Meeting management needs a marriage of planning and flexibility
Kentucky School Advocate
By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support/Communications Services
Radio and television work taught me about managing time for disc jockey shifts and newscasts. If you didn’t plan your show, you often found yourself at two minutes to the top of the hour – not enough time to play a song and too long to expect witty banter to pop out of your brain. If you didn’t plan a newscast, someone’s story got bumped or the weather and/or sports segments were shortened. The alternatives – skipping paid ads or running over into the next time slot – were big-time no-nos.
Those lessons have been repeated during my KSBA years as part of the team managing conference general sessions. While keynoters are paid to speak a certain length of time, some act like, “I’m up here now. What are you going to do if I go long?” Other factors like slow meal service or technical difficulties also can throw the timing off. And Board Team Development Director Kerri Schelling is a stickler about keeping big sessions on schedule, so we respect presenters’ time for the clinic sessions that follow.
Superintendents and school board chairmen should exercise similar planning when mapping out the monthly board meeting. Although I’ve never met anyone who likes lengthy meetings, organizers must allow for the human factor. School boards don’t meet from X o’clock to Y o’clock, but I think most would agree that the effectiveness quotient remains higher when there is an “end o’clock” on the horizon.
KBE meeting tutorial
The Kentucky Board of Education meetings offer some pretty instructive related practices.
For example, most meetings have agenda items listed with language like, “30-minute presentation/discussion.” Not every topic has a suggested time frame, but for the longer-than-routine meeting periods, this seems to help presenters and KBE members alike be cognizant that the clock is ticking.
Another time management model comes from KBE Chairman Roger Marcum, who has no reluctance to admit that the board is running behind schedule. KDE staff such as Associate Commissioner Hiren Desai often seem to have a long-form report ready as well as a short-form version in case they have to cut to the chase.
Finally, the KBE’s committee structure helps to move mundane but necessary issues through a process of report/Q&A/action. Members not on a committee can take a break, listen in or catch up on email. When the committee reports come up for full board action, it’s bang-bang-bang and out the door.
Plan for stuff to happen
Local board meetings may be less structured than the KBE sessions, but the qualities of an effective session for local leaders nonetheless starts with a thoughtful design.
Boards that regularly have active public comment periods have every right to set a time limit, both on speakers and on the whole segment of the meeting.
Members should feel an obligation to study advance materials and come prepared to listen, discuss and act. It makes little sense to wait until the meeting to pose a question to the superintendent or another responsible staff person. At the same time, superintendents should work to ensure as much time as possible for individual members to study and then show up ready to move forward.
I risk sounding commercial, but KSBA’s eMeeting Service should be as much of a boon to meeting effectiveness as it is to cost containment. Meeting materials are available for study online 24/7 beforehand, and current and past documents and related information can be accessed instantly when an issue is raised.
The Last Word
Even a carefully planned board meeting requires a willingness to be flexible when accommodations are necessary. No board should rush to a decision simply to get a vote done if members feel they aren’t ready. No administrative team should have to speculate off the top of their head about an unexpected issue raised that has bearing on the ultimate impact of a potentially regretted action.
Considered planning, personal preparation and acknowledgment that getting it done right matters more than getting it done right now always are worth the time spent up front of any board meeting.
And that’s a message worth getting out.