Getting on well with your School Governing Body
Getting on well with your School Governing Body (SGB) is in the school leadership’s interest. It’s tough being in a senior management team position. So many folk are making different kinds of demands: the children, the parents, the teachers … and the list goes on and on.
I believe that the starting point of a good relationship between the SGB and the school leadership lies with the principal.
Make the first move. Start a positive relationship with the chair. If the principal is seen to be defensive, secretive and resentful towards the chair, going forward is going to be hard. Be approachable and be friendly. You don’t need to be the best of friends, but you both need to work well together in the best interests of the children.
The timeless truism states: “If you want respect, show respect.” Pay attention to respectful gestures. For example, if an SGB member phones and asks to speak to the principal who isn’t immediately available, the principal should return the call as soon as possible. Every extra day that the member has to wait for a call to be returned, the wait may be interpreted in negative ways. When someone doesn’t return a call we’ve made, we’re inclined to ask ourselves questions such as: “Is it simply an oversight by a busy person? Is it a statement that your call is unimportant? Is the person deliberately not returning your call?”
Meetings are often broadly described in two different ways. They’re either a waste of your time or they’re time well spent. Wasteful meetings are full of blah, blah, blah but empty of meaningful decisions taken. Make meetings meaningful. Reports tabled by the staff should be informative but not overloaded with unnecessary facts. The reports should raise important issues. This encourages stimulating discussion and important decisions being taken. Nobody’s time is wasted.
Be honest with your SGB. Even the best of schools have imperfections. If there were poor results in a particular public exam subject, say so. Admit that there’s a drug problem in a particular grade if there is one. Members will likely already have a prior sense of such issues. Unfortunately, every school has gossipers at the school gates and local coffee shops. How much better to get the true facts from the best source … you! The bonus of being honest is that the SGB is usually empathic and supportive of the professional staff’s plans to right the wrongs.
Many skills and talents are to be found among the SGB members. I personally wouldn’t know how to build a simple absolutely straight and neat brick wall, but there have been builders who’ve guided the SGB on the most cost-effective ways to build beautiful classrooms. Then, of course, there are those members who have specialist skills in areas such as accounting, catering, law and plumbing. Defer to their knowledge. They’ll be happy to help, and you’ll also add to their sense of being valued SGB members.
School governance is complex. Encourage board members to attend workshops on the issue, done by the education department and SGB organisations. By so doing, SGB members will understand the clear difference between “governance” matters and “professional” matters. Possible tensions between the school leadership and parent SGB members are reduced when everyone both accepts and respects these differences.
Another way of getting on well with the SGB is continuous communication. Send board members directives and documents issued by the education department. Try to let them be the first in the school community to know about educational changes. If you have a weekly newsletter, ensure that they all get their copies. Invite SGB members to school functions, so they can interact with children, parents and staff. It’s also a chance for the school leadership to thank them for their valued input into the school.
Creating favourable relations with your SGB requires effort and time, yet there are multiple benefits when you work as one team. It’s to your personal advantage when you’re aware of their goodwill and support, and there’s a professional advantage: the SGB will willingly help you achieve what’s in the best interests of the children at your school.
Dr Richard Hayward is a former principal of two Gauteng public schools