To effectively lead a school is challenging enough in the best of times, but in the challenging times in which we are living, the key issue of the management of change places additional stress on both Christian school boards and administrators. How can the school be governed in a way that is proactive and not just reacting to the latest problem? How can we reflect being the body of Christ in action?
In recent years there have been more instances of boards seeking to solve problems by firing administrators, which makes them feel better temporarily, but does little to address long standing dysfunction in their governance system. Some boards have sought answers by moving from the traditional governance system to the newer Carver model. Conversely, others have gotten more involved in the day-to-day operations and have increased their management role, or in some cases, administrators might say “micromanagement” role.
I am excited to share with you that finally the Christian school community has been presented with a well thought through and balanced approach to governance that embodies the best Christian principles. In his new book, Mission Directed Governance: Leading the Christian School with Vision, Unity, and Accountability, veteran administrator Len Stob shows us a more helpful way through his mission directed approach. His approach deals with three critical questions:
- How does the school identify and protect its foundational beliefs?
- How does the school identify and promote its mission and vision?
- How does the school identify the roles of authority, determine the process for decision-making, and ensure accountability?
Stob takes the reader through a thorough critique of existing governance options and then lays out how the mission directed governance system works. He gives practical ideas and tools for implementing this system. One of the chapters I appreciate most is his chapter entitled “Measuring What is Most Important.” Stob makes helpful suggestions as to how we can determine if we are meeting our school missions and nurturing faith in the process.
I recently asked Len why he wrote the book and how he hoped the book would be used. Here are his thoughts:
As we developed the mission-directed governance system, we found that it worked. The administrative team encouraged the writing of the book for the purpose of explaining the concepts and rationale for the mission-directed governance system to new board members, or when there would be a change in administration.
In conversations with administrators and board members from other schools, they expressed interest in the concepts as well. In so many cases, administrators and school board members are frustrated because they feel the pressures to improve, but they find it so difficult to work together and to think strategically.
The importance of thinking strategically is not merely to have a long-range plan for financial stability, facilities, or promotion. The primary focus needs to be on the mission of the school. How do all aspects of the school contribute to the purpose of the school with concentration on student learning? There needs to be unity of the board and school head as to what are the vision, the goals, and priorities. Further, there needs to be accountability.
It is almost impossible to have vision, unity, and accountability under the traditional governance system. Under this system, board’s are not really in control of the school’s direction. The traditional governance system is designed to protect and preserve undefined assumed community values. The system is designed to prevent new ideas from moving past the discussion stage.
In frustration with the traditional system, some schools are adopting the John “Carver” model. This alternative is designed to run the school like a business. The primary problem is that the board is independent from the community, and more importantly is no longer tied to the theology, philosophy, and mission of the school.
The mission-directed governance system blends the best of the traditional and governance-by-policy systems. It provides a unity under a defined mission and clearly puts the board in charge of the school while allowing the board to concentrate on strategic planning with board-approved goals and priorities that advance the mission. Assigning specific goals to the school head and measurement of the important aspects of the school provide real accountability.
Len has written the book so that it is easy for school leaders and boards to study and use. The chapters are of a reasonable length and there are helpful reflection/discussion questions at the end of each chapter. You can learn more about the book, read an excerpt, and make contact with Len here. I highly recommend that you read and utilize this valuable resource for Christian schools!