Aligning Common Language With School Boards

There are a number of important steps to creating a purpose-based interscholastic athletics culture. One key undertaking is the adoption of a common language within your school community. A question many coaches and athletic directors ask is how to establish a common language and subsequent buy-in from school administration and school boards. It is easy to recognize how important common language is within an athletic department’s culture; finding ways to align this common language with school district policymakers can be easier said than done. This is especially true without a game plan on how to connect with our important stakeholders.

Idea sharing is a hallmark of educational-athletics. In this post, I want to share an idea from my school’s InSideOut Initiative journey as we work through establishing a common language and a collective definition of success for our programs. It is my hope the following ideas can be adapted and improved to trigger your own thoughts on how to implement common vernacular and communicate program goals at your school.

Many athletic departments are asked to give reports to its school board or board of education. In the St. Anthony – New Brighton School District, we are asked to present annually. We have worked very hard to produce data-rich information for our school board. For example, our report details participant and program demographics such as free or reduced lunch, ethnicity, and gender. This data analysis also gives a detailed look at how our students’ grades and attendance rates are tied to greater participation in sports and activities. We spend 40-plus hours preparing these statistics for our school board. However, in our recent hour-long annual report we spent about 10 minutes talking about these numbers! Much to my delight, the focus was on our “why.” We spent 50 minutes of our hour-long presentation talking about our program’s purpose—exactly what we want our conversations to focus on.

The organization of our presentation allowed for this conversation to happen. Our board is a very engaged group who reviews the information they receive closely. We provided our data analysis to the board in advance of the meeting so they have the opportunity to preview this information—this allowed us to focus on other purpose-based topics in our presentation. Our athletics and activities report had three agenda items: 1.) a few quick updates on hot topics, 2.) our department’s purpose, and 3.). the annual data and participation report. After giving introductory remarks and quick updates, I invited three coaches to join in our presentation to the school board. The following bullet points walk through a process you could use to share and promote common language along with your definition of success. This format is simple and easy to recreate—any school could do something like this to further alignment among the policymakers in your district.

  • To frame your presentation, identify three of your core values you would like to use as your guide. For me, I focused on areas that connect to my goals as an athletic director: service to others, measurements of success beyond the scoreboard, and developing well-rounded character within our student-athletes.
  • I then enlisted three of our coaches who have a purpose statement that relates to each of these areas. Each coach spoke for 5 to 7 minutes and gave stories about the positive impact their program is making in the lives of our student-athletes.
  • After my introductory remarks, our first coach spoke about the service projects her teams have led—giving back to the community. She then discussed her purpose as a coach and how we embrace a serving attitude rather than be-served mindset.
  • Next, our second coach talked about how her program’s definition of success is based on so much more than a scoreboard. They focus on improvement, having fun, and becoming better people—not just better athletes. She then read her transformational purpose statement to the board. Her purpose statement centers on relationships, being a good teammate, and how in 20 years we will know how successful we were!
  • Our final coach led a discussion about our department’s emphasis on teaching the Ys and life lessons, not just Xs and Os. He talked about the impact of our weekly character education lessons, teaching not just about performance character, but also moral character. After giving powerful examples to our school board and how his team has been positively influenced by this approach, he then provided his purpose statement about playing and living a life with integrity.

It was then my turn. I spoke about our department’s book club subject, Start with Why by Simon Sinek, and gave the board my why: I serve to use the power of high school athletics and activities to make the world a better place. The resulting comments, questions, and dialogue with our school board were grounded by this conversation. It was the best school board meeting I have ever been a part of!

This is a success story from my school district that I am confident could be easily repeated in yours. If anyone has any questions about how to prepare a similar presentation with your school board, please do not hesitate to contact me—I would be more than happy to help in any way I can.