School governors – How to work with them for the good of the school
Governor visits might at first seem like an extra meeting you don’t need clogging up your timetable, but here’s how you can make them work for you…
- by Rebecca Leek
As we all know from our days whizzing around classrooms, time in schools is at a premium. Faffing about is not an option, and all activity should be as purposeful as possible. Including meetings with school governors.
Every school has a governance layer. It might look different, depending on what type of school you are in, but whatever your circumstances, governor visits are an essential accountability mechanism.
So, even if it is a rare occurrence, it is unlikely that you will go through your career without being asked to meet with a governor.
With such little slack in our current school system, these kinds of meetings often happen in what I call the ‘margins of time’.
School governors are often very busy people. The adage, ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person’ is the perfect fit for these wonderful people who voluntarily support our schools.
Role of governors in schools
In considering governor visits, then, it is useful to remind yourself why governors visit at all. There are quite a few answers to this question. Here are four for starters:
- Momentum: I don’t know about you, but I always need a deadline. Not because I’m lazy; it’s just that things can slip away from me. If I know I have to talk something through with a governor, on a set date, then it keeps the momentum going. This is accountability in action.
- Triangulation: leaders will think they have embedded something. Or that staff are pleased about a recent change. Governors will be able to tell leaders whether this is really true or not. This is not spying – it’s an extra pair of eyes and ears.
- Balance and focus: there is often a risk that a school is trying to change, or improve, or tweak too many things at once. Meetings with staff, and hearing what they are saying, will help gauge whether the balance is right.
- Diversity: we always need different brains and people with different experiences, thinking and contributing to the strategic direction of a school. Uniformity of thought is dangerous; governors bring an additional dimension.
Working with governors
With this in mind, here are some ingredients that will make a visit purposeful and useful, rather than burdensome and potentially a waste of time.
There should be a very clear, articulated reason for the visit that is written down.
For example, it might be to find out the impact of a new action-planning approach where groups of subject leaders work together.
The governor may meet with a group of subject leaders, ask about the action plan, and enquire about the impact so far – on workload, on building an interlinked curriculum, or on the learning in the classroom.
I recommend schools outline a complete cycle of visits and governance activity in advance, preferably for the full year.
For example, the internal school diary could have ‘governor visits’ marked for a particular week.
If these are scheduled at the right time, then it will mean a brief write-up will also feed into the correct committee meeting, a week or two later.
Lurching changes and unexpected meetings are terrible for staff wellbeing. Avoid at all costs.
Don’t let meetings happen over blank pieces of paper.
The purpose should be at the top, and some suggested questions can also be included to ensure a quality discussion.
For example: What is the timeframe for this work? How does this relate to the school improvement plan? Is there anything that is hindering the likelihood of the success of this work?
The visit should link back to the overarching priorities for the school. We can only achieve a certain amount and a scattergun approach is inefficient. Governors and staff should know what the aims are and activity should be focused around these areas.
I have deliberately not mentioned Ofsted, although these meetings will inevitably help you gain confidence if an inspection is on the horizon.
But at the end of the day, the key aim is to keep our schools healthy and dynamically improving.
Visits from school governors, when done well, can be really effective in keeping the cogs turning – for the good of the school.
Rebecca Leek has been a primary and secondary classroom teacher, head of department, SENCo, headteacher and MAT CEO. She is currently the executive director of the Suffolk Primary Headteachers’ Association and works as a freelance speaker, trainer and writer. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccaleek_ and see more of her work at rebeccaleek.com