Technology and governance might not seem a likely pairing—one being a tool and the other being a collective act. However, governing in modern times should both utilize available tools as well as set a direction and example for the rest of the educational enterprise. It is incumbent on school districts, and thereby their leaders, to prepare students for their future, not for the board members’ pasts. How many times have we heard, “I went to school there and I turned out ok”? Then, there is the adage that schools need to return to the basics, the 3 Rs—readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic? In the modern era, good enough is no longer good enough. Our students are looking at a future that will not be separated from technology.

Embody the Principles of a Learning Organization

Students today learn academic core subjects, which are useful. But they aren’t gaining all the knowledge they need to seamlessly integrate into the workforce. Education has long moved past simply the 3 R’s, expanding it to include what most educators have dubbed “The 4 Cs.”

The 4 Cs include:

  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Creativity

Ken Kay, a pioneer in the 21st century education movement, discusses the organizational imperative of supporting teachers as they prepare students in their quest for a productive life in the 21st century. No district has launched a successful 21st century initiative without strong leaders. The entire organization can use the 4 Cs as their respective organizing concept. Embedding these into every aspect of the organization has some natural steps for boards in the work they do as a leadership team:

  1. Strategic Planning – The foremost governance work of a board-superintendent leadership team is the very embodiment of using the 4 Cs as a part of their work.
  2. Accountability and Data – No plan, strategic or otherwise, is worth anything if there isn’t a culture of accountability surrounding it. Simply put, we should hold ourselves accountable to 21st century outcomes that matter to our children’s future success. We should collect data on those outcomes, build them into the work of our professional learning communities, and hold educators accountable to them.
  3. Process Improvement – Identifying, analyzing and improving existing processes within the organization to meet the goals and objectives is imperative for boards as they move forward.
  4. Leadership – The demonstration of leadership in a learning community requires board members to do more than show up to meetings, listen to presentations, consider recommendations and go home in as short a time as possible. Leaders of a learning community must demonstrate the principles they expect from their professional educators, from superintendent to classroom teacher.

Embrace Transparency and Accessibility

Examining the philosophical question, “who owns the schools?” might generate a multitude of answers. These range from taxpayers to parents to educators to students. Let’s take this one step further… “for whom do the schools exist?” The answers should look similar, even if prioritized differently: students, educators, parents, community members. Conversely, who should have access to information regarding the schools? One would posit that the same parties have interest in being knowledgeable about the district. Transparency is the keyword of the current generation. Stakeholders, be they parents or taxpayers, have an expectation of access. Leaders in the district can create a culture of openness and transparency fostering trust and faith in the district and its employees through the utilization of technological tools.

Technology allows the accessibility for all in a readily available format that encourages interaction with the educational system. Governing in the 21st century requires we meet the needs of all our constituents—the telecommuter that spends most of his day on the computer, the visually impaired mom that sends her children to your school, and the resident that commutes each day leaving and arriving home outside of school hours.  All these stakeholders deserve ready access. Even some state legislatures have recognized the need to employ technology in the sharing of materials and have passed laws requiring electronic agenda posting on the district website. These community members are your future board members; how you set the culture determines your future board. Modern governance embraces inclusivity.

Incorporate Innovation through Change

School directors in their work on a board serve as the example and the figurehead for the district.  If a district aspires to be a flagship learning community attracting the best applicants, launching programs that aspire to be models of thought leadership and innovation, it will only be as good as the board is. When a board is mired in politics and one-upmanship, the chief administrator spends her time focused on holding productive meetings and getting basic initiatives passed. A board should ask itself how much of a superintendent’s work week, or month, should be based on board interactions.  A modern governance board embraces the role of trustee, taking seriously the opportunity to create a district culture that strives for excellence, views mistakes as learning opportunities and sees their work as one of constant improvement—looking ahead rather than behind.

In the global knowledge economy, failure is an accepted part of doing business. Think about ideas and products that changed the world – the pathways to these successes are strewn with failures. Each failure offered a priceless opportunity for learning. This is the board’s opportunity to impact the communities they live in. They can create a fail forward mentality where progress is seen as incremental, where information is data from which to learn, and where “us versus them” thinking fades into the realization that there is only us.

A board that uses technology to its fullest has the best opportunity to maximize their governance potential. They can set the tone for the district creating a culture of learning. As leaders of the educational enterprise, board members should model a learning community. This means embracing change and uncertainty. Again, accepting the idea of mistakes being part of learning and that all work is a fail-forward and opportunity-focused endeavor models for others that risk and innovation are encouraged. Learning and using modern tools is the only way to demonstrate relevancy to students of today’s generation. In their governance work, a board is the rudder of a great ship. An ancient times, mariners would use navigational charts, compasses, and sextants. The modern mariner still guides the ship with a rudder but he employs gps, a magnetic compass, and electronic chart displays to get where he is going. The job of a board member—governance–has changed little. The tools to do it allow for more precision and efficiency in doing the job. Modern governance is embracing the tools available to streamline your processes so you can focus on the job of improving education for children.

Exemplify the Highest Ideals of a District

A college professor used to close his classes with a charge to the future administrators. He would ask them to reflect on the students that needed to be prepared for the future and when this shift should begin. The class would collectively answer “Now is the time.” To which he would ask them to consider who should lead the charge moving forward to best serve these students. They would reply, “We are the people.” To board members and school directors that dread change, that avoid technology out of fear, that have let good enough be good enough for too long…It’s time to pick up the mantel of modern governance. It’s time to create a learning culture. It’s time to be welcoming and transparent with the community. It is time to partner with the professional educators to do everything we can to launch students into their future. Now is the time – we are the people.

Questions to Consider as a Modern Governance Board

  • Have we set a vision for our district and are we basing our decisions on movement toward that vision?
  • Have we adopted a strategic plan for the district?
  • Are we using the collective tools, processes and methodologies that enable us to move toward our goals?
  • Are we using the tools to make district information available to all stakeholders?
  • Are we using data to drive our decisions? Is the data available to everyone?
  • Have we embraced the team approach, asking questions in a way that invite openness with the focus on improvement?
  • Do we focus time on process improvement and discussions of substance, avoiding politics?
  • Are we communicating with key audiences about issues facing the district?
  • Are we collaborating with key stakeholders to creatively resolve issues?