By Teachers, For Teachers
“What are they thinking?” might be something teachers ask about their school’s board of education. At times it might be challenging for teachers to understand what drives the decisions the school board makes; at other times, the school board can seem like a nebulous backroom body of political dealings that puts the teaching profession and actual student learning on the backburner. Because school board meetings typically take place at night – long after teachers and students leave – and because board members typically have jobs of their own that prevent them from regularly visiting during school hours, there might be a feeling of disconnect between teachers, the teaching profession, and their governing boards.
Every school board is different. In an effort to help teachers become more acquainted with boards’ perspectives and decisions, here are a few insights into your average board that may prove helpful.
School boards are publically elected, which means that they are responsible for representing the views of the community. And if the community begins seeing a board member as representing contrary views, they can vote him or her out. Ultimately it’s not individual teachers or individual students that boards focus on, but rather the broader trends, needs, and values of the community at large.
It’s important to appreciate the different perspectives a teacher and school board member bring to the table. On the one hand, the teacher has a ground-level view, seeing education happen right in front of their eyes every day. Board members, on the other hand, have the bird’s-eye view on the district’s education. While they care about individuals, they are more likely to look at larger trends, bulk data, and policy relevant to everyone. Each side can see something the other can’t easily see.
Teachers should appreciate the perspective that boards bring to education in their district. At the same time, teachers should know that board members are likely to appreciate learning about what’s happening at the ground level of education. If something needs fixing, if important tools are missing, or if a board decision has unintended consequences, don’t be afraid to share your perspective.
This does not mean, of course, that you should rant your list of complaints to your board. Nor does it mean you should go over the head of your department or your building principal. Instead, consider how, when appropriate, both your positive experiences and your feelings about weaknesses can be shared with your board in a productive manner.
What is a school board really responsible for? Setting policy and managing finances. Basically, the board creates the framework that enables education to happen. Many of their decisions relate to education policy, but many more relate to personnel issues, monetary expenditures, student conduct, law compliance, and safety procedures.
Education mandates may have their roots in the board of education (or even at the state or federal level), but it’s up to administrators, teacher leaders, and teachers to determine the details of implementation.
As different as a school and a business are, there are many similarities that are worth noting. Teachers deal with educating students, but it takes a business-like mentality to successfully maintain the institution where teachers and learners interact. Boards need to monitor finances, create policy for personnel, maintain facilities, draft contracts with vendors, communicate to the community, and much more. If the board doesn’t focus on faithfully handling their responsibilities, then teachers wouldn’t be able to focus on teaching.
Most boards will have public meetings and publish their agendas and minutes. These are meant for the community, but they’re also meant for teachers. Board members don’t usually intend on hiding their activities, but welcome all school personnel to take advantage of the information posted publically. Take time to see what your school board is talking about and what decisions they make.
A lineman and a wide receiver on a football team have entirely different tasks, yet they must perform their responsibilities faithfully in order to move the ball forward. If one player fails in their role, the whole team suffers.
Being a teacher and being a school board member are two very different roles. But it’s important to remember that you’re playing on the same team. You may not always agree with or even understand one another, and those moments are opportunities for discussion and solutions. And as teachers, the better we understand the needs and perspectives of our boards of education, the more likely we are to better communicate our needs and perspectives to them.
What else would you say is important to understand about our boards of education? Share your thoughts with our TeachHUB.com community in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.