Good leaders develop good leaders
School board trustees are in a unique position. You are elected officials in whom the public places their trust (hence the name, "trustee") to administer their school district with their tax dollars on their behalf. But, you are also responsible for the education of the children in your district. You may not be an educator, but you are responsible for the education of every child your district serves. You many not have experience in classroom management or curriculum development, but you are responsible for seeing that every child in your district learns. You represent not only the voters of your district, but every person and business who pays taxes, every employee of your district (whether or not they reside in your district), and every single child who passes through the doors of your school. You have been entrusted (there's that root word again) to care for our most precious resource: our children.
School trustees set the tone for their district. Good leadership principles will establish a culture of responsibility, accountability, and positive outcomes. Let's just dispense right now with placing blame on other people. It is not the state's fault for taking too much of your money under Recapture (Robin Hood). It's not the legislature's fault or the state education agency's fault for mandating state standardized testing. It's not the voters' fault for not approving your last bond. It's not the federal government's fault for not providing enough funding for state educational systems. All of those things may be true, and they all may make it more difficult for you to do your job of educating children. But, the real reason districts struggle with finances and student outcomes is because too many school districts don't focus enough on leadership development with their boards and upper administration. Most of the struggles of under-performing districts can be traced to inadequate leadership to navigate the things named above that make it difficult for districts to perform well.
In our home state of Texas, Public School Boards of Trustees have more continuing education requirements than any other elected official. See the chart below from the Texas Education Agency about training requirements for trustees in Texas:
With the exception of the three hours of Team-building, the other areas of required training do not directly address leadership skills. And, the team-building training concentrates more on boards getting along with and cooperating with their superintendent than it does with real, tangible leadership principles. Robert Greenleaf, the father of the concept of Servant Leadership, states in his seminal work Servant Leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness (1977), "...I fault [the educational system] for the refusal...to offer explicit preparation for leadership to those who have the potential for it. Not only do educators seem passive about it, but I suspect that some influential educators not only denigrate leadership but administer what has been called an anti-leadership vaccine. The resistance to encouraging the growth of leadership is so formidable that there seems no other way to account for it." (p. 177). If leadership is not being taught and formed in our educational system, and if boards are not receiving adequate training in their own leadership development, much less how to foster it in the students for whose education they are responsible, how can we ever expect our educational system to produce or to be administered by effective leaders?
The answer lies in intentionality. School Boards and School Administrators must ACTIVELY and INTENTIONALLY seek to develop their own leadership capabilities. They must purposefully seek out educational and development opportunities for themselves. The states are going to continue to take money through Recapture. The state and federal legislative bodies are going to continue to hand down unfunded mandates to the school districts. States will continue to require standardized testing. Bonds will continue to be a hard sell to some voters. School Boards and School Administrators MUST seek out expert guidance and training in research-based methods to improve their own leadership. And they must use those enhanced leadership principles to instill in their districts a culture and an expectation of leadership development. Dartmouth College Professor Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is quoted as saying, "Great leaders encourage leadership development. By openly developing themselves."