By Jane Taubenfeld Cohen and Maccabee Avishur
Why do you need a Head of School Support and Evaluation Committee (HOSSEC)?
- The head of school is the only employee of the board of directors. It is the board’s responsibility to ensure that the head is supported, nurtured, and in open dialogue about his/her challenges.
- The head of school needs a circle of safety in a very stressful job that encompasses a multitude of stakeholders.
- Within that circle of safety, the head of school needs to hear direct and honest feedback from a committee that is committed to his/her success.
- A healthy committee working with a head helps the school avoid unnecessary leadership transitions that cause great upheaval for the school.
What is the purpose of evaluation?
- Evaluation of the head is within the role of the board, helps the school work towards its strategic plan, and gives feedback that helps the head grow in his/her job.
- Evaluation is a function of supporting the head of school; support and evaluation go hand-in-hand. The primary goal of evaluation is to help the head of school improve.
Who should be on the committee?
- Choose a committee of 3-5 people.
- It is not necessary for the board chair to serve on this committee, and some people suggest that the board chair should definitely not sit on this committee. We believe that there are multiple effective models and that you should determine what is best for your school and head.
- Members of the committee should be jointly agreed upon by the board chair and the head of school. Some schools use the following method to select members: The head of school selects one member and the board chair selects a second member. The two members together select a third member. All members are agreed upon by the head of school and board chair.
- Members of the committee should be people who together have a sense of the school, the stakeholders, and the job of head of school.
- Sometimes the board puts the person who is most difficult for the head of school on this committee as a way of bringing the challenging person into the inner circle. That is a grave mistake as it undermines trust and does not accomplish what the school is striving for in this committee. If the board determines that it is wise to foster some sort of intimate relationship between the head and this person, it should happen outside of this committee.
What should happen during the meetings?
- Meetings should be scheduled at least quarterly but more often for a new head of school or if the school has some significant challenges.
- The chairperson should work with the head of school to jointly set the agenda and to facilitate the meetings.
- Each meeting should be focused on a previously agreed-upon set of goals (which are usually set in the spring).
- The agenda should loosely follow this suggested format:
- Review progress towards the goals
- Discuss challenges to achieving those goals, both those you’ve faced and those you foresee
- Reflecting and sharing feedback
- How can the board and HOSSEC support you?
- Meetings should be a balance between support and evaluation.
- Although there is an agenda for these meetings, they should be free-flowing, open, and completely confidential. Agreed-upon goals form the heart of the discussions, but there should be space to discuss other issues as well. Even so, it is important to ensure that the meetings stay focused and don’t stray from the topics that will really help the head and the school.
- Think about and talk with the head of school about what would be helpful to the head of school to learn about his/her performance. The frame should be one of support. Sharing feedback can be a gift to the head when it comes from a place of support and is growth oriented.
- Feedback and information can be gathered from multiple sources including solicited feedback, quantitative data, and unsolicited feedback.
- Solicited feedback: The HOSSEC and head of school should decide together how to solicit feedback that would be most helpful and informative and how often to solicit it (once or twice a year is probably the right balance). You may choose to interview selected stakeholders to learn about what’s working and what isn’t. You may choose to conduct a survey of faculty and/or parents. No matter how you gather this feedback, the head of school and HOSSEC should agree on who will be included, the questions to be asked, and how the information will be shared. It’s critical to make sure that the questions asked are framed appropriately. It is usually a good idea to have the head of school let people know that the HOSSEC will be soliciting feedback as a way to help him/her grow and embrace the value of reflective practice. It’s important that they know that their feedback will remain anonymous and will be shared with the head of school in the aggregate.
- Quantitative data: Your school likely has lots of data that might be marshalled to help support the head of school’s work, although you should be very careful about which data your look at and how you use the data. The head of school and HOSSEC should decide together what data will make the most sense to review and how to interpret that data.
- Unsolicited feedback: No board is truly immune to receiving unsolicited feedback from stakeholders, especially parents, and the HOSSEC can leverage this feedback to provide support to the head of school. The HOSSEC should decide together with the head of school how best to share unsolicited feedback. Some heads prefer to hear everything that the board is hearing so they can talk with the HOSSEC about how to address (or not address) the feedback, especially when patterns emerge. Others prefer hearing curated feedback that is focused on particular strategic priorities and goals.
- When there is an issue, complaint, or concern, the HOSSEC should be open and honest with the head of school and share the facts. When the head of school knows that the HOSSEC is there to support him/her, it is easier to hear the feedback given.
- Tools exist to help with evaluation and should be used primarily as conversation starters. You may choose to use an existing evaluation tool, modify an existing one, or create one on your own.
- Allow the head of school to reflect on feedback both in real time and after the meeting. Allot time in future meetings (or in between meetings) to follow up on this.
Communicating with the board
- The board chair should check in frequently with the committee chair to ensure that the committee is doing what it needs to do.
- A report to the board from this committee should not compromise the confidentiality of the committee.