Five Ways for Schools Boards to Have More Meaningful Conversations with the Superintendent
June 23rd, 2022
As we say goodbye to the 2021-22 school year, school boards and K-12 leaders across the U.S. are working on completing year-end evaluations. The evaluation process is meant to be a tool that leads to deeper conversations involving both positive and constructive feedback. Positive feedback is recognition and praise of excellent work, while constructive feedback focuses on communicating information based on specific areas of improvement. Regardless of the type of feedback boards give the superintendent, these conversations are essential to professional and personal growth and development.
Workplaces, including school districts, need effective communication to succeed and thrive. There are many benefits to giving constructive feedback in your district. According to LinkedIn, benefits include improved workplace relations, creating a culture that is open to change, keeping track of your goals, and enhancing learning and growth (Parikh, 2019).
While everyone enjoys hearing about the wins, it might be more challenging for school boards to navigate more constructive and difficult conversations.
We recently asked Mark Snyder, who is the Leadership Development Manager at the New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA), “Do you have any suggestions for board members on how to frame their feedback to the superintendent?” Mark’s recommendations follow.
When working with school boards, I always start by explaining to them that their feedback should come from one unified voice. While it is important for the superintendent to be aware of any significant individual concerns, all board members should be aware that the superintendent’s evaluation is coming from the board as one governing body, not each individual board member, and they should provide their feedback as such.
When engaging in this conversation, it is important that the board remember the purpose of the evaluation: to develop and support effective superintendents. It is not an opportunity to berate or play “gotcha,” as these actions will damage the relationship with the superintendent. By remaining focused on the superintendent’s professional growth, they will be better able to be supportive and address concerns collaboratively.
Here are some tips that Mark Snyder shares with NYSSBA members:
- Start the conversation with the positives. It’s important to first identify areas of growth and/or success. When you start with the positives, the superintendent will be more open to discussing areas of improvement.
- Focus on the data. Zero in on what the data says, and what it doesn’t say. Rather than making statements, such as, “You did this… or you didn’t do that…” it is more productive to state: “The data tells us this…” That way, the statements are not personal, and the superintendent will be less likely to feel attacked.
- Clearly state the board’s concerns. This is no time to be vague. If the superintendent did not meet certain performance standards or goals, specifically identify where the gaps are, explain the rationale behind the board’s rating, and identify the board’s expectations for the following year.
- Invite the superintendent to respond. This should be a two-way conversation that is focused on improvement and expectations. The superintendent must be allowed the opportunity to respond, clarify, and collaborate with the board on improvement plans.
- Use a positive and encouraging tone, rather than one that is confrontational or blaming. You might want to borrow some of these sentence starters:
- “It looks like ______ didn’t quite get the attention that the board was looking for this year. The board is really interested in making _______ a priority next year. What are your thoughts? How can the board support you in creating a plan to make ______ more of a priority?”
- “After looking at the data, the board is concerned about the relationship between the staff and district administration. What are you seeing?”
- “The board would like to recognize and applaud the progress you’ve made in ______. Great work! However, the data does not reflect much growth ______. Let’s make a plan to ensure you have what is needed to improve ______.”
Did you know?
SuperEval is home to NYSSBA’s School Board Self-Evaluation and Superintendent Rubrics. You can conduct your evaluation online, choose the rubric, and select the rubric competencies you’d like to use in your evaluation. Contact us for a quick demonstration.
The New York State School Boards Association (NYSSBA) is the statewide voice for the interests of public boards of education. NYSSBA serves more than 675 local school boards and Boards of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES), which represent more than 5,200 members – nearly half the elected officials in the state.
Parikh, P. (2019, June 20). 4 Benefits of Effective Feedback. LinkedIn. Retrieved June 21, 2022, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/4-benefits-effective-feedback-priyanka-parikh/
Snyder, Mark (NYSSBA). “Providing post-evaluation feedback to the superintendent.” On Board, May 16, 2022, page 5.
Snyder, Mark (NYSSBA). “Five tips for successful post-eval discussions.” On Board, May 16, 2022, page 5.