Editor’s note: Here is Part 2 of the 2-part follow-up piece to Stacia Watkins (now Moroski-Rigney), Scott Whiddon, and Rhyan Conyers. “Writing Center Advisory Boards: Administrative Structures and the Good Work We Do.” WLN: A Journal of Writing Center Scholarship. (43.3-4) November/December 2018. In Part 1 of this series, Dr. Moroski-Rigney shared research on starting an advisory board with advice about naming, writing a charter, choosing members, and starting an assessment plan. In Part 2, she will focus on two pieces—the first meeting and sustaining an active and effective board.
Reminder from Part 1
Assessment, and having an assessment plan, is both the first thing that you should do and a piece of every step along the way. Are there other advisory board on your campus, perhaps for the College of Business or the teacher certification unit? Reach out to others who have asked similar questions. You may not come up with the same answers, but additional advice can lead toward organization and sustainability.
Meeting the board
The first meeting is a crucial point of organizing and setting expectations for your board. (At this point, the board should’ve received a copy of the charter and an agenda.)
For many service meetings, public minutes are legally required. Who will record the minutes? Where will they be archived? It may be difficult to both lead the meeting and record the minutes. For the second meeting and beyond, one of the first agenda items will be approval of the previous meeting minutes, so they, too, should be available in advance of the meeting.
The agenda for meeting one can be simple. Below is a list of possible items.
Consider this an invitation into your WC community and culture. Is there a way that you welcome new clients or consultants that might be applicable? An advertisement, video, or swag? Should you invite the staff to be in the room to thank them for their service? This welcome sets the tone for the relationship to the WC.
You have options here! You might introduce each of the members by sharing their name, title, and what made you invite them to the board. You might have a peer tutor interview each member and introduce them to the board. If you choose to ask each member to introduce themselves, stick to a strict time limit where they share their name, job title, and board role.
The role of the charter is to create a clear picture for the board’s work. In meeting one, consider briefly explaining the choices that have been made, and –especially if your board has an advisory role—ask for suggestions for the document. If the board is an advocacy board, less conversation about the document itself may be needed. Also consider that the charter is a living document, and at the end of the first year, it might be revised to represent the actual work of the board.
- Assessment data (previous year)
Share information to the fullest extent possible. Do you have a report you shared with the department chair or the dean? Perhaps you have pictures from events you hosted? The board should be informed of your successes, your current numbers, and anything else that can help them assemble a narrative of the WC’s work. Keep in mind that this will differ based on the type of board you assemble and on the knowledge of the WC each member is already bringing with them.
It may also be a good idea to personalize this information to make it more relatable. Can you use your data to see how many of each member’s students have attended a session in the last year? Do they have advisees who work in the WC? Have you done workshops for their classes? Share this! No matter the name, you are creating allies and advocates.
- Assessment data (current year)
In discussing your current data and how it relates to previous assessment data, show your willingness to revise the center for clients’ needs. As a school changes, so should the center. Also, if big changes aren’t possible, share the small steps that are being taken to address both data-driven knowledge and goals of your school. For example, perhaps DEI is at the forefront of school conversations, and your staff has little or mainly invisible diversity. What steps are being taken to increase representation and equity in your recruitment? And how does this look toward a long-term goal?
- Writing center goals (current year)
What are the WC’s goals for the year, and how do you hope to meet these goals?
- Writing center scholarship
If your board members are not current or former WC staff or administrators, it is likely that they do not know much about the field. Share with them a list of publications, the WCenter listserv, and conference information. They may not have time to explore the list fully or to attend a conference, but you are establishing an understanding of the center as a space for both professional service and academic research.
- Representation of board service
Share the full name of the committee, the title that each member has, what level of service this is (university or college or school), and a reminder to add this to a CV or to a tenure/promotion file. This information can go at the bottom of the agenda to save a step.
- Invitation to attend writing center events and/or regional conference
Revisit the idea that anyone affiliated with WC work is welcome in our field of scholarship. The more knowledgeable your members are, the more helpful they will be to you. Are you working on a project in your center on which one of your board members could assist? Could you invite them to work on a presentation or study with you? Anything that you can do to encourage their involvement strengthens the community.
- New business and agenda for next meeting
This item reemphasizes the importance you place on your members. Would anyone like to introduce new business for the next agenda? If the board is an advocacy board, specify that the new business should relate to how they represent the WC to their constituents.
- Time for comments, questions, and concerns
You may wish to limit the structure of this time. Perhaps you can do a very brief think, pair, share. As Eve Tuck, Associate Professor of Critical Race and Indigenous Studies at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, in her viral twitter thread explains, “After 45… minutes of listening, people are bursting to talk and taking the time to turn to talk to a neighbor keeps the first question from being from a person who just felt the urgency to talk.” Tuck suggests asking your audience to peer review their questions. She explains, “The expectation is that they are thoughtful about the quality of their questions and whether it really need to be asked –it often helps to make the conversation much more satisfying.”
Again, how do you end a session with a client? Remember that you are still setting the tone for your board’s engagement. Invite them to visit the center, to be tutored on an assignment sheet, to bring in an article before submission or a report for their supervisor. Build community with each agenda item.
Sustaining the board
There are three main pieces to sustaining an efficient and effective board.
Follow the guidelines, goals, and plans that are set out in your charter, and revise as necessary. For example, if you have agreed to meet once per semester, have an agenda that requires a meeting (i.e., that could not be conducted over email), and schedule the meeting as planned. If you realize that this is not necessary, change the charter, and let your members know that you are respecting their time.
A goal for your board is that the relationship between the member and the WC will be reciprocal. Becoming an effective WC community member requires development and training for your members.
These development opportunities might include assigned readings, staff orientation, workshops, asynchronous modules, meetings with consultants, appointments in the WC, or attendance at local events/conferences. Anchor your approaches to training in the culture of your center. How do you help your consultants professionally develop? Is a version of this development possible for your board members?
Most board service is a voluntary activity; however, development and understanding of the WC is crucial to your board success. Perhaps you’ll have a time limit that an activity can be completed in order to stay on the board? Perhaps the second meeting is a WC web hunt led by the consultants? Anything you can do to respect a member’s limited time is important to the success of this endeavor.
Once again (yes, again), assessment is crucial to understand your success or difficulties. If you find that something isn’t working, ask the stakeholders to help you understand why and make change. The National Council of Nonprofits added a document titled “How to be a great board member” to their website, The New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits offers a “Board Self-Assessment Questionnaire,” and Blue Avocado has developed resources, such as “What to do with a board member who won’t do anything?” Good resources exist outside of the WC field; don’t hesitate to use your skills to learn what’s available.
Advice from those who have started and effectively run WC boards is helpful in this endeavor, especially in schools that only employ one WC scholar. Early on in my process, I was reminded to add my board to the “administration” page of our website; this small change made a huge difference in the devotion two members demonstrated in my WC board as they began to think of this as more than an extra task. I also asked my dean to write letters of commendation for members, and even though I practically drafted the letter myself, she agreed, and they used those letter for various purposes, including promotions.
These are not the only strategies for success of a writing center board structure, but between the advice from outside of our field and the questions posed for you to consider, hopefully, the prospect (and process) is less daunting.
Blue Avocado. A delicate question: what to do with a board member who won’t do anything? (1 Sept. 2009). https://blueavocado.org/board-of-directors/what-to-do-with-board-members-who-don-t-do-anything/
National Council of Nonprofits. How to be a great board member. (2009). https://www.councilofnonprofits.org/sites/default/files/documents/How%20to%20be%20a%20Great%20Board%20Member.pdf
New Hampshire Center for Nonprofits. Board self-assessment questionnaire. (2013). https://www.nhnonprofits.org/?q=node/393
Shachter, A, and K.K. Oates. (2016). “Coaching Change Agents: Planning, Implementing, and Sustaining Reforms.” SENCER Summer Institute.
Tuck, E. @tuckeve (19 July 2019). Twitter. https://twitter.com/tuckeve/status/1141501422611128320
About the author: Dr. Stacia Moroski-Rigney is Director of the CAL Citizen Scholars Program at Michigan State University as well as an academic specialist and affiliated graduate faculty member in Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures. Stacia co-authored The Pop Culture Zone: Writing about Popular Culture (1st ed.), contributed a chapter to COMPbiblio: Leaders and Influences in Composition Theory and Practice, and published articles in WLN and in SDC: A Journal of Multiliteracy and Innovation. She is a former President of SWCA and a former co-chair of the IWCA Summer Institute. Stacia also works as a consultant for universities in first-year experience, writing programs, assessment, and writing centers.