12 Sep Making younger governors welcome (and why you should want to)
Chloe Mortimer is the founder and MD of Supply Box and an experienced school governor. In this guest post she explores some of the issues younger governors may face when joining your school’s governing body and offers tips for schools, along with some questions worth asking. You can follow Chloe on Twitter at @ChloeAMortimer.
The youngest in the room?
It was after 14 years of schooling, a gap year, university and one and a half years in my first graduate job that I first understood the role of a school governor. I’d just started working as Partnership Coordinator for a Learning Trust of 45 schools in the North East. The Trust ran an excellent governor programme, sourcing 2 governors for each member school with a background in business or industry to strengthen and diversify existing bodies. Keen to lead by example, I became a school governor at a local primary school at the spritely age of 24.
After attending training sessions and networking events with other governors in the area, I soon noticed a pattern. Whilst I didn’t consider myself particularly young, I was aware that I was often one of, if not the, youngest people in the room. My first thought was Why?
When I spoke to friends about my new role I was met with puzzled looks. They asked “so, what is a school governor? I’ve never heard of one”; the response from my twenty-something teacher friends was a little different. Rather than confusion, I was met with comments such as “wow, that’s impressive”, with perhaps a hint of scepticism. One thing was clear, the role of school governors is widely misunderstood, and even unheard of, amongst many young professionals.
A missing dynamic?
But why does this matter? Well, I believe schools across the country are missing out on the valuable skills and unique perspectives of young governors. Being closer to school age, young governors bring a new dynamic to the board and their youth and experience can balance out those at the other end of the spectrum who have perhaps long-since retired. Young governors can also really help when it comes to their school’s careers strategy and many get involved by encouraging their employers to form new links with the school. These young governors could be accountants, HR managers, marketeers, web developers, or, like me, entrepreneurs. Aside from their comparatively recent experience of the education system, they have up-to-date professional skills that many schools could really take advantage of.
Yes, young school governors are unlikely to have much boardroom experience. But given the right environment and support, they will provide the challenge needed by a strong governing body. It’s a steep learning curve for anyone new to school governance, but a young governor is unlikely to be bound by fears of coming across as ignorant. Instead, perhaps they could embrace it and ask questions not only to challenge the school’s leadership, but for their own learning.
Do our governors reflect our community?
Next time you’re sat at the table for your own governing body meeting, have a look around and consider the age, experiences, backgrounds of those around you. Do they reflect your school’s community? Do you have the type of professional expertise needed? Is everyone fully committed to ensuring the success of the school?
Being a school governor might sound like quite a lot of responsibility for a twenty something, but there are lots of practical ways schools can make them feel welcome and be effective. Here are my top 5 tips on making a young governor welcome:
- This one is so simple, yet will make a huge difference. At the beginning of each meeting remind everyone that if something comes up they don’t understand, it is perfectly okay to interrupt and ask for clarification.
- Offer young governors the chance to “buddy up” with a more experienced governor. They will be their go to person with any questions. In practical terms, get them to exchange contact details and encourage them to meet briefly before each meeting to discuss any questions that have arisen from looking at the papers and for a few minutes at the end while queries are still fresh in the mind.
- Encourage them to attend relevant training sessions and, if possible, get an experienced governor to go along with them. Not only will this be a good refresher for them, but they can help them put the new governor’s learning into context.
- Call upon their expertise. An accountant? Ask them to join your finance committee. Web developer? Ask them to take a look at your school’s website. Making use of their professional experience will send a really clear message that you value them as a governor. Of course, being a governor is not about the day-to-day running of the school, but it is so much more than turning up to meetings 6 times a year and this is a great practical way for governors to support their school with their professional wisdom and experience.
- This one may sound a bit cliche, but young people really do use a lot of social media. Invite them to follow, like and subscribe to your school’s accounts. Social media is an excellent way for governors to get to know a school and keep up to date with whats going on on a daily basis.
You might also be interested in the NGA’s forthcoming Young Governors Network – find out more about the pilot of this new network.
Questions for your governing board
- What is our Governing Body’s current demographic?
- Does it reflect our school’s community?
- Does it matter to us either way?
- If desired, how should we go about attracting young governors to join us? (Hint, SGOSS is a great place to start!)
Modern Governor resources to support you
The free Modern Governor mobile app can help governors young and old with obscure or new educational terminology, and if your school, academy, MAT or LA has or offers a Modern Governor subscription, then both the Getting Started with Social Media and School Governors and Social Media modules can help existing and new governors understand how to be effective in using these tools.
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