Effective teams discuss and agree on the formal structures and processes used by
the board and superintendent in their functioning as a team (e.g., processes or
structures for agenda setting, set-up of board room and table, agenda structure,
visiting schools, handling complaints or concerns from the community, bringing
up a new idea); how governance teams operate, how they do business. These
agreements about how groups will operate are often called protocols.
What Are Protocols?
Protocols are agreements about governance team operations that can be used to forge competent governance teams in which both the board and superintendent fulfill their roles and responsibilities effectively. Governing is new to many board members, and powerfully impacting the district without inappropriately getting involved in staff functions isn’t easy.
Any protocols agreed to by the governance team must support the board’s governance role and responsibilities. All protocols must be mindful of the collective authority of the board and maintain the big picture view of the school district, while assisting members of the board to think strategically, provide united direction, be supportive of staff and students, maintain fiduciary accountability, and provide leadership to the community on educational issues. Protocols help board members operate within their role as trustees of for the district and not insert themselves into the day-to-day operations.
When boards and superintendents discuss and agree on the way they will handle different situations, they build the foundation they need to create a culture of trust and respect. By clarifying individual actions and translating them into agreed-upon practices, the board knows what to expect from the superintendent and the superintendent knows what to expect from the board.
School districts have established Board Bylaws which are part of the district’s official policy book. The Board Bylaws are the formally adopted rules that govern board operations, and may be required and defined by education code or other regulations or laws. Protocols are less formal agreements that are strictly within the discretion of the local governing body and are more easily revised as circumstances change. However, governance teams should exercise care in ensuring that all protocols are consistent with government statutes, laws, regulations and Board Bylaws.
Agreeing on Governance Protocols
Protocols are dynamic living agreements that may be triggered by a particular situation and can change as conditions and/or circumstances require.
Why are protocols important?
Protocols help build an effective governance team.
Simply discussing protocols can help resolve many issues and release many tensions because governance teams will be discussing processes versus engaging in debating personalities.
Protocols empower boards to govern.
Discussions of important protocols give governance teams an opportunity to discuss how they will conduct district business in a consistent and professional manner. Protocols become agreed-upon procedures that team members use deliberately and refine as necessary, until the most effective practices have been identified and become automatic
Protocols help new board members become equal members of the team.
If governance teams have written norms and protocols, a new board member orientation can take the form of a collective governance workshop at which the team is able to review, discuss, revise, develop or recommit to protocols. Any governance orientation workshop should be conducted in such a way that a new member feels his or her ideas are elicited and valued. This will help new members of the governance team have equal ownership of or at least an initial willingness to go along with and evaluate the effectiveness of existing norms and protocols.
Protocols keep governance teams and board members ‘out of trouble.’
Governance team members may be split on the handling of something that seems relatively minor to one or more board members. But this small irritation can fester. Talking about the situation—and coming to agreement on ways to better handle the situation in the future can help.
Protocols enhance student learning.
To accomplish everything that is hoped for students, individual trustees and the superintendent need to come together and work effectively as a governance team. Protocols assist in this endeavor.
Often an individual’s intent is positive, but the impact of his/her actions is negative.
Discussing protocols helps the governance team avoid unintended consequences.