as published in "The Christian School Builder" (August 1996)
In relation to schoolwork, we routinely refer to the board but perhaps give little thought as to what the term means. The term board is actually short for board of directors. It is the responsibility of the school board to direct the school. The teachers are looking to the board for direction and support. There are certain strengths that, if present in a board, will be a tremendous help and encouragement to the teachers.
One strength is for the board to have a good understanding of their responsibility. There needs to be a basic sense of the role of the directors in ordering the school. We believe in church-run schools rather than teacher- or educator-run schools. Those serving on the school board have been appointed by the church to carry out this important work. Those on the board need to have a good interest in the work of the school, realizing the significant place it fills in the life of the church. People usually apply themselves to the things they consider to be really important.
The board needs to give direction to the overall operation of the school. This includes the establishing of policies and guidelines. These need to be both general and at times specific. Certainly some details will be decided by the teachers, but it should not all be left to the teacher. Although teachers are not necessarily asked to help make a decision, their ideas and concerns should be heard and given consideration. This is especially true in areas that directly affect the teacher. Included in this are, for example, matters of curriculum and playground procedures and activities. Teachers find security in knowing that the board will be involved and that lines of responsibility will be clearly defined.
For the board to have a strong academic interest is another strength that encourages teachers. Granted, we are suspicious of an unbalanced emphasis on academics and an approach that leads to interest in higher education. However, there are certain basics that need to be taught and students should be challenged scholastically. One question that might be asked is, In which way will the teacher be more likely to get into trouble, by requiring too much or too little of the students? Boards may be too ready to conclude that everything must be going fine if the students are not complaining and parents are satisfied with the homework load.
The board needs to become familiar with the curriculum. Members of the school board should be knowledgeable of what is being used, what should be included, and what is available. Curriculum selections should be made by the board rather than the teacher. To do this requires more than passing a book around at board meeting and having each member quickly browse through it. The board should also periodically review the entire curriculum to notice any weak spots.
For the board to have the strength they should, there needs to be good organization with the lines of authority clearly established. It is a good thing to assign someone to be the contact person for the school so that the teacher knows where to go when things arise. This person should have a few other people he counsels with when major decisions need to be made or when out of the ordinary discipline measures may be needed. Board members should not be able to push pet ideas separate from board policy. Neither should one board member be unduly swayed by pressure from patrons.
It is an important strength for the board to serve as a buffer between the parents and the teacher. Certainly, it is good to have open communication between the parents and the teacher. However, complaints or criticism for the teacher need to be channeled through the board. It is very important that the board protect the teacher from parents who are dissatisfied with policies, expectations of students, or disciplinary actions. When the board receives complaints, the teacher should always be given the benefit of the doubt.
The board also needs to lead out in maintaining order. There needs to be positive support for the teacher in the area of discipline. This means backing up the teacher in the discipline he or she administers and becoming involved in assisting the teacher in especially difficult cases. It is true that sometimes teachers make mistakes in this area. When the board sincerely feels the teacher has violated good judgment in the administering of discipline, they need to handle the matter very carefully so as not to undermine the teacher's authority or to foster disrespect in the child.
Maintaining school order also includes enforcing the school standards. Teachers can be expected to report standard violations, but they should not need to contact the home with such concerns. That is the responsibility of the board. The board will encourage the teacher by having a positive "can do" attitude toward problems rather than just talking about them.
It is important for the board to stay close to the school. Boards show interest by regular visits and by being available to hear teacher concerns and being a sounding board for the faculty. Schoolteaching is a very great responsibility and requires time and effort. Boards should express appreciation for the job that is being done. Such expressions should not be so general that they do not say anything. One teacher made this observation, "It can be discouraging if year after year criticism is specific but compliments are general."
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