From the Field: Plan Ahead to Welcome New Board Members
By Lori GrantAnother election year is upon us, and in a few short months your board will likely have at least one new member. In some cases, the board will see a majority of new members. Are you prepared to welcome them? The moment a new board member takes the Oath of Office, they are officially a voting member, with equal authority to the seasoned veterans who return.
With this in mind, it is crucial to welcome and get your newest trustees up to speed quickly. The time to plan for their arrival is now.
New board member orientation is a crucial part of the sixth Foundational Principle of Effective Governance: The board takes responsibility for itself. It is a vital role of the board to seek continuity of leadership, especially when there is board member turnover. Taking the time to be intentional about onboarding your new members will not only set them up for success but will also start the important process of building and maintaining a high-performing and effective, trusted team.
Here are some suggestions for the first 90 days to set your newest teammates up for success:
- Help the new board member feel welcome.
- Set up a meeting, ideally in the first week, with the superintendent and board president to learn about the new board member — goals, talents, passions, and connections. In turn, begin to share the information necessary for the newcomer to understand the culture and complexities of the school district. Be prepared to answer questions with candor. Review the strategic plan, current projects, finances, collective bargaining, and key staff contracts. Get to know each other and begin to establish a working relationship.
- Encourage individual board members to reach out with a note or phone call. Consider the assignment of a returning, experienced “board buddy” or mentor for continual connection in the first year.
- Arrange school visits to introduce new board members to staff and students. Learning directly about the work of teachers and administrators is informative and often gives board members a new perspective. Being where the children are is always an inspiration!
Share a new board member welcome packet/handbook with materials that the individual can ponder and formulate questions around, to minimally include:
- School calendar and board meeting dates for the year
- Other meeting descriptions and expectations including committee meetings and closed session meetings.
- Established board protocols, agreements, and communication expectations. If these have not been established for the board team, consider a board self-evaluation workshop to get everyone on the same page.
- IASB’s Foundational Principles of Effective Governance, often referred to as a board member’s governance job description.
As stated earlier, getting a new board member up to speed on the complexities of the district is vital. Equally crucial is for the new trustee to understand their governance role. Encourage a growth mindset and have an expectation of continued professional development.
Begin with mandated training information, which includes the following. Note that IASB offers an online training bundle that includes these required trainings, as well as Basics of Governance training.
Open Meetings Act Training (completion is required within 90 days of taking the Oath of Office)
PDLT/PERA Training (completion is required within one year of taking the Oath of Office)
Consider gifting a book or two about their new school board governance role. Some of my favorites include The Art of School Boarding by Jim Burgett, The Governance Core by Davis Campbell and Michael Fullan, and How Not to be a Terrible School Board Member by Richard Mayer.
Direct the new board member to IASB.com, the Association’s website, which is packed with board member resources, information, archived webinars, and other online learning opportunities.
We all know the importance of first impressions when bringing on a new team member. Those first 90 days go by quickly. Take the time now to plan and prepare a positive and productive welcome and set the tone for a high-functioning governance team. Lori Grant, Ed.D., is IASB Field Services Director for the South Cook, Three Rivers, and West Cook Divisions.