The Highest Leadership of All | Dr Daniel Pampuch

I was asked the other day by a colleague, what would have been the one thing that I would have changed during my time as principal. It has been nearly seven years since then and there are many things I would have done differently. However, with the progress of time and distance the small incidental issues have fallen away, and I am left with just a few big-ticket items I would change. One of them was my support of and interaction with my board. Do not get me wrong, I had a good, supportive board – but as the school grew and became more complex the governance structures and systems should have matured also. Given my time again, I would have worked harder on the governance approaches I established in conjunction with my board. It is so apparent to me now, that the board provides the highest leadership of all in a school. If done well, good governance not only ensures the health and life of the school, but also sustains the senior leadership for the long term.

Who are our members?

As a school grows the community grows with it. When my school started there were about 30-40 members. As the school grew, the number of members remained the same, even when we passed the 1000 student mark. Looking at the membership base, it is easy to see a disconnect with those who were the current school community versus those who were members when the school commenced. Growing the membership is important in terms of ensuring a good connection with the “owners” of the school. It also allows the board to draw upon a strong base of potential members to serve on committees and perhaps even the board. I felt, as principal, I could have done more to assist the board to grow the membership base and ensure we had a healthy number. Moreover, a good membership base would have also ensured the membership had sufficient voice and true input to the life and direction of the school.

 

“Establishing a highly functional board takes time and effort.

There are no quick fixes.”

Where are we going?

During me time as principal, my board was strong on metrics. I needed to be able to rattle off to the board the percentage of student growth, debt ratios, and staff turnover at a moment’s notice. We had excellent masterplans, strategic plans and marketing plans. We were clear of what we needed to do and where we needed to go. But now, I have come to realise that the important questions to ask are not about what we are doing, but rather about who we are becoming? Who did we truly want to become as a community? For me, more time should have been spent on discussing what we thought a “flourishing” Christian school community looked like? What did a well-formed student look like? Without answering such questions effectively, we were in danger of training up and preparing our students to take their place in society – just like any other school. Wrestling these questions through, with the board, is critical in staying mission true for the long term. Without a clear understanding of who we are seeking to become we will inadvertently seek to pursue the “good life” the world presents.

 

 

Are we up for the job?

Looking back, my board was made up by committed individuals who sacrificed their time to see the school grow and mature. But governance of any company or association requires real insight, depth and understanding. When I was serving as principal, the only in-depth training available for board was the AICD course. Though this was good quality program, the real focus was for boards of ASX listed companies. Today, there are a lot more training packages and opportunities available (CSA is due to launch their own in May). Spending time as a board, training and growing together is essential. Back then, it would have been good for us to know clearly what we were doing well and where we could have grown. Going through a course together would have also given us a shared language, and a clear idea of what other systems and processes we should have adopted as a board and management team. Having my time again, I would have also ensured funds were set aside for board training. Furthermore, I would have worked with the board to ensure we had a regular time set aside for development – during meetings and throughout the year.

 

 

 


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Who can help us?

Back then, as a board, we endeavoured to cover off on all the bases ourselves. We were a small crew doing a great deal of heavy lifting. We had a few committees: Finance and Risk, Governance and Nominations as well as Buildings and Facilities. However, given my time again, I would have expanded this base of committees to include other areas including education, formation etc. There is much to be across and having healthy, functional committees can assist greatly in the work and the maturing of the school. It has surprised me that, as schools, we often do not have education committees, yet education is the service we deliver. Similarly, as Christian schools we do not have a committee which looks at the formation of our young people, their wellbeing and spiritual growth. Such committees can ensure we keep the core things core. Committees also allow participation from a broader representation of our community as well as staff. Good committees help do some of the heavy lifting/thinking and ensure we are focused on the right ends. Committees also provide an excellent training ground for potential board members ensuring we have a deep pool to draw upon when the time for election comes around.

 

 

Does anyone understand?

The final thing, I would have done differently, in my time as a principal, was to have ensured my board got “out and about”. Many board members only ever have contact with their own board. In hindsight, I would have had my board interacting with other boards. I would have pushed harder for them to come to training events, principal-board dinners, the National Policy Forum, and arranged “meet and greets” with other school boards. In doing so, my board would have had other contacts to reach out to. They could have discussed how their boards operated, shared policies, compared processes, and questioned deeply the ends they were seeking to achieve.

 

 

“If done well, good governance not only ensures the health and life of the school, but also sustains the senior leadership for the long term.”

Where to from here?

Establishing a highly functional board takes time and effort. There are no quick fixes. Finding and developing good quality board members should be the result of well-established processes and practices that are adopted by the board and supported by senior management. If I had my time again, I would seek to ensure:

  • The school company/association had the broadest membership base possible;
  • The board had developed clearly articulated transformational outcomes for the school;
  • Sufficient funds and time were set aside for board training and development;
  • Committees were established that focused on core areas of education and formation; and,
  • The board was networked to other boards, associations and professional bodies.

We all have a part to play in achieving good governance. As senior leaders we must play our part.

 

 

 

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