Board development: building relationships

I was recently invited to join a school board and school district senior management team for a half-day session. The board experienced a big changeover after the recent election, going from a collective 91 years of service to six years, along with a new superintendent and other newer members of the senior management team. The superintendent and board chair wanted to take some time for some relational work before they got further into their governance and other more technical orientations.


In designing the session, I thought about the moments of “groan zone” in their future, and when disagreement or difference arises, it is easier to listen to a person’s thinking when one has experienced their humanity. It illustrates the importance of getting to know each other, to hear our stories, our context. To meet each other with curiosity about who we each are “beyond the position”.


From our design team's conversation, the purpose of the session emerged: To get to know one another better and build supportive relationships, to set the tone for working together in an open, collaborative way, and to discover shared alignment in their dreams for the future of the district's schools.


Here is the flow of the session:


We invited people to “bring an object that represents you or is meaningful to you” for our check-in circle, with the invitation to share:
• Your name and a little about about your object/why meaningful to you
• What you hope our legacy will be (not your personal legacy/your agenda – but our collective legacy)


Here is a photo of the centre that began to be built together. There were some tender moments as people shared the significance of the items they chose. I had brought the plant as a gift for the centre, and also contributed my own object in the check-in.


We then shifted into partners for dialogue interviews with the following questions:

1. Tell a story about yourself as a young person that captures the essence of who you were growing up. How is that essence still part of you today?
2. What was your formal and informal learning path and why that path?
3. What deeper motivation brought you to serve as a Board of Education member or senior manager?
4. What do you dream as possible for our district's schools? For us as a Board of Education and Senior Management Team together?
5. What gives you optimism? What brings you joy?


Coming back from the dialogue interviews, we mixed up into new groups of three, to cross-pollinate and further explore question four from their interviews: What do you dream as possible for our district's schools? For us as a Board of Education and Senior Management Team together?

Back in the circle, each person harvested their key insights on an index card and we had a round of speaking them into the centre.


Then we moved into new triads, to be in some shared reflection of the qualities from their morning together that they wanted to carry with them into their work together (the “how” they were together, not the “what” they would do together). 

Again, back in the circle, each person harvested their thoughts onto index cards followed by a round of speaking them into the centre; ending that round with the invitation to remember these qualities and keep them alive in their other places and spaces.


To close, I offered a dialogue poem from snippets I had caught from their check-in on their hoped-for legacy.

A sweet session to be part of!