How to Embrace Transitions on Your Governance Team

Embrace Change

Transitions are inevitable. It’s only a matter of time before your leadership team experiences one. The average tenure for a superintendent is six years — less in large, urban districts, and most school districts have three-year terms for board members. With this in mind, your team should consider the practices it will implement and how it will manage leadership turnover and other transitions.

What can your board do now so that a transition doesn’t translate into performance loss?

Think strategically

The changes we didn’t see coming are often the most difficult to manage. While there’s no way to fully prepare for unexpected change, we can improve the outcome of a transition by being strategic. Your governance team will be forced to think strategically when it begins a conversation on how turnover could affect progress toward your goal or your team’s culture.

Many Texas school boards have taken a simple, yet strategic approach to preparing the next round of district leaders. These preparations range from board candidate information sessions to development programs for community members interested in learning about the role of a board member. If this were the sports world, you would say these school districts have a deep bench. That is, they have a talented pool of individuals who are informed and ready to hit the ground running if they were elected. 

Have honest conversations

What does your superintendent need from the board to feel successful as the chief educator? What do board members need from each other and the superintendent? Candid and sincere conversations at the beginning of a new working relationship will allow the entire team to set clear expectations. Then, when it’s time to have tough conversations in the future, your team will be better prepared to engage in honest conversations.

In The Governance Core, authors Davis Campbell and Michael Fullan dedicate an entire chapter to welcoming new trustees. One of their recommendations is to arrange an in-depth discussion meeting where new trustees can comment on strategic goals and core shared beliefs and values of the board. 

How does your board welcome new trustees? 

If you want to maintain performance following a transition, give new team members the opportunity to share their thoughts on the most important tenets and mission of the team. The newly formed team must have a shared understanding and commitment to its mission and the values that drive the team’s work.

Follow up

Transitions are challenging but beneficial. They provide opportunities to pivot and pursue a new trajectory. When things change, it’s time to shed old ways and adopt productive, positive ones. If you recently experienced a transition or have one on the horizon, how do you hope your new team will change? Will a pivot in your approach to fulfilling your mission be required? If so, it’s time to start planning.

In the excitement of making new plans and venturing into new territory, don’t forget to plan your follow up. You and your team should ask:

  • Are there timelines we can attach to the agreements our new team made?
  • Who will hold the team accountable for the agreements? How will that be done?
  • How will the team assess itself in the future to gauge how well we fulfilled our commitments?

Don’t let efforts to build cohesion during a transition go to waste because of a lack of planning and follow up. Talk clearly about who will do what and by when.

The more we embrace the inevitability of transition, the better we become at strategically navigating the bad and capitalizing on the good. 

Interested in improving your transitions? We can help.

TASB can provide support and training for boards working through a leadership transition.

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