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Ask a Montessorian Leadership Series

“I’ll be joining my school’s board of directors for the first time, and have never served on a nonprofit team before.  What are some things I should keep in mind since I’m coming from a for-profit school?”

This is a great question and critical to understand in order to help the board and school function in the best ways possible. It is important to ask when you say “joining my school’s board,” what is your relationship to the school? If you are a current teacher at the school, this represents an inherent conflict of interest and should not happen. If you are a current, or an alumni/ae parent, or an alumni/ae teacher, or an alumnus/a, this should not be a problem. In fact, it is interesting to point out that if you are a current parent, a National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) “Independent School Leadership: Heads, Boards and Strategic Thinking” study found “Five elements were consistently present and paramount to strategic effectiveness of boards and to a set of institutional outcomes for independent schools in our study” and one of the findings stated “The percentage of trustees who are current parents has minimal direct influence on strategic effectiveness within boards of trustees.” As a side note, today more than ever, boards are working hard to make/keep their boards diverse.

So, let me answer your question beginning with, there are three basic legal responsibilities that you want to understand about serving on a nonprofit board. 

1) Give Care by devoting time and effort. Whether serving on a committee, supporting a fundraising activity, or volunteering to help ongoing activities, e.g. setting up for a school event, overseeing an important school activity, assisting the head of school; your time and commitment are important. Also, you have to give care to make sure that the school meets financial obligations and is compliant with bylaws, policies, procedures, and state and federal regulations. 

2) You have an Obedience to serve the school, and that means to uphold the policies and procedures of the school. Make sure that whether you agree or disagree with a board decision, you are obedient to what the board ultimately decides. 

3) Have Loyalty to the school in a way that your school comes first when making a choice between the school and an interest that you may have in another organization you may be affiliated with in one way or another. This becomes critical if you have a child or relative enrolled in the school, or are friends with an employee of the school. Be sure to review and understand the school’s conflict of interest policy that should be signed by all directors annually.

Hopefully, the school board of directors used a good recruitment and screening process when you were invited to join, AND that it employed a strong on-boarding/orientation process that introduced you to board and school responsibilities and expectations. This is critical to getting all new directors off to a strong beginning.

Become familiar with the Board mission, vision, values, bylaws, and policies. Also important is the school’s communication to the school community and beyond, including website, social media, bulletins, etc. You do not have to be an expert in any one area, but you do want to be familiar with all aspects of how the organization communicates in order to keep the school thriving, particularly when there are times of leadership transition—a time when a school is most vulnerable. 

Beyond the organization’s principles and practices, you want to take advantage of governance resources. A chief responsibility of any board is providing professional development for itself. For example, here are some top nonprofit organizations: BoardSource, Independent School Management (ISM), NAIS, American Montessori Society (AMS), The Montessori Foundation, and The Center for Guided Montessori Studies (CGMS). Beyond these organizations, there are many excellent books—just to name a few top authors—Patrick Lencioni, Shawn Achor, John Maxwell, Edgar Stoesz, and Ray Dalio. These authors, many books, and TED Talks that cover good governance and leadership can be found on my blog.

To help get you get started, here are some articles I have written about nonprofit governance and leadership:

“Shaping Trust in Your School”

“The Case for a Good Governance Committee”

“Bylaws, Policies, and Procedures

“Caring for Your Head”

“Golden Governance”

 

My answer to the question and these resources should get you started on how to be the best director on your school’s board.

Finally, when considering board responsibilities, the most important board value is trust—a value that is inherent in the word trustee, which is comparable to a director. Building trust is incumbent upon every member of the board, whether in conversations, upholding confidentiality, leadership qualities, emotional intelligence, and best practices. And, do not be surprised that once you are on the board, there may be deficiencies in how the board operates. It is up to you to jump in and help wherever you can.

Dane L. Peters currently serves as a consultant to schools and nonprofit boards of trustees/directors. He retired as head of Brooklyn Heights Montessori School (BHMS), a Toddler through 8th grade school in Brooklyn, New York.  Prior to heading BHMS for eleven years, he served as head of Mooreland Hill School in Connecticut for eleven years. He recently completed his service as the Administrator for the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Experienced Leaders Advising Schools (ELAS) program and now serves as an ed-visor and mentor for the program. He has been a faculty member at the Center for Montessori Education | NY and Seton Montessori Institute, teaching the Credential Course for Montessori Leadership and Administration.

IMC Board approves new affiliate program

The International Montessori Council is pleased to announce the IMC Board’s approval of their newest affiliate teacher education program, The Vietnam Montessori Advisory and Training Center (VMAT).

Long time IMC member Jana Morgan Herman is the director of VMAT and works closely with VMAT founder and Executive Director, Pham Hoai Thu. VMAT is a MACTE accredited teacher education program committed to supporting the development of Montessori in Vietnam. Approximately 25 – 60 adult learners participate annually in their Montessori Early Childhood Certification Program. Their training facility is bright, attractive, well organized and fully equipped with Montessori materials. 

The IMC Teacher Education Committee review team noted VMAT’s commitment to providing adult learners a positive learning experience that will prepare them to lead Montessori Early Childhood classrooms. The program beautifully weaves Montessori philosophy and cultural curiosity throughout the course. We congratulate VMAT along with their dedicated leadership and faculty and welcome them to the IMC community!

Photo of first official IMC affiliated VMAT cohort of adult learners.

Jan Katzen, CGMS instructor and author, debuts new children’s book

Jan Katzen, AMI, CFP, CN, who serves as the Instructional Guide of the professional development course Nutrition is Fundamental to Learning, discusses her newest children’s book, Humdrum Hannah Was Eating Junk, available now.

What inspired you to write the book Humdrum Hannah was Eating Junk?  25 years ago I was lying on the beach in Rocky Point, Mexico with a notebook and pencil, enveloped in sand and childhood memories of food, isolation and despair  – a byproduct of my struggles with sugar and overeating. Humdrum Hannah was Eating Junk arrived that day with a delightful spin on the memory – HUMOR! I had big shoes to fill as the narrator and main character however, and when silliness took over, there was no turning back. I was also writing other kid’s stories, “Little Wind,” a story about family communication with a Native American twist, and “If My Arms Were Two Miles Long I’d Give You A Hug” – an over-the-top silly story about two best friends separated by a family move. All of my stories sat in my file cabinet collecting dust, however.  Fast forward to 2015. I remembered that I had written “Humdrum Hannah Was Eating Junk” years ago and at that time, as a nutritional therapist with years of scientific training and experience, I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be fun to revisit the story?’ I updated it and sent it off to my friend in the UK who generously worked on grammatical and content issues.  He also surprised me with an audio recording of the text! That was the birth of the audio book.    

What will readers find in the book?  Endearing vita-GEMS (healthy) and vita-GERMS” (not-so-healthy) food characters call out to Hannah from the refrigerator each day at around 4:00 PM. They argue among themselves to be chosen by her, with silly dialogue and sound effects. The reader can download the audio book to listen in and will fall in love with the characters – including ice-cream and beans (warning: children’s graphic humor!).  A downloadable coloring book is an added bonus so children can color their way to healthier food choices. The view inside of Hannah’s intestines as the healthy and not-so-healthy food continue their battle is compelling. Parents get a break from “nagging” as their children visualize and learn how food affects their digestion, energy levels, behavior and mood.  

Your book description states that ‘most children’s nutritional education books are boring…not anymore.’  What makes your book stand out?  Children follow Hannah on her journey from humdrum to happy as the character “baby broccoli” rescues her from getting into trouble and she saves him from the trash can. Nutrition education is woven throughout the story, including a child-friendly glossary for big words like PANK-ree-us, dia-BEAT-eese, and leg-YOOMS. Healthy, fun, family recipes, health tips from Hannah and ‘Glad-I-Ate-it’ stickers are included, making a fun addition to any Montessori or traditional classroom. The audio book contains real sounds to identify such as the refrigerator opening, walking down steps, cheering on the playground, a heart beating, and bodily sounds such as burps and farts (a grace and courtesy lesson to be had for all).  

 Most people know that ‘junk food’ isn’t good for us.  What would you say, though, that most people don’t yet know about food and nutrition?  This is why it is so important for children to learn about food and physical and mental health at an early age. In fact, it’s so important that Hannah wrote her own section on health tips for home and school.  For example, “bright vitaGERM colors in junk food are made from bad stuff like coal that turn your tongue and fingers red, blue, yellow, or orange. They might even get into your brain and make you hyper. It’s best to keep these fake colors in your crayon box.”

What are some things that you hope for the food ‘industry?’  For school lunch programs?  Hannah says it best!  “Now that you know so much about healthy eating, you might see certain foods served at school that are full of vitaGERMS. Don’t eat them. Help make your own breakfast, lunch, and snack and take it to school.” 

But if you do eat breakfast and lunch at school, “bring a friend or grown-up with you and politely ask your principal to add more vitaGEMS (protein, complex carbs, good fats) to the school menu.”                                      

 

Jan Katzen, AMI, CFP, CN, has studied nutrition and health under the guidance of professor Michael Crawford, expert in brain chemistry and human nutrition. She interned with Nim Barnes, founder of Foresight Preconceptual Care (Bognor Regis, England).  She is a former AMI (Association Montessori lnternationale) educator and publishes scientific articles and books on nutrition with a focus on preconception health, brain and child development.  Jan has written many children’s books including her newly released Humdrum Hannah Was Eating Junk.  She has served on advisory boards of The McGarrison Society, The Mother and Child Foundation (UK), The Montessori Education for Autism Foundation (UK), and Epap nutritionals in South Africa.  Jan maintains a clinical and private practice at Melmed Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. She specializes in nutritional evaluation and sustainable food plans for children with neurodevelopmental, learning, behavioral, and emotional challenges. She also consults with adolescents (anxiety, depression), and adults. Telephone or Skype consultations available.

Jan is also the video instructor for the professional development course Nutrition is Fundamental to Learning, given by The Center for Guided Montessori Studies teacher training program and teaches a 4-week Nutrition is Fundamental to Learning professional development course for educators and parents. Jan loves guiding Montessori educators and provides all the tools necessary to amp up the nutrient content of foods served at school and nutrient dense breakfast and lunch ideas and educational hand-outs for parents so students come to school well nourished, happy, and ready to learn. Jan works individually with her adult learners, including continual online communication and weekly Zoom Chats. Jan’s next course begins March 16th, 2020.