What Does Collaborative Governance Mean for School Districts?

Lena Eisenstein
6 min read

The school board, superintendent, and administrators play significant roles in the performance of the local school district. As joint representatives of the community, their collective efforts are vital to student achievement and district success.

Many studies have examined the impact the connection between administrators and school boards has on school districts. Those studies have found that a positive relationship between these parties directly impacts the success of the district. Collaborative governance is a practice can be applied by the school board and administrators to strengthen these connections and encourage better performance for the district.

What is collaborative governance?

Collaborative governance is a method of governance that focuses on issues by bringing various stakeholders from different specialties or areas together in a shared forum as they connect and engage in developing solutions that stem from the unique perspectives and features of these diverse groups.

This mode of governance provides school boards and administrators with the opportunity to leverage various perspectives and expertise, and creatively apply them to the areas of growth that the district needs to address. Governance that incorporates collaboration means that school districts can benefit from more innovative and resourceful problem solving and decision making.

There are some boards and administrators who may struggle to work together and this dysfunction may be felt (directly or indirectly) by administrators, staff, and students. Collaboration between the school board and district administrators is vital for district and student achievement.

There are ways that the board and administrators can work to improve their partnership and encourage governance that is collaborative.

Ways to foster collaboration

1. Clearly define roles and responsibilities.

Conflict between school boards, superintendents, and administrators can occur when these parties overstep on each other's responsibilities, which can reduce the effectiveness of the district and hinder strategic planning. This may occur when superintendents concentrate too heavily on policy or when boards reach too far into administrative tasks.

Clarifying the roles, duties, expectations, and responsibilities for superintendents, administrators, and board members is imperative to district success. Clarifying these responsibilities encourages collaboration between the school board and administrators while supporting these separate, but integrated, bodies in their specific functions to work toward accomplishing the goals of the district.

2. Develop communication plans and expectations.

Research conducted on the relationship between administrators and boards regularly affirms that effective communication is a major factor in successful governance.

However, the communication between school boards and superintendents is often deficient. The American Association of School Administrators conducted a study over a five-year period which showed that most superintendents (62 percent) 'spend three hours or less per week in direct communication with board members.'

Developing a plan for communication can be helpful in encouraging collective collaboration; whether it be through a weekly update or another method to keep board members informed on issues pertinent to decision making responsibilities. It is imperative to know your state's sunshine laws to make sure that your board and administrators do not violate these regulations while attempting to improve communication.

Utilizing a board portal, superintendents or administrators may share documents or updates with board members and the public (if required by your state's open meetings laws). This not only keeps board members up-to-date of what is happening within the district, but can prepare them for effective decision making while supporting collaborative governance.

3. Establish and maintain trust between the board and administrators.

Without trust and respect, the hard work being performed by leadership team members can quickly come undone. Negative behaviors and actions by board members or administrators can really diminish the opportunity for collaboration and good governance.

Building trust and respect between board members, administrators, and superintendent is vital to accomplishing work, meeting district goals, and supporting student success. Utilizing the right technology, proper board training, strong communication, and applying best practices (responsibilities, policies, regulations, etc.) all encourages these leaders in fostering a team based on respect, trust, and transparency.

Creative collaboration

Modern governance is a practice of empowering leaders to fuel good governance in the modern age. This method of governance goes beyond the boardroom to engage and equip board members and administrators. The right technology can support collaborative and modern governance by providing a streamlined platform for board members and administrators to leverage.

With technology designed to meet the needs of public education boards, the work performed by the board can be seamless and easily accessible from anywhere. School boards have the opportunity to leverage technological tools to better capitalize on any opportunities for creative, effective, and strategic decision making. A continuous flow of shareable information and materials allows boards and administrators to remain 'in the know' and perform their best work for the district and community.

Governance that is collaborative requires creativity for problem solving and decision making that incorporates the diversity in ideas, backgrounds, and experiences between board members, administrators, and the community. Technology supports collaboration between the school board, superintendent, administrators, and the public, which then enables leaders to be more organized, efficient, effective and better positioned to carry out the mission and vision of the district.

Leveraging collaborative technology

Meeting agendas, past meeting minutes, budgets, and strategic plans are all vital to the collaboration between the school board, superintendent, and administrators. Leveraging board software, like Community by Diligent, school districts are able to ensure that these essential documents are easily accessible by board members, administrators, and the public.

Boards and administrators should have the capability of retrieving these documents from any device or location, securely. Utilizing Community, school board members, administrators, and superintendents can easily access these materials from any device with internet access, anytime and anywhere. This level of accessibility allows administrators and board members to share materials to make educated and timely decisions for the betterment of the district.

Community's board portal promotes transparency and trust through the availability of pertinent information (for the board, administrators, and the public). Beyond meeting information, boards and administrators can easily access policies, training documents, evaluation materials, and manuals to remain informed of procedures and practices.

Leveraging Community, collaborative governance can be supported to share diverse ideals and perspectives while encouraging creative problem solving and decision making toward district success and student achievement.

Districts (students, staff, and the community) suffer when boards and administrators fail to work together effectively. Dysfunctional leadership can distract from the work that must be accomplished to better local public education.

Collaborative governance requires effort and intentionality, so leadership teams must be purposeful in how they work together. School boards and administrators need to recognize that collaborative partnerships which celebrate the diversity in ideas, backgrounds, and experiences of the leadership team result in greater achievement for the students and district.