KASB President’s Perspective: Effective leadership: A matter of trust

By Shannon Kimball
KASB President
Lawrence USD 497

Back-to-school greetings! Welcome to September. This is always my favorite time of year, both personally and as a parent. I relish the excitement of each of my children as they greet old friends, meet new friends, and take on new challenges and opportunities as the school year really begins to click along. I hope the past month has brought similar excitement, optimism, and success into your lives and your work as board members.

In mid-August, members of your KASB leadership team attended the National School Boards Association Summer Leadership Seminar. This is an annual opportunity for leadership development and training to help your KASB team improve our leadership skills for the benefit of our state association and its members, and to participate in the governance and leadership of NSBA. Our learning this year centered around one theme in particular I want to share with you — the role of trust in effective leadership.

School board members and state association staff from across the country were challenged to identify what a lack of trust might be costing them in their work: Time, growth in student achievement, staff turnover, community support and buy-in, were just a few of the many costs identified by these leaders.

A lack of trust — from our staff, our parents, our community, or even our fellow board members — has significant financial impacts on our organizations. “A lack of trust is your biggest expense,” David Horsager, of the Trust Edge Leadership Institute, shared with conference attendees. Who knew trust-building could be a school funding strategy?

In all seriousness, though, David’s insights about the role of trust in public education leadership rang true. Protecting and increasing trust in our schools, in our system of public education, is our No. 1 job as board members, according to David.

Have you ever heard complaints from your community about your district’s communication, or lack thereof? Have you struggled to pass a much-needed bond issue, address difficult issues such as a student bringing a weapon to school, convince your staff to take a risk on a new approach to teaching and learning? All of these challenges, when we drill down to their root causes, revolve around an absence of, or lack of adequate, trust.
My takeaway from the discussion was this — figuring out how to build trust with our staff, our students, our school families, our communities, and each other should figure prominently in our deliberations and professional development.

Our learning included examining the concrete, essential components upon which trust is built. For example, ensuring our actions have clarity — such as having a clear mission and vision for our district, easily and succinctly communicated to families and the community — builds trust in our schools. Trust is also built when we demonstrate commitment in our work — having healthy systems of accountability as a board and as a district is just one example of how demonstrating commitment to our mission will build trust in our work among our many different constituencies.

The pressing issues discussed in these pages — encouraging full participation in the 2020 Census, school safety concerns, and even evaluating how our districts are using at-risk funding, e.g.— could be more effectively addressed through the lens of trust building with those affected by each of these issues. Our communities place trust in each of us to do this work.

As we embark on this new school year, let us each take time to care for, cultivate, and grow that trust so that we maximize the positive effects of our work for our students. Our leadership team at KASB will also be weaving these strategies into our work for the Association on your behalf.
By recognizing trust as a foundational issue in our work, we can better support each other and extend the optimism of the start of a new school year throughout our year’s work.

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