Steve Ladd, Board Member
Teri Vigil, Board Member image
Arati Nagaraj, Board Member image
by Steve Ladd, Teri Vigil and Arati Nagaraj

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Establishing governance agreements
Dear Boardwise:

What are ways that our board can establish governance agreements and honor them to hold ourselves accountable?

Steve Ladd: The work of a governance team involves important relationships and honest communication among — and between — the board members and the superintendent. The “how,” and equally important the “why,” the governance team operates influences how the team will function. The development of governance agreements is an excellent way to provide guidance to the interactions of board members and the superintendent.

Governance agreements should be anchored in an understanding of how the members wish to act and engage with each other. The development, discussions and approval of these agreements provide the foundation for the working relationships. When a strong foundation is established, this, in turn, helps to ensure highly successful outcomes of any district’s or county office of education’s mission.

The creation of governance agreements may take several forms, but all forms must include a board commitment to time and communication. If a board has previously constructed a governance handbook, then the members must set aside time to have deep and meaningful conversations about its content and reaffirm how they will honor and hold themselves accountable. Any board that has not created such a handbook should discuss and agree on the importance of creating one and then take the necessary steps to bring one to fruition. Alternately, it may be that a board has some pressing governance issues that need to be addressed more directly. In this case, these conversations and agreements could serve as the beginning of the development of such a handbook with more work to be done later.

Notwithstanding how a governance team establishes its handbook, it’s the development and implementation of these practices that are most important, as these actions will enhance the work and success of the governance team.

Teri Vigil: The reality is board members are elected as individuals but govern as a team. When a governance handbook is in place, it supports a member’s transition from operating as an individual to functioning as a team. The handbook is the board’s commitment to their collective conduct, an establishment of procedures and the statement of the governance team’s core values. It identifies the board’s unity of purpose and establishes team agreements.

The handbook can also be a great resource for when new board members, and even new superintendents, join the team. When used well, it introduces new members to the climate and culture of the district, as well as the expectations board members may have for themselves and one another. When there is turnover, it is especially critical to review and update this document. The handbook is a living, breathing document and each member’s voice needs to be heard and interwoven into this tool.

To make the best use of a governance handbook, the document should outline the board’s moral imperative, clearly define roles and responsibilities, and identify the board’s protocols and strategic goals. A governance handbook that addresses these critical areas installs accountability for the governance team. Because the handbook is an agreement of how the board will be doing business, it is important that it be easily accessible to all stakeholders and can be easily understood.

With a handbook in place, boards can avoid the danger of having protocols and agreements that are not documented and therefore forgotten and neglected. Good leadership can be modeled for staff and stakeholders by board members holding each other accountable and using the handbook as a living document that represents a deep understanding of each of the protocols that reveal how the team has decided to function.

Arati Nagaraj: Board members are not only accountable to one another, but to the community as their elected representatives. Accountability to the community is one of many reasons that it is important for the board to make a commitment to establishing governance agreements and to hold itself accountable.

Establishing a governance handbook was previously mentioned as a method to establish governance agreements. In addition, there are other methods of accountability that boards may employ to hold members accountable in a transparent way — those methods include the establishment of annual goals and an annual practice of a board self-evaluation.

The board should create an annual practice of creating goals that set the direction for the year and calendar a midyear check-in to review progress toward those goals. This can be done in the form of a board workshop, which is a public meeting, hence providing the community an opportunity to participate.

An annual board self-evaluation practice serves as a progress check for the board and helps answer the question: “Are we doing what we set out to do?” By using a board self-evaluation tool, the board can review the goals, identify those that have not been met and discuss strategies to accomplish them. CSBA offers a board self-evaluation tool — visit for more information.

As mentioned previously, the governance handbook is a living document that is created and approved by the board and shared with the community. Use of the handbook is most effective when reviewed on an annual basis and referenced on an ongoing basis; this practice holds the governance team accountable to its commitments.

It is not only important for boards to establish governance agreements, but to build practices in which the board revisits these agreements and assesses how it is functioning.