March/April 2021

From the Field: Onboarding New Members? Experienced Board Members Can Help

By Laura Martinez
If your district subscribes to PRESS, IASB’s Policy Reference Education Subscription Service, you may be familiar with Section 2, which is all about board members. 2:120, Board member development, contains some language about new board member orientation.
“Huh,” you might say. That’s the superintendent’s job, right? And the board president’s?
Yes and no. Both of those people are involved in new board member orientation, but in order to really make a new board member or members feel welcome, all board members should do their part.
School board elections are in April, and many boards in Illinois will experience turnover.
You are all going to be working together as a team, and part of team-building is getting to know each other. Ask the new board members questions about themselves, and share some information about yourself. Be open to answering their questions. Volunteer to be a mentor to a new board member. Remember how many questions YOU had when you were a brand new board member? Be the board member you wish you had as a mentor when you were new. Volunteer to have a phone call with a new board member. Have them write their questions down and be ready to answer them. Take the time to make that connection.
Does your board have board protocols? That is, does your board have a shared understanding, possibly in writing, of how you do the work? If you do, make sure to share that information with new board members. If your protocols are in writing, make sure your new members have a copy. Knowing the answers to questions such as whom to contact, what the expectations are of behavior during board meetings, and how to handle concerns from the community are helpful for new board members.
The best time for new board members to learn your board culture is during board meetings. One way to help them get acclimated is by taking the time to explain things in more detail than you usually would. Explain what your committees do and why they exist. Talk about your district’s mission and vision. What are the district’s values? Another way to share your board culture is by having a discussion, or even a disagreement. How do board members disagree with each other? How does every board member get heard? A lot can be learned by observing how people interact with each other.
Finally, introduce new board members to their new association, IASB, and encourage them to go to the IASB website ( and see all the resources there. Share with them your board culture around professional development. Will you travel together to Division Meetings? Tell them about the Joint Annual Conference. Tell them who their Field Services Director is, and tell them we are all here to help them learn to be effective board members.

Laura Martinez is Field Services Director with the Illinois Association of School Boards for the Kishwaukee, Northwest, and Lake Divisions.