Marathon running and school governance – common ground?

Many of you will know that the 2019 Virgin London Marathon is taking place this Sunday.

What many of you won’t know is that in 2017, I entered and finished it - and yes I ran!

It was both an exhilarating and exhausting experience and a massive personal achievement that I will never forget; and which also taught me such a lot about myself.

Over the last few days, in the run up to this year’s Marathon, I have been recounting the highs, the lows, the pain, the persistence and the sheer effort and commitment that running 26.2 miles takes. Not only the effort that you as the runner puts in, but also the fact that your family picks up more at home, when you are out training and preparing, and you get to see them and your friends less.

And then I suddenly thought - isn't this just like being a school governor?

So this got me thinking, about how all the skills needed to run 26.2 miles can be overlaid against the things that we do as governors. I’m not saying that you need to be able to run a Marathon to be a governor, but you do need commitment, good preparation, resilience and reflection!

Commitment: Whatever your reason for becoming a school governor, whether you're a parent, a local community advocate, a teacher or just someone that wants to give back, you will understand the commitment that is needed to govern a school effectively.

Governance has increased in emphasis and scale, and is a key part of leadership and management within a school; yet we all come from different backgrounds, bring different things to the table and probably have never met before.

Why are we committed?

Because we all have the same goal - to help children and young people succeed!

If this commitment isn't there or wains, so too does the effectiveness of your governance. Governance needs all to be committed, not just the chair or a select few. Collective commitment of all parties will help you to succeed.

Good preparation: Like Marathon runners and a successful race, the key to successful governance is in the preparation! Preparation helps to ensure that you get the best out of what you do. We all know that we need to be prepared for meetings, by reading the paperwork and coming armed with questions, but preparation needs to be more grounded and proactive than this.

Well-prepared governing boards, plan ahead. This preparation helps them to plan the meeting structure and what will be discussed, ensuring that the things that matter are covered.

Well-prepared governing boards can flex when the need arises and are more able to respond to new challenges that you may face as a school and board.

How prepared are you? Do you plan as a governing board?

Resilience: The road to a successful Marathon is pitted with set-backs, and at times it can be hard to pick yourself up and carry on. But you have the commitment and you have prepared; so you need to grit your teeth and carry on, knowing that the rewards will outweigh all of the set-backs.

Similarly in governance, the path is always not easy. Even for governing boards that seem to get it right, that have excellent practice, things can change that can rock you. That Ofsted judgement, an experienced governor leaving, a new Headteacher, a complaint; all could knock you and your board off course.

But as governors, we are resilient! We take the knocks and move on. Strong teamwork across the governing board helps with this; by having a good team to use for support, and solving complex challenges. Good teamwork and the relationships that you have between your governors is massively important.

We work hard to get through the challenges, and just like the rewards for Marathon running, the reward (improving outcomes for children) is much greater than the discomfort that you can feel at times.

How is your teamwork? Does it support you to flex and respond?

Reflect and celebrate: Any good Marathon training plan encourages reflection. How did the run go? How did you feel? What could you have done differently? All reflection helps to improve what you do; you get to celebrate the good and the opportunity to change the less good.

This is exactly the same in governance!

As a board, having the opportunity to reflect and evaluate regularly provides enormous benefits. Bringing governors together outside of the ‘agenda’ helps to evaluate, take stock and understand where they are good and where they can improve; adding value. It helps to foster good teamwork and leads to better working and better outcomes for children.

As governors we perhaps don't celebrate enough, it could be that we don't want to single ourselves out as it is a whole school and community that makes a child; or maybe it’s that we don't know. However by understanding where we have done well, and the difference this has made will spur us on!

How do you reflect and celebrate as a board and school?

Don't be put off! Now I'm not trying to put people off governance (or marathon running for that matter), but the traits needed are very similar.

I have worked with many governing boards, and have seen these attributes shine through.

Governance is long-term! Make sure your board is committed, prepared, resilient and reflective.

Posted in Shaping Governance.