How To Plan Your Charter School’s Board Retreat
Planning your charter school’s annual board retreat may seem daunting at first. But it’s completely doable. Below, we’ll break down the best practices for you.
Ideally, your Governance Committee will plan your board retreat.
Planning an annual board retreat is actually one of the Governance Committee’s core functions.
But, the reality is, this isn’t the case for far too many charter school boards. If you’re in your early years, you might even be too small to have a Governance Committee yet.
Instead, for a host of reasons, board retreat planning is often led by the CEO and their team.
If that’s your situation, make a top priority of this year’s retreat to be an action plan for setting up and staffing a Governance Committee to take this off of your plate. You’ve got enough to do.
The CEO and your key designees will also have some involvement in planning your board retreat.
The senior staff will also have a role to play in planning and completing a retreat. Even once the Governance Committee has taken the lead.
There’s a difference between owning these things and contributing to them. Your board should own the planning of your retreat.
Agree To Clear Outcomes
As busy volunteers, nothing is more precious than your time. Before asking board members to give extra time for a board retreat, make sure it’s going to be a highly-effective use of their time.
Ask the board directly: “If you were to plan our board retreat, what three topics would you need to cover? What would we have accomplished by the time we wrapped up?”
To gather your board members’ feedback, you can brainstorm a list at a board meeting (with someone taking notes). Or pose the question via an online survey tool that will collect the responses in one central place.
With everyone’s ideas gathered, you’ll likely need to prioritize.
It’s better to do a few things well, rather than race through a laundry list. Try to focus on things that are best done in a retreat setting (there is a list of recommended topics below).
Consider whether your retreat will be the culmination of work done in advance, or lay the groundwork for follow-up.
Some boards plan their retreats as the culmination of work done in advance.
In this case, governance team members like the CEO, senior staff, and board committees, will do substantive work that they share with the full board in advance.
Your agenda items then are to discuss this work in detail and either make decisions or take official votes.
The benefits of this approach are that you leave the retreat with clear decisions having been made, and a documented path forward.
Alternatively, your board might use your retreat to lay the groundwork for follow-up work.
Your agenda items might be discussions that result in tasking staff and committees to continue deeper dives on the agreed-upon path following your retreat.
For instance, you might complete your board assessment during the retreat, and then have the Governance Committee come back to the board with a plan for addressing gaps identified in the results.
The potential downside to this approach is that there can often be a lack of follow-through and momentum.
Design an effective agenda
Remember that your board retreat’s agenda should focus on three key areas:
- Building Board Members’ Connections To Each Other And To The Mission.
- Board Training Or Professional Development
- Governance Strategy And Planning
Plan your board development training in advance
Board training is an important part of any retreat. But it doesn’t all have to happen at your retreat.
Consider assigning training in advance by using on-demand webinars and other resources.
Even if you’re incorporating live training into your board retreat agenda, consider making use of on-demand workshops. For instance, take a look at our free library of on-demand webinars.
You might even assign your team to review the resources around a key topic like financial oversight. (If you’re a BoardOnTrack member, you’ll have access to even more in the Resources hub.
Then, use your time together to discuss what you learned, address any lingering questions, and put your knowledge into action.
Consider scheduling: A Full-Day or a Series of Sessions
Traditionally, board retreats have been one- or two-day affairs.
Even before the pandemic, charter school boards began opting for two four-hour strategic sessions instead of a full day.
Board retreats do generally require around eight hours of working time, spread over the course of a day or two.
Especially if you’re holding your retreat remotely, you’ll want to think carefully about how best to make the most of your board’s time and energy.
Decide if you’ll bring in an outside facilitator
It’s often better and more productive to have a professional board retreat facilitator.
Your facilitator could be a staff member, a non-board committee member, a friend of the school, or a consultant.
Set clear expectations with your board
Your board should aim for 100% participation in your retreat. It’s important to set that clear expectation up front.
(If your board seems to need some convincing, check out our top five reasons why a board retreat is important.)
You also want to set clear expectations for each committee’s involvement, and any other roles and responsibilities you’ll define for your retreat.
With years in higher education, board governance, law, and state and local politics, Mike provides leadership and governance training to BoardOnTrack’s members.