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KSBA News Article

Book review

Richard Mayer

Terrible habits make for an excellent book study

Kentucky School Advocate
October 2021

By Josh Shoulta
Staff writer

Having served as professor of psychology and education at the University of California, Santa Barbara since 1975, Richard Mayer has spent nearly a lifetime studying how humans learn. That, paired with more than four decades of service as a locally elected school board member, solidifies him as an expert on effective district governance.  

“And I have the 40-year pin to prove it,” Mayer joked.His tenure as both an academic and school board member eventually led Mayer to pen a book on best practices. His approach, however, could be described as unorthodox. “How Not to Be a Terrible School Board Member: Lessons for School Administrators and Board Members” was published in 2011. Mayer’s often-humorous writing style frames specific board behaviors as what board members shouldn’t do in their roles as trustees of their respective districts.

“My rationale is that focusing on terrible school board member moves is the fastest and most memorable way to help you learn how to be a good school board member,” he said. “Even though the title promises to help you not be a terrible school board member, my real goal is to help you see – by contrast – how a successful school board member operates.”  

Some of the “terrible habits” identified in the text include humiliating a district employee in public, coming unprepared to board meetings, arguing with a hostile speaker and taking political stands. After vividly describing a scenario in which a terrible habit is exhibited, Mayer offers a variety of preferable alternatives for board members and administrators.

“All of the events and people in the book are fictional, but they are inspired by things I have seen along the way in school boards with which I am familiar, including things I have done or considered doing,” he said.  At the request of the association’s board officers, KSBA recently led nearly 80 members and education leaders in a guided study of the book. Participants took part in weekly reflection questions on selected chapters.

With 28 behaviors, the book is well-paced, easily digestible and relevant to school board members of all experience levels. Read a collection of reviews by participants in KSBA’s study in the box at the right.

Mayer’s book is available via Amazon and other book retailers (ISBN# 978-1-4129-9793-5).

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