One of the most important keys to choosing an advisory board is ensuring that the members will be active participants. This seems obvious; however, it is easy to get caught up in what a potential board member represents and could do for you verses what they will do for you. Most people are pleased and honored to be asked to be a part of a board, and many are involved in numerous boards or advisory capacities. Ensuring each board member is an active participant is a key to promoting student growth.
Confirm the Investment of Your Board Members
I have worked with our high school’s career Advisory Board for a little over a year. Of the seven community members on our board, two have been phenomenal contributors and advocates for our students. The rest make the meetings when they can, not regularly, and are not nearly as involved. Don’t get me wrong – when asked to do something, they are ready to assist, and it certainly is not a lack of wanting to help the students. It’s simply that they have too many competing priorities to have a consistent impact.
Make it clear to the person up front what will be expected of them – ask them directly if it will be possible for them to commit to these expectations (Stengel, 2003). You don’t want someone who says they are going to participate, but has so many competing priorities that it’s unlikely they will be able to devote the time you require to your meetings and activities. Do your research by obtaining background information about each person and learning what strengths they bring to the table. Provide a copy of your bylaws to each new board member and regularly review them with current members. Confirm that the people you are asking to participate will actively engage, regularly make contributions and meet all guidelines defined in the bylaws.
Finding the Right Mix
You want members who are connected in the community, who will spend the time to provide thoughtful advice, and who will be honest – even when it isn’t the popular opinion (Stengel, 2003).
Over the last several months, three of our board members resigned for various personal conflicts and we are currently rebuilding and growing the board membership. In searching for new representatives, I have been looking for people who have an investment in our school and our students. Our two “star” board members are residents of the town and either had or still have students at the school. Two of our recent additions are alumni, who also have ties to the school, and one of them has a student at the school. Board members who offer perspective both as the representative of an organization and as a parent are invaluable. We also added our local police department’s Community Resource Officer who previously served as our School Resource Officer, so she has a real interest in our students and numerous connections within the local community.
The two members of our Advisory Board who have made the most impact rarely miss a meeting. They bring new ideas to the table, and they do the legwork to get those ideas off the ground. They are ready and willing to offer their expertise, their perspective, and their opinions (good and bad) on existing or new initiatives. They arrange learning opportunities for the students and fundraisers to support the program. Most importantly, they are consistent in their commitment to our students and expanding the program.
Board Outreach and Local Business Engagement
According to a handbook that is made available from one of the more robust CTE programs in our state, “Choosing just anyone to be on the committee will make your committee ineffective and unsustainable” (Killingly High School, 2016). You want people who will look for ways to engage the students within their respective businesses.
Think of your board as the arms of your program that can reach into the community and businesses to work for your students. We’ve been fortunate to have some connections with larger organizations who already provide regular opportunities to area high school students and are great resources. However, smaller, lesser known organizations are also beneficial partners in arranging field trips, job shadow days, tours, etc. that are equally as useful and engaging for students. Don’t be afraid to establish and utilize relationships with smaller companies – sometimes, they are the most active members. Also, think of your board in terms of your local industry. For example, our town has a significant aerospace industry presence. Not only have we added someone to our board from one of these local companies, but we intend to reach out to all of them to determine the best way to take advantage of their proximity and further the Aerospace & Engineering track of our program and its curriculum.
Leveraging Board Opportunities
The job of your advisory board is to provide opportunities for students to gain as much exposure to their fields of interest as possible. Active and engaged board members may affect student growth in terms of determining future career paths and education. Make the board work for your school by selecting members who are already connected and ready to commit. Remember, just like businesses engage the best mix of people and leadership to guide company operations and growth, securing the “right” people on a career advisory board will benefit your students and help them grow!
Stengel, G. (2003). Ten tips to creating an effective advisory board. Stengel Solutions. Retrieved from http://www.stengelsolutions.com/tips19.htm
Killingly High School. (2016). Career and technical education advisory committee handbook. Connecticut State Department of Education. Retrieved from http://www.sde.ct.gov/sde/lib/sde/pdf/deps/career/cte_advisory_handbook_sample.pdf
Pamela Ennis, MBA, is the Workforce Development Specialist at Newington High School. Formerly a Director of Business Development in the corporate sector and a Director of Membership for a non-profit association, she brings a unique blend of business expertise to her “Second Career” in public education. Pam is involved with the Newington Academies and its Advisory Board, but works primarily with mainstream students to assist them with career development through job shadows, internships, part-time jobs and volunteer opportunities as well as resume development and career-related learning opportunities. She recently completed the Career Development Facilitator Course with plans to become a GCDF. Pam can be reached at email@example.com.