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Executive director's note: From geese to Governance First 

Winter 2013

This issue of California Schools is dedicated to governance, and governance is about teamwork. It’s creating a shared goal or vision, and developing shared activity and accountability leading to measurable outcomes. It’s about working together and the fact that when we do so we are much more powerful than if we acted alone.

This year’s passage of the Local Control Funding Formula and the implementation of Common Core State Standards require much more from education governing boards than the past. The task cannot be understated: Governing board members are being asked to lead their local communities through a seismic shift in power and authority over education policy and outcomes. LCFF highlights “subsidiarity,” placing into the hands of local districts key decisions on funding and programming, by requiring local educational agencies to develop their own local plans for implementation based on local needs and resources. Through the enactment of the LCFF, Sacramento is attempting to refrain from dictating what happens in our classrooms; instead, school districts and county offices of education are being provided with a greater opportunity to set their own goals and define their own strategies to achieve academic success for all students—including those traditionally considered “disadvantaged.”

To accomplish these goals, an unprecedented degree of teamwork is required, not just among board members but with other stakeholders as well—teachers, parents, advocates, students, bargaining units, and community members. CSBA went into the field in the late summer and early this fall in an effort to help initiate conversations about LCFF.  Board members are asking about the who, what, where, when and why’s of LCFF. It was encouraging to see so many embracing this relatively new perspective, and it got me thinking about other ways to help communicate the importance of making the transition from what boards used to do to what they are being asked to do now and in the future.

A good example of teamwork comes from nature, courtesy of “Lessons from Geese.”  Google the phrase and you’ll get thousands of search results (one of which I’ve adapted below.)  Geese flying south in the winter do so in a V-formation. While majestic-looking, this formation has a purpose: 

It allows the geese to work together to achieve their goal of reaching their destination quicker than if they flew by themselves. In the same way and in these challenging times, governance teams working together (and with their respective stakeholders) are putting Governance First in a purposeful way so that they can achieve more together than by working alone. 

As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird following. By flying in a V formation, the whole flock adds 71 percent more flying range than if each bird flew alone.

Lesson: People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are working toward a common goal. For governance teams, this means spending the extra time to ensure that you and your colleagues truly share a common vision for your students, and that you have an agenda in which everyone has a stake. Additionally, communicating this vision to your stakeholders (e.g. parents, teachers, bargaining units, and the community) and demonstrating a shared commitment is essential to success.

Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the “lifting power” of the bird immediately in front.

Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we will join in formations with those who are headed where we want to go. The responsibility for developing the common direction and a sense of community falls on the governing board. The board sets the tone for all of the other stakeholders in the education of our children, and when the board is out of alignment it impacts the entire education process. The challenges facing our schools today call for unified leadership where all of the leaders and stakeholders are “flying in formation.” In implementing LCFF and Common Core, there are people, programs and processes that will create a “drag” on progress, but we must work to overcome those challenges and get back into alignment, focused on the larger picture—educating kids.

When the lead goose gets tired, it rotates back into the formation and another goose flies at the point position.

Lesson: It pays to take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership—with people, as with geese, interdependent with one other. Governing board members are the individuals elected to lead our local schools. They are entrusted with making critical decisions. But they do not do so in a vacuum; they work with teachers, talk with students, meet with other professional educators and community members to help shape initiatives. Sharing leadership—involving key stakeholders in the visioning and problem-solving process—is key to maintaining cohesion and a shared sense of togetherness which leads to success where it counts—in the classroom with our kids.

The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

Lesson: We need to make sure our honking from behind is encouraging—not something less helpful. Governing board members serve as the glue that keeps the transformation process together.  As board members, you have a unique role in both charting the course of change, while also ‘rooting on’ and motivating all of the other stakeholders to stay focused on the goal. Developing a singular vision for your schools and staying focused on the target is an intentional, planned process that cannot be left to chance.  CSBA offers the resources you need to help crystalize the planning process, create successful stakeholder engagement and assist you to effectively implement LCFF—or any other critical issues facing your students.

In the coming year, governing boards will be challenged like never before.  To be successful, we must find a way past all of the noise and challenges to chart a course toward educational transformation that works for our state’s six million students.  Effective governance is key to this successful transition, and by placing Governance First we can be assured that our efforts to transform education in California will be successful.