Effective Practices : Community Life
Committee and Task Group Activity
Community Life Section 5
1. Waldorf Schools employ a large number of committees as a means of accomplishing work in a non-hierarchical manner that formally empowers small groups to work on behalf of the larger school community. What standing committees exist in your school?
2. Does your school use a system of formal mandates to ensure that committee members are clear about expectations, responsibility and authority? Do you have a standard template comparable to the AWSNA committee mandate form that helps to shape these mandates? Attach a copy of this template if available.
3. Does your school also create task groups which are formed for a period of time to accomplish a specific, closed end goal? Give examples of some current or recent task groups, and attach a copy of the mandates given to these task groups if available.
4. What role do parents and alumni play in the committee life of the school?
5. What method(s) does your school use for selecting individuals for membership on committees and task groups? Do you use simple volunteerism, or is some other method used to ensure that committee members are well qualified for the work?
6. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to committee and task group life.
7. What about your school’s use of committees and task groups is particularly effective?
8. If there were something you could change with respect to your school’s use of committees and task groups, what would it be and why?
Waldorf Schools employ a large number of committees as a means of accomplishing work in a non-hierarchical manner that formally empowers small groups to work on behalf of the larger school community. What standing committees exist in your school?
Waldorf schools use many committees as a means of empowering small groups of people to do work on behalf of the larger group. These committees are created by one of the governing bodies of the school, and the committee receives a mandate to do work on behalf of that larger group. It is an important fact of committee life that a governing body in a school can only delegate the authority and responsibility that it possesses; one governing body cannot create a committee to do the work that is the primary responsibility of another governing body at the school. For this reason we often speak of committees as having sponsoring bodies, that is, committees are sponsored by a larger group and receive a mandate to do work on behalf of the larger group.
Arguments can be made about which operating body has the primary responsibility for various tasks in the school, and these perspectives can shift from community to community. However, we have listed various committees below in groups based on the sponsoring body most frequently mentioned in the schools studied for this project.
Care Group (remedial services and assessments)
Social Inclusion Group
Personnel (Recruitment and Scheduling, Salary and Benefits, Professional Development)
Board Executive Committee
Board Nominating Committee
Development Committee (Fundraising Events, Alumni, Annual Giving, Bulletin/Newsletter, School Store)
Finance and Investment Committee
Planning (Long Range and Strategic Planning, Master Plan Development)
Tuition Assistance/Parent Financial Commitment
Board/Administrative Committees tend to fall into two groups - ones that are primarily focused on policy setting and board development and ones that are more administrative in nature. While there is great variation from school to school in this area, it is generally the case that committees such as the Board Executive Committee and the Board Nominating Committee are staffed with Board members only. The other committees such as Development, Finance and Investment, Planning, Tuition Assistance and Facilities Use are generally chaired by a member of the administrative staff and include members from many areas of the community including parents and teachers. While Board members may be members of these committees, that membership is due to their individual interest or expertise, not to their position on the Board.
In most schools the Parent Council is a group that facilitates communication among parents and between parents and the faculty. It does not have responsibility or authority in the management of the school. As a result the Parent Council does not typically have committees in the formal sense, but may have circles of activity that operate in support of community building tasks.
More and more schools are developing small leadership committees. The leadership committee membership is based on position, and typically includes the faculty and/or college chair, the administrator, and the development director. This group meets weekly for the purpose of identifying issues of concern and ensuring that they are properly delegated to one or another body of the school for resolution. This group usually meets weekly, and may be joined on a monthly basis by the Board chair and the Parent Council chair.
There are three committees that exist at virtually every school and for which there is often disagreement as to which is the proper sponsoring body, the Board/Administration or the Faculty/College. These committees are the Buildings and Grounds Committee, the Enrollment committee, and the Accreditation Committee. Schools handle this concern in several ways.
In the case of accreditation the approach is often one in which a joint Faculty/Administration committee is created. A mandate is written and individuals are asked to coordinate the ongoing activities related to school accreditation on behalf of both of these groups.
Enrollment is generally viewed as an administrative committee. Despite this assignment to the administrative part of the school, most schools recognize that enrollment requires activity in both pedagogical and non-pedagogical realms. There is registration and business office related activity, outreach and promotional activity coordinated with the development office, and admissions work done in partnership with the faculty. As a result of this varied activity some schools split enrollment into two committees - an enrollment committee and an admissions committee with the enrollment director serving as a member of both committees. In addition to the enrollment director the admissions committee includes only teachers. The enrollment committee is staffed with parents and staff members with a focus on outreach and registration.
Similarly, there is often discussion as to whether Buildings and Grounds is a faculty committee or an administrative committee. Schools are split in their approach to which body sponsors the Buildings and Grounds/Facilities Maintenance Committee. Both approaches work well, but in either case it is essential that both administrative staff members and faculty members are among the members of this committee. During periods of major renovation or expansion it is typical for schools to form a special administrative committee to manage the project, and frequently a project manager is added to the administrative staff to oversee the work.
Does your school use a system of formal mandates to ensure that committee members are clear about expectations, responsibility and authority? Do you have a standard template comparable to the AWSNA committee mandate form that helps to shape these mandates? Attach a copy of this template if available.
Most of the schools in this study report that they are in a period of transition with regard to written mandates for their various committees. Every school reported having written descriptions of the general tasks and responsibilities assigned to each committee, and many of them also report having additional documentation that describes the role of the chair and expectations of committee members.
Several of the schools in the study report that they are in the process of crafting written mandates for each committee established at the school. These mandates spell out the name of the committee, the sponsoring body, the committee’s primary task, the scope of its authority and responsibility, membership, resources allocated to the committee’s work, the frequency and distribution of reporting, and the timing and frequency of review of the committee’s work.
Some schools report that they have had great success in using the forms developed by AWSNA for use with its committees. These forms include three documents:
- A standing committee mandate documentation form used to create a clear and complete mandate for committees which are expected to be an ongoing part of the life of the school.
- A task group mandate form for committees formed for a special purpose, and which are expected to be disbanded once that purpose is complete.
- A mandate agreement form. This document is an addition to every mandate given by AWSNA and describes the “rules of the road” for working in and with committees.
The standing committee and task group mandate forms can be used virtually as is by a school. The mandate agreement form may require a bit of minor revision so that it reflects the expectations and practices that exist in a particular school. (See: Standing Committee Mandate Form - Task Group Mandate Form - Mandate Agreement Form)
Does your school also create task groups which are formed for a period of time to accomplish a specific, closed end goal? Give examples of some current or recent task groups, and attach a copy of the mandates given to these task groups if available.
All of the schools in the study create task groups (sometimes referred to as ad hoc committees) from time to time. These groups are given a particular assignment and a due date for completion of their work. Unless specifically extended these groups cease to exist as of the date specified in their mandates. One school reported that it had created a child care committee to explore the possibility of creating a child care center. This committee has since been dissolved, and a guidance committee for the new center is now in place. Another school reported that it had created a restructuring committee. This group received a closed end mandate to review the school’s committee structure and to propose changes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the school’s committee work.
One school noted the importance of being very clear in the granting of mandates to these task groups. A long range planning committee had been created a few years ago at the school, but there was a lack of clarity about who needed to be consulted, who needed to be informed, and who had decision making authority. As a result the work of this committee was not well supported in parts of the community, causing much wasted effort and hurt feelings. Another school mentioned again the helpfulness of the AWSNA form for task group mandates, saying that it had helped them ensure that all of the key questions have been answered before sending a group of volunteers away to perform a task.
What role do parents and alumni play in the committee life of the school?
Most schools reported that parents are very involved in the various Board and administrative committees at the school. Parents are rarely included in faculty/College sponsored committees. In some rare cases they are included, often as adjunct members, due to their expertise in a particular area. For example, some schools include parents who are therapists and counselors on their CARE (remedial) committees while others may include a parent with professional expertise in Human Resources on their personnel committee.
Alumni are less commonly involved in the committee life of the school. They are more likely to be involved at schools with a high school as the period of time from graduation to entering the work force is much shorter in those cases. Several schools noted that parents of alumni have been very helpful in a variety of committees, and that they are particularly helpful on the tuition assistance committee and with ombudsman work.
What method(s) does your school use for selecting individuals for membership on committees and task groups? Do you use simple volunteerism, or is some other method used to ensure that committee members are well qualified for the work?
The selection practices for committee membership vary from school to school. Several schools make it the responsibility of either the faculty chair or the personnel committee to appoint faculty members to various committees at the school. This responsibility for faculty staffing on committees is assigned with several goals in mind:
- Ensuring that there is a good match between the skill set required for participation on the committee and the skills of the person being assigned,
- Keeping committee work well balanced between various members of the faculty, with everyone doing some committee work and no one over committing their time and energy, and
- Helping to assure members of the community that people are not volunteering so as to be able to exert undue influence on topics they feel strongly about.
Most schools have a committee to help with recruitment and selection of Board members and it is often the leadership of the Parent Council that works to recruit parents to volunteer as room reps. Often the candidates for leadership positions in the parent association are run by the faculty and Board for feedback before one or another of these candidates is approached for these positions.
Some administrative committees rely on volunteerism to determine possible candidates for membership. However, the work of a committee is best served when it can be clear about the expectations and qualifications it has for committee members so that people who are a good match can easily self identify themselves, and so that people lacking the proper qualifications can be easily redirected into more appropriate work.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to committee and task group life.
People who have interest in some area of the school’s operations should be active in that work, and we encourage people to be engaged. We want to incorporate as many perspectives as we can so that our decisions are well informed. It is important that people who are not on the committee can view the committee as being representative of the community at large, and feel that the committee can make good decisions on the school’s behalf.
Committee members must come to the work with a school-wide perspective. They cannot come with a personal agenda or as a representative of some faction of the school.
Continuity is important. We need a good range of tenure - some people with a long history at the school and some newer people who might bring fresh ideas.
Committees are a place to cultivate leadership.
Committee members share the work of the group as best as possible.
The school culture has valued a serve ‘til you drop approach to committee work. Anyone who drew the boundary line short of that was clearly “not committed to the school.” We have realized that this is not a healthy or sustainable ethic as the school matures and the faculty age. We are seeking an approach going forward in which the “gifts of each are living”, and have restructured our committees and reassigned people to those committees to achieve this goal.
A mandated committee is expected to act on behalf of the school and the part of the school that has issued the mandate. It does not work for the interests of its members. There is an expectation that committee members will take this responsibility seriously, and as a result the committee is allowed to work on behalf of the whole without interference.
Listening and dialog are critically important to this process of acting on behalf of others. There is an emphasis on listening to and considering many perspectives.
Transparency - we want people to know what’s going on and how things are being achieved.
Effectiveness - we’re trying to set things up so that committees can get their work done. Having a common understanding of the work the committee is supposed to be doing allows people to operate freely without fear of being second guessed or of overextending their authority.
Communication in all directions - people need to talk with each other to gather information, to share progress, and to inform each other of decisions.
We use a non-hierarchical system that allows us to work collaboratively and collegially.
We want an inclusive environment in our school. Parents and others are an important part of the processes of the school, and our committee life supports this.
What about your school’s use of committees and task groups is particularly effective?
There is a good spirit of collaboration among people on the committees. They work well together and want to do what’s right for the school.
Our faculty mandate groups (i.e. faculty committees) are scheduled to meet during a part of the faculty meeting.
The leadership committee is very effective at making sure that the school as a whole is working well together. Agendas are set and interdisciplinary groups work well together.
We have some great parent volunteers who give freely of themselves to the school.
Committees and ad hoc groups are all expected to engage in regular reporting, usually in writing. The minutes of all committee meetings are published (except for the personnel committee) so that there is maximum transparency in the work of these small groups.
The committees meet regularly. This consistent rhythm keeps the group focused and the relationships alive.
We are getting better at being clear about what we are asking a group to do, trusting it to do the work well and thoughtfully, and making sure that all the bases are covered (not more than once!) We are also moving in the right direction when it comes to pacing ourselves and providing adequate support to the working groups.
We have a good meeting culture at the school. We have expectations about good agendas, meeting behavior, the roles of meeting participants, and our minutes, all of which lead to effective meetings.
The school has good descriptions of the committees’ work and their key functions and responsibilities.
The Board is proactive with its committees. If something is breaking down in a group a member of the Board can be sent to participate and then suggest needed changes to the committee and/or the Board.
At the Board retreat we ask for an annual report from each committee. This report includes a list of the committee members, a description of the year’s accomplishments, indications of what’s coming up for the year, and requests for support for the coming year.
If there were something you could change with respect to your school’s use of committees and task groups, what would it be and why?
We are getting ready to use more formal mandates for several of our committees. It is important for committees to understand how much authority they have so that we don’t have a situation where a group does a lot of work and makes a decision that is not accepted when it is brought to a larger group.
We need to better mentor leadership by consciously using our committees to develop individuals.
There is a big disparity between committees in terms of their effectiveness. We are trying to get clear about who needs to be informed, who needs to be consulted, and who gets to decide, and need to find ways to build this understanding in to our committee mandates.
We worry about the human resources for the various committees on the faculty side. Are we spreading them too thin?
We are intrigued by the idea of having sponsoring groups for each committee and standard written mandates for each committee.
We have unrealistic expectations about how much we can practically achieve. We do a lot, but it seems that we always keep pushing for more.
The processes for forming committees sometimes get forgotten over time. We continue to ask in this area and others, “How can we keep our institutional memory alive?”
We need to be better about discerning the appropriate place to use a committee (i.e. there are significant benefits derived from a group sensibility) from what should be handled by a paid professional.
I would like to see us attach “weight” to all ways in which an employee serves the school above and beyond their job description. Everyone should be asked to lift a certain amount of weight as part of their base salary, and after that we should consider additional compensation.