Professional Development Opinion

Invest in School Board Learning

By Learning Forward — January 13, 2014 3 min read
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Stephanie Hirsh

Supporting systemwide professional learning is a collective responsibility for all stakeholders, including school board members. Regardless of the knowledge and viewpoint that each member brings, how they go about learning and continually upgrading their knowledge will determine to a large degree how successfully they will work together and lead the school system.

When school boards understand and support job-embedded professional learning, they will ensure its implementation across the school system and hold the superintendent accountable for it. At the same time, to be authentic, they must model the value of professional learning by engaging in it themselves and using it as a springboard for their work. There are many ways in which school boards can practice effective professional learning:

Make Learning a Public Act

Many school boards hold study sessions, which are open to the public and for the purpose of receiving information and discussing upcoming issues that will come to the board for consideration and voting. Study sessions allow the board to convene to study research and best practices, ask questions, discuss issues, and ask for additional information or clarification from staff. When this kind of collaborative experience occurs on a regular basis, members are much more likely to reach consensus and build policies that they can all support.

Build Teams to Advance Success

As board members understand each other’s strengths and styles, they foster a climate of trust, a crucial element in working collaboratively and meeting objectives. To ensure that the school board and superintendent work smoothly as a team, they can engage in team-building exercises that strengthen their work together.

Learn From External Colleagues and Experts

In some states, school board members are required by law to complete a number of annual hours of training. The National School Boards Association, as well as state school boards associations, offer extensive opportunities for board members to attend conferences and training sessions. The content of these sessions covers every aspect of school board work, including legal issues, budgeting, school finance, community engagement, accountability, and many other topics.

Interaction with other school board members, in formal sessions and through informal interactions, is also a learning experience that benefits school boards. These experiences give board members the chance to talk with and learn from other school board members who may be from a different geographic area but whose school systems are similar in size and demographics.

Participate in Professional Associations

There may be education groups and community groups that will contribute to the professional learning of board members. Having board members join groups in the community not only contributes to their knowledge but also exposes them to valuable information from the community that they can bring back to the entire board. State school board associations offer designations and certifications that school board members can earn. There are leadership programs offered by state school board associations as well as by other local, city, state, and national groups.

Set Expectations for Self and Others

Effective learning communities establish ground rules or operating principles and use those to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of their interactions. They take time to evaluate their own performance against these agreements. When school boards operate according to agreed-upon behaviors and expectations, they can promote the spread of better practices among school board members and the board as a whole.

When school board members ask superintendents to advance professional learning and create learning communities while committing to doing those same things themselves, they create an environment of learning that will provide the foundation for increased student achievement and continuous improvement - both in academics and in the management of the school system and its resources.

How does your school system support professional learning for school board members?

This post is adapted from A School Board Guide to Leading Successful Schools: Focusing on Learning.

Stephanie Hirsh & Anne Foster

The opinions expressed in Learning Forward’s PD Watch are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.