By Madelynn Coldiron
A video of cowboys herding cats and imitations of less-than-enthusiastic teachers and school board members were among the vehicles that former teacher and triathlete Murray Banks used to convey his message of “Re-energize, recharge and refocus” to Kentucky school board members.
Banks, pictured at right, of Vermont, kicked off KSBA’s 76th annual conference, Feb. 3-5 in Louisville. His central message is that board members need to be the best leaders they can be, so students, faculty and staff also can be their best.
Leadership in education can be challenging, Banks said, because classrooms are “staid, traditional, rhythmical places, and the people who work in them are very traditional, rhythmical.” But leadership has to be adaptable, flexible, focused and goal-oriented, he said.
The job of those involved in education is to run schools so that students want to attend and learn, Banks said. For school board members, he added, that means getting teachers and others to also want “to love showing up for work every day.”
It also means board teams themselves must be positive and optimistic. Positive energy is contagious. “Whatever you bring to the school board meetings, know that it spreads to other people,” he said.
For a more positive focus, Banks recommended using “the 10-90 rule” at board meetings – spend 10 percent of the time on a problem and 90 percent of the time on solutions “and your board meetings will go more quickly and be more efficient.”
Board teams have to sustain a high level of energy and be willing to do “whatever it takes – be open to anything – that will help us meet the needs of our students and be successful,” Banks said.
Get out of the comfort zone, he said, and do things that are more difficult – as he put it, “Do what you may not feel like doing.”
Who you are is as important as what you know, he said: “To be an effective school board member, how you interact and get along with people might be more important than your knowledge of governance.”
Don’t underestimate the power of words and unspoken gestures, he said. Banks pointed to a common front-door sign for school visitors: “All visitors must report to the office,” comparing that with a friendlier, “Welcome to Bailey Elementary school. We’re so glad you’re here. Please stop by the office and sign in.”
“The way we communicate is critical,” he said. School board meeting sites also can convey a message, he added, encouraging boards to hold meetings in different schools and even different rooms – the school library, cafeteria, kindergarten classrooms.
“It puts you in connection with what you’re governing,” Banks said.
“Keep the fire alive,” he said, by being focused, competitive, determined and goal-oriented. “The problem with issues a school board deals with is that your goals might take years to reach. But the principal is the same: hang in there, be tough, prepare yourself mentally, do what’s uncomfortable sometimes, do your homework, be compassionate and caring with your colleagues on the board. That goal-driven orientation is what we need in the long, long run – to stick with it.”
The more hard-nosed characteristics should also be accompanied by softer qualities, like empathy, passion and humor. The subtle things make a difference when dealing with people, including body language, eye contact, tone of voice and appearance, Banks said.
Stress can affect those qualities, he noted, so board members should maintain their well-being, have fun and adopt a Lava Lamp philosophy: “We are always changing, always improving, always moving, always learning, always adapting, never the same. These words are critical to successful school boards and administrators at our schools.”