by Robert Long III
Once the November election results are finalized, it’s certain that many districts around the state will be welcoming new trustees to the boardroom. Whether or not your district is in a post-election transition, it’s safe to say that every board experiences changes eventually. Which is why having best practices in place for onboarding your new board members can make the difference between merely doing what is required and creating a truly welcoming and thoughtful experience.
In the midst of a transition, boards have an opportunity to experience growth, while recommitting to the hard work at hand. State law requires all new board members receive a local district orientation. But beyond what the law requires, a new board member orientation, when done well, offers the chance to not only impart critical information, but to also build trust, expand understanding, and nurture relationships.
Overview of District Goals
New board members are starting in the middle of the game. They need to know what’s already in the playbook. They are coming in with only the knowledge they’ve been able to glean from the sidelines or while researching from home. Now, they need to be ready to make decisions and be an active player.
To support new trustees and prepare them for success in their first year of service, it’s helpful to receive an overview of the district’s goals. It’s likely that new trustees have been following the board’s work, but there may be programs, policies, and other items that have a lengthy history, and they may not know the details. Sharing some background knowledge of key goals, programs, and policies will help bring them into the fold and get them up to speed so they can be confident and active participants in board business.
Introduce Key District Staff
As part of your local district orientation, it is helpful to schedule a visit for new trustees to meet district administrators and staff members with whom they will regularly be interacting, such as members of the superintendent’s cabinet and key administrative support staff. This will help them not only put a face to a name but also to make connections between the important work being done in the district and the people making it happen. Sharing a binder that includes key contact information, department heads, organizational charts, and any other pertinent information, will put important contacts right at their fingertips.
During these introductions, it’s also a great opportunity for the superintendent and administrative staff to start a dialogue, highlighting the distinct roles of the superintendent and the board and how they work in tandem to guide the district and its students toward success. It’s an opportunity to create connections, fostering a sense of community that can be critical when building relationships, which benefits everyone in the long run, particularly when the team of eight must tackle challenging business.
Board Member Outreach
When welcoming a new board member, it’s helpful for veteran board members to remember what their onboarding experience was like. Keeping that in mind, current trustees might consider what worked and what didn’t, while acknowledging that this is a chance to set aside some time to get to know their newly elected trustees, making them feel a part of the team.
For some board members, sending a note congratulating the trustee and welcoming them to the board might be a starting point. For others, it might be useful to set up time to grab coffee and meet informally. However you choose to connect with your new members, whether in person or through email, it’s important to limit the number of trustees who are represented or communicating to avoid a quorum.
Policies and Procedures
Board members know it takes time, sometimes years, to get acclimated to and learn all there is to know about board service. That’s why during a discussion of policies and procedures you’ll want to offer an overview and avoid diving too deep. You want your new board members to walk away feeling more confident than confused.
And it goes without saying, whatever you’re planning for your new trustee orientation, you should reference the Texas Education Code for a list of required orientation topics. But a way to simplify the process without overwhelming new trustees is to focus on performance summaries in these key areas:
When addressing board operations, you’ll want to make sure that your new board members understand how agendas are set and what a typical workflow looks like. Offering tips for meeting preparation will also be useful for new members. Your operations orientation will not hit every area, but topics critical for new board members to understand include:
- Meeting etiquette
- Board member expectations
At a minimum, you’ll need to give an overview of the local and legal policies involved in board operations, ensuring new board members can differentiate between the two levels of policy.
Recommit to the Work
As your new board members begin to settle into their roles, it’s a great time for the board to revisit district goals, the board’s commitment, and the “why” behind the work. Having conversations about the “north star” of board service — providing an outstanding education for all students — and recommitting to the board’s work can be advantageous, allowing seasoned members and new trustees to get on the same page, especially in advance of the required annual three-hour teambuilding training. And if you’re not sure where to start, TASB’s Board Development Services offers individualized training and teambuilding sessions designed to meet your goals.
In addition to the support your new trustees will find through your board’s orientation, TASB offers training opportunities and on-demand courses for new board members. Texas Trustee Institute is a foundational learning opportunity designed specifically for newly elected trustees, so they can be a confident and collaborative part of your board. At TTI, trustees not only learn about key topics related to their service, but they also have the chance to network with other new board members from across the state. Stay tuned for upcoming sessions in 2024.
New trustees can also find support through TASB’s Online Learning Center, which offers on-demand courses, including the Top 10 Things to Know bundle with key courses for new board members. A wide range of courses is available to guide board members on their learning journey.
The more intentional you are when planning your new trustee onboarding activities, the more likely you will see the payoff down the road, when the work gets challenging and collaborating is critical. If you’re unsure where to begin with onboarding new trustees, contact TASB Board Development Services at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 800-580-8272, x2453.
Robert Long III is division director of TASB’s Board Development Services.
This article first appeared in the November 2023 issue of Texas Lone Star.