out of control.
What do Do When Dealing with a Dysfunctional School Board or Committee:
Request a Meeting.
The first thing you should do when conflict arises with a school board or an area of concern is to go straight to the source. Even if you know it won’t help. Stop wasting your time running around and complaining about what is or isn’t happening. Go straight to the school board and request a meeting so that you can address the concerns head on.
It can be absolutely nerve wrecking if you’re like me and avoid confrontation at all costs (again, to a fault!) but don’t ever regret making the right choice, even if it means going against the flow.
EVEN if you just KNOW that school board meeting won’t go well, try anyways. Stay above board, stick to the facts, and at the end be able to accept the fact that you did everything you could.
Be Honest about Your Ultimatums.
I hesitate to use the word ultimatum because it tends to have a negative connotation with it. Once you’ve been up front with your concerns, be upfront about the fact that you don’t feel you can support a leadership going in the direction you have concerns with. This requires some soul searching and being confident in your choices. Hard choices.
Is this lack of leadership something that is a make or break issue for you? It’s ok if it is, or if it isn’t. But YOU have to live with your decision, and your conscience. This is not a quick decision by any means. Take the time to really see how you feel about the situation, step away from your emotions, and determine if there is a way you are comfortable moving ahead in either direction. What would you need to change for you to decide another course of action.
We have left schools several times because of their broken leadership and unwillingness to change for the better of the school.
Know When to Walk Away.
This is absolutely the hardest thing for me. Know when to walk away. Anyone that knows me knows that I like to be all in or all out. I will pour every ounce of my energy and ability into helping things move forward – to a fault. I am no quitter and I don’t commit to things lightly. So the hardest lesson for me has been to realize when those “in power” refuse to work towards the good of the school, and I am absolutely powerless to do anything other than present the concern.
When you realize that you walk that fine line of realizing exactly what you are supporting with your time and energy can be tough to face. In fact if you are supporting the wrong leadership structure you may in fact be ultimately contributing to the problem by allowing things to operate that way! Let me tell you – that is a TOUGH lesson to learn.
Here are a few good book recommendations that may help bring you clarity as you assess things moving forward: