Kentucky School Advocate
By Allen Kennedy
I’m not sure where this quote originated, but there is tremendous truth in it.
About 20 years ago, the company I worked for was struggling through some very difficult times. After some changes in the organization and the bending of our goals and objectives, followed by a positive upswing in company performance, all employees received a T-shirt with this statement on it: “Leadership Is Not A Spectator Sport.” It emphasized that it is everyone’s responsibility to be a team member and work together for the betterment of the organization and to better serve our customers.
This experience, not the slogan, taught me some important lessons in life that also have been driven home in my work as a school board member. We periodically need to re-examine our goals and make sure we are focused on the recipients of the end product – in the case of school boards, the primary end product is the students who graduate from our schools.
That’s the facile answer, though. We also must look at all the moving parts that go into producing these hopefully well-prepared students: teachers, staff, buildings, supplies, technology, academic programs and on and on. Are we providing leadership that supports those areas? Do we take the time to study the issues, take our training seriously, talk to stakeholders and ask questions so that we make informed decisions when we lead?
The company I worked for realized a tremendous turnaround in product quality and labor management relations, and a major change in employee morale and culture when it adapted to circumstances and made changes. Re-evaluating our goals and objectives in life, business and industry, and, yes, school systems, is a key to success and the mark of good leadership.
For school boards, there are many ways to go about this kind of re-evaluation: district-wide strategic planning, work sessions focused on the budget, annual comprehensive school improvement planning, analysis of the biennial TELL (Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning) Kentucky survey, and the discussion of goals and objectives as part of the superintendent evaluation process. There also is the annual school council reporting to the board that provides us with so much useful information at the school level on which to base district direction.
Many times, the goals and decisions that are prompted by change are not popular with different groups of people, but necessary to maintain an environment of continuous improvement. As school board members, we may sometimes feel that the aforementioned T-shirt slogan is backward when board members become the object of “a spectator sport” as they deal with these unpopular but essential decisions.
I hope these leadership thoughts are useful to keep in mind as increasing costs and reductions in financial resources to school districts may require adjustments that in turn require us to draw on our leadership skills.
It’s equally important to keep the big picture in view as we face those challenges. Jim Burgett said it best: “School board members mold, direct, and outline the educational opportunities of children and adults.”