Tuesday, February 19, 2013


For many Heads, the concept of working in full, equal partnership with their school’s Board is a fairly new one.  Until recently, many Heads have chosen between three models for this relationship (Drucker, 1990; Herman & Heimovics, 1991; Price, 2005).  From the Head’s point of view, the models might sound like this:
  1. The Board’s in charge; I take my marching orders from them.
  2. I want the Board to think they're in charge -- but they're not really up to the challenge.  I'll have to manipulate things behind the scenes to get the outcomes we need.
  3. We need a competent board.  I'll have to take responsibility for their development so they can be effective.

Certainly, the third option offers the best possibility for long-term success.  However, it still leaves the school in a position of great vulnerability.  If it’s up to the Head to set Board development in motion, what if the Head moves on or retires?  What if the Head's attention is taken up by a capital campaign or other project?  Unfortunately, many of us know these pitfalls all too well.

If we check the Friends Council on Education’s Principles of Good Practice (2005), the 5th principle stipulates that Board development is the Board’s responsibility, not the Head’s:
The Board concerns itself with its own development and well functioning.

Responsibility is further outlined in the 12th and final principle in NAIS’ Principles of Good Practice (2012):
The Board is committed to a program of professional development that includes annual new trustee orientation, ongoing trustee education and evaluation, and board leadership succession planning.

Let’s agree: the Board is responsible for its own development.  But who has responsibility for this on the Board and where do they start?

Board development is the core responsibility of the Governance Committee (also called the Membership or Trustee Committee), which is charged with:
  • Making sure that sufficient numbers of trustees with strategically-targeted skills are recruited for membership
  • Providing an annual orientation for new members
  • Creating a plan for training throughout the year, so that all members will be able to actively engage in strategic initiatives
  •  Monitoring the quality of Board meetings and planning improvements, always needed
  • Structuring succession planning for both the Board and the Head
  • Organizing end-of-year evaluations for the Head, Chair, Board, committees, and individual trustees

For full partnership – the 4th option -- a high level of independent development is required for both the Head and the Board. 

Stay tuned: In the next entry we’ll talk about interdependence.


Drucker, P.F. (1990).  Managing the non-profit organization: Principles and practices.  New York: HarperCollins.

Friends Council on Education.  (2005).  Principles of Good Practice for Friends School Boards and Every Friends School Trustee.  Philadelphia: FCE.

Herman, R.D., & Heimovics, R.D. (1991).  Executive leadership in nonprofit organizations: New strategies for shaping executive-board dynamics.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

National Association of Independent Schools.  (2012).  Principles of Good Practice: Board of Trustees.  Washington, DC: NAIS.

Price, T.  Experienced School Heads and Their Work with Trustees. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania, 2005).  ProQuest.  Paper AAI3168040.