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Good Governance for School Boards

Trustee Professional Development Program


Module 21: Board Self-Assessment: Governance Performance

Page last updated in June 2019
Board Self-Assessment: Governance Performance
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IN THIS MODULE, TRUSTEES WILL EXPLORE:

  • the importance of ongoing self-assessment of governance performance
  • guiding principles for the board governance review process
  • leading governance practices and resources to support the development of a board self-assessment process

INTRODUCTION

Governance is the work of the board of trustees and involves the purposeful exercise of collective leadership. Good governance doesn’t just happen. It requires the elected board to take responsibility for the effectiveness of its governance practices and to work as a team. Effective boards of trustees develop a governance review policy that includes processes that contribute to the continuous improvement of board governance.

While self-assessment is a well-researched best practice for effective boards, it is not legislated. However, the requirement to annually review the board’s multi-year strategic plan provides an opportunity for the elected board to look at its governance policies and actions. It also allows the board to reflect on how successful it is in focusing on what matters most to student achievement, well-being and good governance.

ONGOING SELF-ASSESSMENT OF GOVERNANCE PERFORMANCE

Self-assessment is a valuable process that results in a range of benefits. In addition to improving communication among board members and building an understanding of the effectiveness of the directions taken by the elected board, the key outcome is greater certainty around what works for the benefit of students.

The process and frequency that boards of trustees undertake to review their performance will vary from board to board. Collection of the information to inform the review can occur in several ways including:

  • surveys of board and committee members
  • review and analysis of board agendas and minutes
  • focus groups with staff, community members and other stakeholders
  • interviews with board members and the director of education
  • use of an outside facilitator/consultant (e.g. board observation, guided discussion)

Boards should strive to regularly complete a review of their performance. Some boards may choose to align their own self-assessment with the performance appraisal of the director, while others choose a review cycle that works in their circumstances. Either way, board self-assessments should occur frequently enough that the goals set by the board remain fresh and provide for continuous improvement.

GUIDING PRINCIPLES FOR THE BOARD GOVERNANCE REVIEW PROCESS

Elected boards should consider the development of a policy which is parallel to the policy for the performance review of the director of education. Similar to those outlined in Module 5 - Performance Review: Director of Education, the policy should:

  • benefit students based on the shared responsibility of the director and the elected board for improving student achievement and well-being
  • strengthen the organization, making it more cohesive, viable, accountable and proactive in serving the needs of students and the broader school board community
  • be based on the roles and responsibilities of the board as outlined in the Education Act and clearly aligned with the annual goals of the board’s multi-year strategic plan
  • be conducted on an annual basis, involving all members of the board
  • assess board effectiveness in carrying out the core governance functions - assessment relates to board responsibility for having a plan in place, following the plan and annually updating it
  • rely on quantitative and qualitative evidence (data) agreed upon by the board of trustees and collected for the purpose of informing the board governance review process
  • be a mutual learning opportunity to affirm successful governance practices and to improve areas of identified need
  • be results-oriented and focus on continuous improvement for the board as the governing body
  • be characterized throughout by transparency and open communication, balanced by professional confidentiality and respect for all parties
  • lead to the development and implementation of a specific learning and action plan for the improvement of governance practices

Boards may wish to consider how they can include their student trustees in the board self-assessment process. Student trustees can provide valuable insights and a different perspective given their work on the board and role representing the student voice.

EFFECTIVE POLICY ELEMENTS

The board of trustees is encouraged to consider the following elements of an effective self-assessment process when developing or reviewing a policy:

  • Clear rationale and objectives for the process, including local context:
    • Help achieve board goals and priorities
    • Help build strong, mutually respectful relationships amongst board members
    • Provide clarity to trustees regarding board goals and priorities
    • Provide clarity with respect to duties of trustees and board leadership
    • Support the ongoing development of trustees
    • Ensure that there are no misunderstandings or surprises during the board assessment process
  • Clear steps, components and timelines:
    • What will be assessed?
    • What criteria will be used to assess identified areas?
    • What evidence (data) will be collected?
    • How will evidence be collected?
    • Who will be involved in the collection of evidence?
    • Who will be involved in the review process?
    • Who will have access to the information?
    • How will evidence be analyzed and compiled?
    • How will the board ensure the evidence is valid and reliable? Does evidence collected truly measure what it was designed to measure? Is evidence collected reflective of the board’s work over time (as opposed to being reflective of short-term issues)?
    • When and how will the assessment be discussed and will a facilitator be asked to assist in the discussions?
    • How will the outcomes be reported? (e.g. report)
    • How will the assessment results be acted upon?
    • How will recommendations related to agreed-to changes be monitored?
    • How will issues and/or conflict be managed?

It is essential that the process be determined and agreed upon by the elected board in advance.

LEADING GOVERNANCE PRACTICES

The basis for the elected board’s self-assessment includes its role and responsibilities (see Module 3 - Right from the Start: Roles and Responsibilities) and reflects the following leading governance practices:

  • Setting the Vision
  • Establishing Goals
  • Developing Policy
  • Allocating Resources
  • Assuring Accountability

Self-assessment includes examining how well the board works together and how effective the group dynamics are. This includes the impact of the day-to-day independent and collective actions of trustees on the cohesiveness and collaborative nature of the board overall, and public perception of the functioning of the board.

Day to day examples of this include:

  • Do board members come to meetings on time and well-prepared?
  • Do board members contribute constructively to the meetings?
  • Do board members practice active listening and support an open and encouraging approach to sharing their views?
  • Do board members respect the opinions of others while working to reach a consensus?
  • Do board members have a shared understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behaviour?
  • Do board members work together to promote positive interactions and address negative ones – both amongst themselves and with the larger community?
  • Do board members share knowledge, skills and experiences with the aim of promoting collaboration?
  • Are meetings productive? Do they consistently run over time?
  • Do board members follow board policies including conflict of interest policies and communication protocols?
  • Are political dynamics and constituency-based interests handled constructively and appropriately?
  • Do board members understand their role and help other members to get back on track if it appears the board is getting too involved in operational matters?

RESOURCES AVAILABLE

HOW CONTEXT IMPACTS PROCESS

In each of Ontario’s four publicly funded school systems, the board’s expectations regarding leadership and governance practices will also be influenced by the unique mandate, missions and values that characterize those systems. In a Catholic school board, for instance, there will be a focus on Catholic faith, community and culture. A French-language school board will have an expanded focus on community capacity-building related to sustainability of French language and culture.

In addition, the performance of the board is affected by individual competencies and efforts, and by the conditions and demographics of the school board community. The board self-assessment process should be designed to allow for the flexibility to recognize these individual circumstances and needs. One of the most significant aspects of the board self-assessment process is the open communication, collaboration and discussion that leads to “an agreed upon process.” This collaborative approach allows both the individual trustees and the board to be clear about all aspects of the process before the self-assessment process begins. There should be no surprises for either the individual trustees or the board.