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A letter to a departing chair

Image via Frederic Koberl via Unsplash

A letter to a departing chair

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The Secret Governor may or may not be on your governing board. They may also continue to refer to it as a ‘governing body’, which may or may not be an attitude which Requires Improvement. They have indicated that this post represents a very personal opinion, with which you may dis/agree wholeheartedly.

Articles published in The Secret Governor category reflect individual governors’ and trustees’ experiences and opinions. If you would like to contribute an article as The Secret Governor reflecting on your experiences and opinions, then please contact

My dear friend,

I heard you were leaving, so I wrote a note.

Come on, get your game face on.

You’ve done this before, worn the smile that doesn’t quite reach your eyes.

You’ve left my friend, move on. Let it go.

You told the board you were stepping down a while ago. That was your choice, so don’t bleat about it now – be strong. You’ve been there since – well seems like forever really – haven’t you, when you think about it? Three headteachers later, several clerks, a few governors, and more than a few lots of Y6 leavers. You were there all the way. Every full board meeting, every play, every school fair, every (well most) awards events, every leavers’ assembly, every nativity, every time you were needed at meetings, you were there. Lots and lots and lots of decisions made, documents read, documents written, data interpreted and questioned, updates given, visits done, emails sent. All done with a happy heart – mostly anyway – even though it was sometimes inconvenient, when it cost you income or leave or family time: when you really wanted to not be there, when you crawled home after long meetings exhausted, when your dinner was in the dog.

Every time a game face was needed you wore one. Like a home-grown action movie with Bill Nighy in the lead role: Last Governor Standing.

You need your game face now because you know what, no one seems to have noticed you said you were leaving in spite of the fact you said you were. And I know how much that hurt. You gave them fair warning so it’s not your fault if no one reads your emails properly, or listens in meetings, but then again you of all people should know how volunteering works. You’ve been doing it long enough and so have your friends and family. God loves a trier and all that. You have to take the self out of selfless my friend, and honestly that’s fine. It is. You’ll recover, this is just A Thing. A bump in the road.

You got some lovely flowers on that awards evening, when there was just one governor present apparently and they saw the chosen Y6 thrust some flowers at you. Poor kid looked embarrassed. But at least you got some flowers so don’t be ungrateful. It’s unbecoming. Don’t be churlish either as it’s not such a good look. Is it acceptable to feel the way you do or is it selfish? Only you can answer that – after all no one made you become a governor, did they? Thank a teacher? Thank a governor.

My friend, you can look back with pride about what you did because you did your best or to the best of your ability anyway – at least you knew what you didn’t know. It’s okay to take pride in your own achievements – we should do it more often; just as it is totally right to take pride the pupils’ outcomes and achievements and successes.

Most of what you did was behind the scenes, because most of what governors do is unseen, unremarked upon. Maybe we should shout more? You held that board up (totally propped it up, actually – after the clerk left), you reminded the office staff about the policies even though you hated policies, lost your cool over the safeguarding training that they forget to tell the governors about and you’ve twitched about ever since, signed lots of papers, shared many frustrations; listened and mentored and learned.

You knew stuff about the past, you had an organisational memory, you remember the ‘remember when’s’ without any difficulty. You reminded them about the strategic operational and boundaries even when you weren’t sure of them yourself. Every decision you made was made with the pupils in mind.

It’s easy to forget why you are governing if you never talk to pupils but you tried to ensure you did whenever you found the time.

But now you can now delete the files (you know you should have done this for bloody GDPR and it was on your summer task list anyway); delete the emails and have a few more free evenings. You can move on. 

Governors matter. We’re like ghostbusters. Or Nanny McPhee. We’re there in the background, and whilst we should have a profile in school we need to be seamlessly part of the fabric, not part of the furniture. When we are treated like part of the furniture it’s time to go – and your time was now.

You know how much you dislike being called by the diminutive by staff, you know you get irritated by “can you just” questions, well no, now you can’t “just anything”. I know you didn’t want a big cake or a fuss or a medal or a plaque or anything; you just wanted someone (including some of the governors unfortunately) to actually appreciate what governors really do and not send you next year’s draft school development plan like you’re still going to be there next year. Maybe they were in denial? Better that than thoughtless. I know you tried to engage the board but they didn’t really want to look up and out and beyond.

I also know you didn’t argue or shout or force your opinions on anyone though someone once said you were direct – you countered that “you weren’t direct you were prepared”; which is a whole different ball game entirely. You tried to lead by example – some followed, some did not, so whose is the issue there one wonders? The governor who said they were disappointed when you said you may step back months ago because this was not what they elected you for – yet they were the ones who have not crossed the threshold in months? Or the governor who said you ought to be grateful as without the school you wouldn’t be where you are now? If only they knew. If only.

Governance is not a game, though luckily not many say it is these days. It’s a job. Chairing is a job just as clerking or teaching is a job – only chairing isn’t paid. Does the fact it’s a volunteer role make the leaving harder? You still make an emotional investment after all – one could argue more so – and it is okay to feel discombobulated. By September all will be well. Believe me.

So, chin up and try and remember these words long after the flowers have faded – stand tall and rise above.

Yours in governorship,

A colleague.

Some responses

Photo by Frederic Köberl on Unsplash.

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