Why Your School Board Needs to Conduct Regular Self-Assessments

Board self-assessments provide more than just accountability and a framework for communication. They lay the foundation for your board’s continuous improvement. TASB provides research-backed best practices, reflective questions, and data-informed self-assessment tools to help you make your school board more effective.

Your performance as a trustee is evaluated periodically by the voters at the ballot box, but rarely is the entire board’s performance evaluated unless the board intentionally makes that happen.

Your school board sets the tone of the district’s culture. You chart the district’s course by setting goals, developing policy, communicating with the community, and evaluating progress toward goals. But those are the goals of your district and your superintendent.

Your board’s goals are different.

Board, superintendent, and district goals should all align, but your board’s goals need to be specific to how you govern and the results that governance yields. That begins with self-assessment. The results inform an action plan that can focus your board’s work.

Self-evaluation will help your school board:

  • Be accountable to each other, administration and staff, and the community
  • Reflect on your behaviors and performance—both individually and as a board
  • Promote open communication among members about values, philosophies, and goals
  • Challenge assumptions and resolve differences
  • Identify strengths and areas for improvement in individuals and the whole board
  • Start a conversation on goal setting and long-range planning

It’s better to start self-evaluations somewhere rather than not at all

For boards just beginning to evaluate themselves, the specific instrument and process you use is less important than making a habit of reflecting on and discussing your performance. Consider your board’s interpersonal skills and practices in meetings. Ask some of these questions:

  • Do you ensure that all trustees’ voices and opinions are heard?
  • Do you conduct your meetings in an orderly manner that promotes goodwill among the team and community?
  • Are agendas clear and focused on what matters most for student performance?
  • Do you demonstrate respect for each other, your superintendent, staff, students, and community members?
  • Does everyone on your board fully understand the process for adding items to the agenda?
  • Are meetings efficient and adjourned in a timely manner?

Some school boards assign a different trustee each month to lead a five-minute discussion at the end of meetings around these types of questions. Others do that quarterly or include it in the annual assessment of the board’s performance.

The next level: Research-based self-assessment tools

A strong board self-assessment tool can help you reflect on your work and how it relates to outcomes. Beyond processes and practices your board follows, it’s important to look at your board’s impact on the district and on student outcomes. This deeper level of evaluation focuses on your board’s priorities and the extent to which your decisions deliver the desired results.

TASB’s XG Board Self-Assessment is designed to guide your board through an introspective look at your practices related to improving student learning. It’s an opportunity for each trustee and the whole board to examine how they are performing. The follow-up discussion by the board about their responses can catalyze renewed commitment to the practices that drive student success.

When the board models this type of self-reflection, it establishes an environment that encourages and expects:

  • Introspection
  • Growth
  • Continuous improvement throughout the district

Results from a board self-assessment can confirm strengths and reveal areas for improvement. Both can help the board set goals for its learning and development.

Learning together builds a stronger school board

One priority action to consider is learning together as a board team. It’s not enough for individual trustees or the superintendent to learn about effective governance through reading books, attending conference sessions, and studying.

Governance teams improve when the team learns together and then applies that learning to their work. Boards that learn together lead systems that learn. Learn as a team by attending conferences and special events together, or organizing work sessions and facilitated in-district learning.

TASB’s XG Board Development program is a research-informed approach to whole-board development that focuses on aligning board improvement to student achievement. Others have used TEA’s Lone Star Governance and the Center for Reform of School Systems’ (CRSS) governance training. With more than 1,000 school districts in Texas, there’s no one method that’s right for every board, but taking steps toward improvement makes all the difference.

The most important thing is to have a plan. When school boards have a plan for their own improvement, they’ll improve in the work they do. School board researcher Ivan Lorentzen found that districts that follow an aligned plan improve student learning. TASB can help your board put a plan in place for intentional improvement of the governance of your district. It’s a cause that is worth committing to.

Improvement for most governance teams includes:

  • Agendas focused on student outcomes
  • Times on the agenda that help keep meetings on track
  • Regular reviews of student learning data
  • Workshops that help boards understand and monitor for improvement in student learning

For more information and resources about what boards can do to provide governance and oversight that maximize student learning, visit TASB’s XG Project page.

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