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Three Must-Reads for Every School Leader

By Jeffrey Shields posted 05-08-2018 08:37 AM


CEO Notebook |

Stand-out books on governance, personalized learning and institutional innovation may help you reflect on the year behind and those ahead.

jeff shields headshot
Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

As a business officer once shared, we are fortunate to work in a sector that has a natural period of renewal each year. For me, the end of the school year is always a period of reflection. This spring, three books stand out to me — books on governance, personalized learning and institutional innovation — that may help you reflect on the year behind and those ahead.

Chair cover

Keenly interested in nonprofit governance, I am always curious to learn what is working and what isn’t as we rely on our trustees to think strategically, act resourcefully, keep our communities safe and provide world-class education for generations to come. When I hear that school leaders aren’t challenged by conversations at the trustee level, I often ask, what is on your agenda? How did you frame the conversation? What information did you give the trustees in advance so they could offer informed guidance on the subject? Good governance takes good planning and, for many schools, the frequency and structures we have in place prevent both. Often, the board of trustees meets too frequently, has too many committees and provides little opportunity for the head of school or business officer to prepare adequately. That’s my theory of the case.

How to move toward a solution? First, if you have not read Richard Chait’s Governance as Leadership, do it today and share it with your trustees as board development and orientation. Second, some of the best ideas I have learned about governance have come from my peers. Ask them, how do they orient trustees? How do they prepare them for meetings? How do they keep conversations with their trustees elevated?

Reach for Greatness

I’m still reeling from the presentation that Yong Zhao, foundation distinguished professor of education at the University of Kansas, provided in March at the 2018 NBOA Annual Meeting’s Business Officer Breakfast. It was based on his new book, Reach for Greatness: Personalizable Education for All Children, which makes a compelling case for schools to stand out. He argues that schools should provide more opportunities and resources for students to explore their passions and draw out their greatness, on their own terms, not ours. That is the type of personalized learning that I think many of our schools can provide.

I’m concerned that we define personalized learning as small class size or a product of the latest technology. I don’t think that’s enough. In this competitive environment, the phrase “personalized learning” is being bastardized to make a buck. Independent schools own personalized learning. We have been the best at it, and we must remain the best at it, but we need to take the conversation back and be more assertive and authentic about what it truly means. If we continue to shorthand it by touting ratios or slick new devices, we risk losing our stake in it, which makes differentiating our schools that much harder.

Keller cover

You may know I have an enormous appetite for change, reinvention, process improvement and opportunities to surprise and delight key stakeholders in ways that are mission-aligned and value-added. However, as an astute business officer shared with me last week, innovation takes money. I get that and I’m sure you do too. That is why I’ve enjoyed reading Transforming a College by George Keller about the success of Elon University, a private liberal arts college in North Carolina. Years ago when I worked at the National Association of College and University Business Officers, I had the opportunity to get to know Elon’s CFO, and it was already a college on the move. Its stature rose higher for me when my niece was looking at colleges, and on her top list of many household names was Elon University. The book contains an insider’s view of the vision and partnership among the school’s senior leadership, especially between the business officer and admissions at one point, and the business officer and advancement at another. Both were key to the transformation of the institution.

Our agenda is full, perhaps even daunting, but success can and will be achieved by looking inwardly, externally and to each other. That’s always been the key to the success of NBOA and the independent school community.

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Follow NBOA President and CEO Jeff Shields @shieldsNBOA.
From Net Assets NOW, May 8, 2018. Read past issues of CEO Notebook.

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