Category Christian School Education
Title Cultivating Balance: The Relationship Between School Leaders
Author/s John O'Hair
Preview Most schools have a written mission and vision statement, but definitions can differ between people or change over time.

Coach John Wooden said, "Next to love, balance is the most important thing." When an employer and an employee are "on the same page" about their roles, expectations, and tasks, they have balance in their relationship, and such a relationship between a head of school (HOS) and the chairman of the board is crucial for the progress of any school.

The HOS and board chair likely share many important traits: their view of the mission and vision for the school, their commitment to school governance, their devotion to Christ, and their spiritual maturity. When the intentions of the HOS and those of the chair diverge, you have the seeds of a breakdown and a loss of unity and peace.

At Desert Christian Schools, we have been blessed with a healthy, thriving relationship between the HOS and the board of trustees. As in all things, the glory belongs to God, but it has certainly required work on our part. Here are four methods DCS uses to improve the relationship between the HOS and board chair.

Clarify Mission and Vision

Most schools have a written mission and vision statement, but definitions can differ between people or change over time. All parties must agree to the meaning of the words in the mission statement. Communicating the mission and what it means to the HOS is the responsibility of the board of trustees, the keepers of the school mission.

At DCS, the board and the HOS are involved in an ongoing discussion about the mission; it is not just a onetime statement of meaning but a recurring conversation. When a head of school has a different understanding of the mission than the Chair or the Board, the school's leadership begins working at cross-purposes.

Commit to a Governance Model

A shared intention for the school's form of governance affects the working relationship between the HOS and chair. Though the form of governance a school uses does not guarantee a successful HOS/ chair relationship, a joint commitment to the school's governance model fosters an environment for a balanced relationship. Many breakdowns between the board and the HOS stem from misunderstandings about responsibilities and authority. A clear understanding of who is responsible for what reduces the chances for conflict and clashes.

It is the board's responsibility to choose a governance model that works in harmony with the mission and vision of the school. Each school's governance needs will be different; there is no panacea that can fit all schools all the time.The HOS must agree to work within the confines of that method of governance. The HOS is responsible for making sure the school and all its employees agree with the mission and vision. Keeping the roles clear allows the HOS and the chair to take on their separate responsibilities for running the school.

Twelve years ago, DCS reevaluated our board governance and decided to move to a Policy Governance Model. Our board wanted one employee (the HOS) responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the schools. Our board then wrote a policy to limit the power and actions of the HOS. There has been a clear understanding of the powers and responsibilities on both sides, leading to very peaceful relationships.

Communicate Responsibilities

Our last three chairmen regularly emphasized that the board can only hold the HOS responsible for what the board has defined in policy. If the board is dissatisfied with a specific area of performance, they must first ask themselves if the HOS has made a reasonable interpretation of the policy for that area. If the board is still not satisfied, they must clarify their expectations with the HOS. This attitude has allowed the HOS and chairman to communicate their intentions clearly.

Foster Shared Faith

The HOS and the chair must have a shared opinion and value of faith. Both HOS and chair are servants of the same Lord and their love of Christ will be a strong basis for shared intention. As Jesus declared, "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you" (Matthew 6:33). If both the HOS and chair share this intention, they will work well together, because the glory for all accomplishments falls back on Christ. This sort of faith is not a once-a-weekchurch- service faith: it demands daily time in prayer and in the Word of God. A shared faith reduces conflict and encourages peace.

This faith is evidenced by spiritual maturity. Spiritual immaturity is a dangerous thing; Paul warned against bestowing a leadership role on someone who is young in faith (1 Timothy 5:22). Paul also warned that a spiritually immature person can be led astray or tossed about on issues (Ephesians 4:14). Spiritual maturity will help the HOS and the chair maintain a good perspective on their joint intentions.

Final Thoughts

The relationship between HOS and chair should not be about politics, yet many board/HOS relationships become petty, political, and unhealthy. The HOS/chair relationship can be strengthened just like any other relationship. Reading and discussing books or meeting outside of regular board meetings (over meals, at school workdays, or at school social events) can contribute to a sense of camaraderie and shared intention.

Board members all bring their own paradigms from their professions into the boardroom; often, these paradigms will diverge significantly from educational paradigms. A school may sometimes behave like a business, but it is fundamentally different from a factory. Board members must remember this as they work with the HOS and apply their "outside expertise" where appropriate.

Christ's intention is that we would be one even as He and the Father are one (John 17:20-23). The result of the Spirit's work in uniting us is that God is glorified before the watching world: "Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify our Father in heaven!"

John O'Hair is headmaster at Desert Christian Schools, a position he has held for nine years. He teaches on wisdom, discipleship, spiritual development, and worldview. He and his wife, Susan, live in Tucson, Arizona.

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