Bored Boards?

Tim Van SoelenCACE StudiesLeave a Comment

yes“Are board meetings interesting?” At a recent board training session with one of our CACE Schools, I posed this question to the board and enjoyed their responses. There was some initial laughter that only these board members could fully appreciate due to their familiarity with the changes this school is in the midst of. Change makes for interesting board meetings. Crisis can also create interesting board meetings, but I hope these are not the only reasons for board members to leave school stating “That sure was an interesting meeting!” If there is not change occurring or a crisis developing, are schools boards bored?

Bored boards, like bored students, are dangerous to the culture of a school. Boredom leads to apathy and quickly exterminates creativity. Consider a classroom where a teacher chooses only one way of teaching, let’s say she only chooses to lecture. While a lecture will meet the learning style of some students, we know that it will cause some students to quickly disengage and be unable to zero in on the learning target. Lectures can be an effective teaching strategy in the hands of a gifted lecturer; someone who can cause a “great think”, spark curiosity or unveil a provocative story; however, it can also lead to a teacher-centered classroom which may have an unintended but natural consequence of students becoming passive receptors of knowledge. Education is being done to them rather than with them. A possible, dare I say probable, side effect for some students will be boredom and disengagement.

A boring board meeting can also lead board members to disengage. Schools work hard to recruit board members who have the potential to richly give of their time, talents, and treasures. Some schools invest in board training, orientation, and development. Then come the ten to twelve actual board meetings each year – are these 24-36 hours per year utilized in ways that truly maximize the time, talents, and treasures of the people who have raised their hand and said “Pick me?”

Is this scenario familiar to you? Maybe you serve on a large consensus board where reports are distributed, policy recommendations are made, and motions are passed. This certainly is part of the oversight duties of a board, along with the financial oversight, and the evaluation and encouragement of the head of school. However, if this is repeated month after month, it will most likely result in the disengagement, decreased participation, and less frequent attendance of board members. If my attendance does not really matter, why would I choose to spend my discretionary time this way? And, what happens if school boards fall asleep at the wheel?

Michael Fullan and Andy Hargreaves shared a mathematical equation, actually a function if you can remember back to your Algebra I days, on developing the professional capital of your faculty. The equation looks like this: PC = ƒ(HC, SC, DC) and reads like this: the professional capital (PC) of your faculty (and I believe this equation holds true for boards as well) is a function of the human capital (HC) multiplied by the social capital (SC) multiplied by the decisional capital (DC). Capital, as an adjective, relates to or is an asset that adds to long-term net worth.

Human capital is defined as the talent, but it is not enough. You can bring talented people together on the same team and performance can decrease. Capital must circulate if the asset is going to grow. Groups, teams, boards, and communities are far more powerful than individuals when it comes to developing human capital. This is the social capital they describe – the virtuous cycle of respect, trust, and candor – a chemistry that cannot be quantified. The third input is decisional capital, the ability to make discretionary judgments based on experience, practice and reflection.

Stay tuned…some ideas on how to develop the human capital, social capital and decisional capital of your board in the next few weeks.


  • Tim Van Soelen

    Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.

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