Listening, caring make all the difference in board service
Kentucky School Advocate
By Ronnie Holmes
“Thank you for what you do. If not for you, I don’t know where I’d be,” a girl told me one day. I was visiting an elementary school for School Board Recognition Month. The assembly just had ended and the kids were boarding buses to go home. This girl was probably a third- or fourth-grader. She actually made the effort to step out of the line, walk up and talk to me. I thanked her, but wondered what she meant.
Once at a National School Boards Association conference, I listened to the poet Maya Angelou give one of the most inspirational messages I’ve ever heard. She said as a board member you are somebody’s rainbow, offering hope. As board members, there are many things we can’t do, but we can provide the best environment possible for children’s education.
The old saying was that children should be seen and not heard. That implied adults had the knowledge and right to speak. Today, teaching students communication skills is vital for their success in life and in a career. Now, for school board members I think it’s the opposite – we should be seen, more than heard.
If a board member always tells others how it should be, but doesn’t visit the schools, that board member is ineffective. We must listen and observe what’s really happening. I believe listening is the single greatest attribute of a good school board member. Those who don’t listen are ineffective because they don’t hear others’ views.
Compassion also is essential for a good board member. It starts by developing a presence in the schools. The only time those students and teachers know you care is when you visit. If you don’t visit, they wonder whether you care. How can you make good, sound judgments about governing the schools, if you don’t visit them occasionally?
Things change quickly and you must keep up with those changes. That’s especially so in a position of authority, where you can help – or hurt – a school through your decisions. Ever wonder why a certain school is doing things a certain way? If you don’t go, you won’t know.
Nobody serves on a school board for entertainment or to make big money. You serve because you care about the community, the district, the schools and the students. Really, everything comes back to the kids. After all, without caring adults in the schools and on the board, some kids don’t know where they’d be.