Education & Government
Diana Baker Freeman Image
Diana Baker Freeman
Sr. Manager, Modern Governance Advocacy & Iniatives

Self-assessments for transformative public school boards

January 8, 2024
0 min read
Self-assessments for transformative public school boards

School boards play a crucial role in the governance and oversight of educational institutions, setting the tone for the culture of the district. As the educational leaders of a school district, it is incumbent on school boards to always set the example. After all, leadership is not just what you say — it is what you do.

Self-assessments demonstrate a desire for growth, and show staff, students and community that the board is intentional about the progress of the district. By fully embracing characteristics of effectiveness and improvement, the board sets expectations for the district.

Why school boards should conduct self-evaluations

Conducting self-evaluations is essential for several reasons. It provides a framework for an improvement cycle; it is a starting point for discussion; it can build teams; and first and foremost, it demonstrates leadership.

Notable studies have been conducted to determine if there is a differentiation between high achieving districts and lower performing districts; this research also yielded some danger signs that indicated a board may be off track. Things like micromanaging day to day operations or disregarding the agenda process and chain of command indicate that the board is ineffective in the governance role.

A self assessment allows a safe place for reflection and conversation about these actions. There are many research-based tools available for self-evaluation. Most state associations provide a template. If a template for self-evaluation is not available, researchers have developed the Eight Characteristics of Effective School Boards that is available through the National School Boards Association website.

Being intentional about your board work and assessing your habits in search of improvement positions your board to contribute to increased student achievement.

Self-assessment helps guide governance

Working as a corporate board is more difficult than many people think. Working together as a cohesive, unified whole creates a powerful opportunity to create and sustain long-term improvement.

The vast majority of school board members are elected because they want to improve the district for students. There are still some board members that ran and were elected for fringe or self-serving reasons, but these members will especially benefit from a better understanding of the governance structure created for boards.

Given the heightened politicization of school boards around the country, this is the very time that self-assessment is needed to help guide the governance functions of the board.

Benefits of school boards undertaking self-assessment

It has been said that the process of arriving at common goals is more important than the goals produced. The same might be said of self-evaluation. Using a tool to assess your proficiency with the governance process and developing a coherent relationship with your superintendent leads to a better chance to lead your district as a cohesive, unified team.

Here are several ways a board can benefit from the process of self-assessment:

  • Accountability and transparency: Self-assessments promote accountability and transparency. By regularly assessing their own performance, school boards demonstrate a commitment to openness and accountability to the community, parents, and other stakeholders.
  • Continuous improvement: Self-evaluations provide an opportunity for school boards to identify areas of strength and areas that need improvement. This process contributes to continuous improvement, helping the board enhance its effectiveness over time.
  • Stakeholder engagement: Self-assessments provide an opportunity for school boards to engage with various stakeholders, including educators, parents, students, and community members. Gathering input from these groups helps the board understand diverse perspectives and concerns.
  • Team-building: School boards are comprised of individuals with diverse backgrounds, skills, and experiences. Conducting self-evaluations allows board members to assess their collective strengths and areas for improvement, fostering a sense of teamwork and collaboration.
  • Aligning educational goals: School boards are responsible for setting policies and goals that align with the educational mission of the school district. Self-assessments help ensure that the board's actions and decisions are in line with these goals and objectives.
  • Professional development: Through self-evaluations, school board members can identify opportunities for professional development. This may involve training to enhance their understanding of educational issues, governance practices, or communication skills.
  • Strategic planning: Self-assessments contribute to the strategic planning process. By assessing their performance, school boards can align their future goals and actions with the evolving needs of the educational institution and the community.

Outcomes that school boards can achieve through self-assessment

While the process of self-evaluation is valuable, the outcomes also matter. Effective governance matters. Self-assessment will highlight areas for improvement. If the board embraces them fully, it will be positioned to make a consistent and sustained contribution to increased student achievement. In times of difficulty and controversy, a commitment to continuous improvement and effective governance will create a workable environment necessary for continued growth and achievement.

Self-assessment will highlight areas for improvement. If the board embraces them fully, it will be positioned to make a consistent and sustained contribution to increased student achievement.

Some of the outcomes a board will see through the self-evaluation process include:

Legal and ethical compliance

Regular self-evaluations help ensure that the school board is operating in compliance with legal and ethical standards. This is crucial for maintaining the trust of the community and avoiding legal issues.

Enhanced decision-making

Assessing their own performance allows school boards to reflect on their decision-making processes. This reflection can lead to improvements in how the board makes decisions, ensuring they are well-informed and aligned with the best interests of the students and the community.

Adaptability to changing needs

Educational landscapes and community needs change over time. Self-evaluations enable school boards to adapt to these changes by identifying areas where adjustments to policies, strategies, or priorities may be necessary. It also positions the board to become more strategic and malleable than reactive.

Community trust and confidence

When school boards regularly evaluate their own performance, it signals to the community that they take their responsibilities seriously. This commitment to self-assessment can enhance trust and confidence in the board's ability to effectively govern the school district.

A structured and proactive approach to school board self-assessment

While no board is expected to be able to check every box on a self-evaluations tool, the goal is to help your board make sure its work is structured to promote both board and district success. Conducting regular self-evaluations is important for school boards to ensure accountability, foster continuous improvement, engage with stakeholders, and maintain the trust and confidence of the community. It is a proactive approach that contributes to effective governance and the overall success of the educational institution.

The right board portal solution offers built-in tools that can facilitate self-assessment to support boards in their quest to governing effectively and making education more accessible to all.

We at Diligent are here to support you as you use technology to become an even more effective board. Learn how Diligent Community can help your school board.


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