This is the second of my two-part discussion of foundational stuff…
I’m sure I’ll update this over time, but here is a short list of ways I stay informed (obviously, in addition to listening to the community, which I will discuss later on).
1. Research (online and good old fashion books)
2. Talking to other board members (in and outside of our District)
3. News Media
The first is pretty obvious. I’ve mentioned some of the books I’ve been reading in the previous post. I’m building a list of online resources and will post that when ready. Suggestions are most welcome though. I’m happy to add things to the list at the right, provided they are focused on public education (or my other interests).
For the second, in addition to some great conversations I get to have with our other members, I am also a member of the Joint Operating Committee (or “board”) of the Eastern Center for Arts and Technology, our local area Career and Technical Center in Willow Grove, where I get the chance to talk to members of other area boards. Eastern is an incredible school made largely possible by the work of the current leadership, including my predecessor on the Board (who was then President of their JOC). Eastern’s focus on strategic planning is nothing short of remarkable and it shows in their performance and that of their students. (I’m sure I’ll have many more praises for Eastern over time.) The chance to talk to the other members has already been educational and energizing, so I know this will be a valuable resource in the future.
In addition to their training courses and materials, PSBA offers board members a large set of online discussion boards to share news and ideas, as well. Their boards are not too old and participation is building amongst the “online community”, but the opportunity for sharing good ideas is quite large and I look forward to being a part.
Finally, yes, there is the news media. My professional experience has not given me a great love for this resource. I have come to place news reports along a continuum of credibility ranging from direct, open, and non-hostile, non-political source reporting (this is rare, since nearly everyone is selling something) to pure investigative reporting where there are little more than a few events (not always facts) being “interpreted” by the reporter (this is fairly rare, too, amongst any source with some longevity). I firmly believe in a free press and see items on both ends of the spectrum; nevertheless, I pretty much read everything I can find or have sent to me as a way to maintain a pulse of the zeitgeist. Because I use news reports as part of my ongoing educational process, I will be sharing items I believe are relevant to others in understanding the complexities of the board position and I hope you will share, too.
For reference, I read all of the District’s public email and am pleased by the increasing efforts of our administration to make more information available to the community. Anyone can sign up from the District homepage. Cheltenham Township has also created its own list, so get that one, too. Our school libraries also do an incredible job communicating. Since they have provided me with some incredible knowledge over the years, I want to make a special push for their website and communications. Libraries aren’t just for books, they’re for learning!
PS: Yes, knowledge can be power and it often costs money, but information about education and leading good schools is surprisingly easy to find. Because of the Sunshine Laws (and just good practice, for goodness sakes), there is nothing secret about meaningful deliberation on issues, so knowledge can be shared between districts and leaders quite easily. Research on legislative measures, leadership issues at the various levels, and educational issues at all age and ability levels is quite easy to find in this digital age
If there is power, it is in having the experience needed to lead organizations and communities through tough situations with sound strategies and good communications. The money, as I have seen it thus far, is in the implementation of research in ways that help our schools to be effective through the training and development of good teachers, the provisioning of our schools and learning facilities, and in the tools and practices of our administrations and boards. The rest we can, and should, share. After all, we are a nation built on education. We must practice what we preach.