As a classroom teacher, it is important to be aware of who the board of education members are and what their role is in our educational system. Board members are elected officials who serve without pay and volunteer their time to provide oversight on a part-time basis. They are typically people who are interested in serving their community and children. Many have children in the schools. Some hold full-time jobs and others have more flexibility in their schedules.
Building a relationship with school board members is a worthwhile endeavor because most board members are lay people who do not serve as educators. They are learning about the business of educating children as they serve. A classroom teacher is in a unique position to help their board members find out more about how schools work and what schools provide for their students, parents, and the greater community.
Find Ways to Include Them
Because board of education members live in the community, they may enjoy being included in some of the events of the district and school. As a classroom teacher, invite your board members to read to a class or help in a center. At older levels, they can present for a career unit. Multi-cultural celebrations and holiday parties are great ways for board members to see students in action socially. Music concerts, art fairs, and technology nights are opportunities for board members to see the ancillary services that students receive and how important they are in a child’s life.
Attend Board of Education Meetings
Boards of education typically meet one to two times per month. Meetings are held in public; however, they are not public meetings. The audience watches what is being discussed and how the board is conducting their business, but the meeting is not designed to be participatory for the audience. There is at least one time during the meeting that the board has for public comment. This is a chance for anyone to make a comment about topics.
Agenda items are posted at each building and on district websites, and classroom teachers may educate themselves about what items will be discussed by reading the agenda ahead of time. If there is a topic which elicits strong feelings, the best course of action is to send a letter or email to the board of education letting them know about those feelings or opinions. Boards do not often get public praise or thanks for doing this volunteer job for the community. It can build goodwill to use the public comment time to thank the board for the job that they do on behalf of the community.
Attending a board meeting will enable a classroom teacher to become more knowledgeable about what is going on in the district and help that teacher to gain more of a district perspective about how decisions are made. When crucial times in a district’s history arise, such as attempting a referendum or making budget cuts, that goodwill can go a long way toward both parties communicating and understanding.
Build a School Board Communications Committee/Advisory
Classroom teachers may wish to initiate a type of advisory unit with their board of education. It would be best to work through the union so that there is no duplication of efforts. School boards may wish to have regular meetings with a variety of teacher representatives on a regular basis so that they can talk about informational items from both venues. Boards may wish to ask for teacher input about upcoming decisions. Teachers may wish to share items of importance with them as well. It is a good idea to keep the lines of communication open and not simply wait until it is time to begin teacher negotiations. An outcome of more regular communication and input may be that negotiations run more smoothly.
Some school boards at the high school level may have a program in which students from each high school building are offered a chance to interview for a position as a student representative to the board of education. These positions are non-voting, and the student attends meetings and offers input and feedback in direct discussions with board members. They may give information about activities and programming within the schools so that board members have a first-hand experience about how their decision making affects students.
Create Learning Experiences for Board of Education Members
There are some ways that teachers may be able to help board of education members become more educated about what it is that teachers do during the school year. Board members typically will understand the parts having to do with giving students instruction and planning for that, but there are other things that take place during the year that may surprise them.
For example, board members may be interested in observing some of the meetings that teachers attend. There are curriculum committees in which sets of materials are assessed, piloted, reassessed, and selected. Team meetings in which grade-level or department-level teams discuss the nuts and bolts of managerial tasks that help to keep the year running smoothly are interesting.
PLCs (professional learning community meetings) would be very interesting from an observational perspective. Seeing how teachers analyze data as a team and pursue problem solving for students is something that many lay people would not know takes place. School improvement committees may be something that a board member could observe to see the process that the teachers use to move the school forward each year.
Inviting board members to in-service days gives a good picture of the continual learning that is provided and expected for school staff. Teachers may also want to ask administrators about including board members in in-service days or asking them to be on hiring committees as a way to get more information about how teachers serve during these days.
Classroom teachers, as well as other staff members in a school, have much to contribute to the board of education in terms of their understanding and education. It is important to remember that most of the board members are lay people without a background in education. It can be very helpful to reach out to these important community members and make them feel welcome in the schools and district.