May/June 2023

The Balcony: Additional Insights from Experienced Board Members

A fundamental understanding of the role of the school board member is in the distinction between board and staff responsibilities. To that end, the “balcony” was mentioned by several of the experienced board members who share wisdom with new board members in this issue of the Journal (see page 18). The idea is based on the work of Richard Broholm and Douglas Johnson in A Balcony Perspective: Clarifying the Trustee Role. 

IASB uses this analogy to clarify for board members that their role is to view the work of the district from the “balcony” to see the bigger picture, make decisions, and anticipate what comes next in the “dance.” The dancers — in this context superintendent, administration, faculty, and staff, but can extend to students and stakeholders — put the decisions into practice.

Chris Gordon: I wish I had known the difference between the dance floor and the balcony. Stay on the balcony. Board members are not there to make day-to-day decisions about the school.

Barbara A. Wells: The concept of “Staying on the Balcony” is important! The temptation is great to operate on behalf of people you know and want to remain in good standing with. If you can maintain a level of objectivity and ask informed questions you will be able to help the district communicate a salient message to the public, which has entrusted you with this work. Coming to a meeting with a fixed idea or partly true information and trying to use these pieces to craft usable solutions will create unnecessary work for your administration and waste vital time that could be spent working on real issues, planning for the future, making decisions, and solving problems.

Terrie Golwitzer: When I realized that the school board has one employee, the superintendent, my job became much easier. I was not there to evaluate staff or make curriculum choices. I was there to make sure the superintendent did all of that.

Kyra Tyler: I am not the education expert; I am a school board member. My role is to trust the experts in their field, listen, and ask lots of questions. Doing those things will allow me to make appropriate recommendations while staying in my lane. 

Chris Crabtree: My advice includes remembering the balcony and dance floor analogy! Even after eight years, it can be hard not to want to join the dance.