I recently read a very interesting article by Aidan Severs on how to maximise learning time in lessons. He gave a ten point checklist which people could use to streamline lessons. I read his checklist and thought that it could be adopted for governance. So, here goes.
1. Reduce distractions
When you’re in a governors’ meeting does it sometimes go off into tangents which have nothing to do with the topic being discussed? If this happens then, as Chair, you should try and gently bring the discussion back to the item on the agenda. This will help keep attention focused on what needs to be discussed and also stop the meeting overrunning.
2. Match activities to lesson objectives
Aidan explains why this is important in a class setting. Matching activities to governance objectives is just as important. For example, if governors carry out school visits, the reason for the visit must be clear and should feed into how we challenge and support our school leaders. Some boards find it useful to ask governors to monitor specific areas or classes. Others align the visits to specific areas of the school development plan. Which ever way you do it, you should ensure that these activities lead to maximum understanding of how the school is performing.
3. Intelligent sequencing
Match your meeting agenda to what happens in schools. Discussion of exam results and finances/budgets should happen at particular times of the year. Also give some thought to the order in which you want to cover the various items.
4. Lesson structure
Aidan says lessons should be organised in a way which will make the most use of the available time. For board meetings structure of the meeting is of similar importance. Plan the agenda well in advance. Seek input from the head. Your clerk’s help is invaluable in drawing up the agenda. They will help ensure nothing of importance is left off the agenda. Decide how much time each item should be allocated to each item on the agenda. If you have invited a staff member who usually doesn’t attend your meetings, then try and put the item to which they would be contributing at the top of the agenda and once that’s been dealt with let them leave.
5. Scaffolding and differentiation
Aidan talks about how teachers can structure lessons so each child’s learning is maximised. This made me think of governors who have just joined the board. Though not scaffolding in the sense that Aidan was talking about, but we, especially chairs, can take steps to ensure that the new governor understands what’s being discussed. First and foremost, if your new governor is from a field other than education then do make sure they have a glossary of terms which they’ll come across. For someone who has not worked in schools terms like SDP, AfL, DSL, EBacc, FFT, FSM etc will mean nothing. They may not feel confident enough to ask what these terms stand for so it’s a good idea to provide a glossary to new governors.
Aidan says, “Precious learning time is often lost when teachers are less prepared than they could be.” The same could be said of our meetings; precious meeting time is often lost when governors are less prepared than they could be. The expectation that everyone would have read the papers beforehand should be made clear to all. Governors should also submit any papers they have prepared in enough time for the clerk to add them to the meeting pack which should go out seven days in advance.
7. Written instructions
I think it’s of great importance to agree and write down policies and procedures which will dictate how you conduct business. For example, procedure for electing chair/vice chair, governor monitoring visit policy, terms of reference, procedures around conducting virtual meetings, etc for your committees, etc.
Aidan talks about how routines can save time and hence maximise learning. Routines can also help save time during meetings so you get the maximum amounts of work done. For example, you may consider asking governors to send you/the clerk any typos or spelling mistakes in the draft minutes before the meeting so that these can be corrected and time isn’t spent on pointing these out during the meeting. You may also like to consider labelling every item on the agenda as “For discussion/For information/Requires action” etc. Once this becomes routine you may find that it saves time by focussing attention on what needs to be done.
Aidan talks about in-lesson feedback to ensure that no child ends up wasting valuable learning time. Feedback is important for governors too. Consider asking your governors for feedback on how they think meetings have worked out, what has been achieved, how the chairing/clerking has helped (or not). The chair should also try and meet individual governors so they can talk about how individual governors feel about their role and what support they may need in the coming year.
10. Behaviour management
Aidan talks about how and why good behaviour maximises learning time. Good behaviour is important for good governance too. Punctuality is the first thing which comes to mind. No one likes to be kept waiting. Yes, sometimes things happen which will mean people can’t get to the meeting on time but these should be the exception rather than the norm. Chairs have an important role to play here. If you see someone dominating the conversation then make a point of asking others for their contributions. A code of conduct should be agreed and signed by all at the start of the year. It might be an idea to devote some time to discussing this at your first meeting of the year so that people understand what the code requires and how breaches, if any, will be dealt with.
Is there anything you would add to the above list?