Proper Onboarding is Essential to Building a Strong School Board Team
By Kirk Schneidawind, MSBA Executive Director
I do not recall a time during my tenure at MSBA when we received so many media requests to talk about school board elections. While the elections received a fair amount of attention from the inquisitive media, one question that was asked consistently – “What do school boards do?” – was surprising. After all, every school district in Minnesota is led by a school board consisting of six or seven community members.
Our public must know what our school boards do, correct? After the third time of receiving the same question, I began to wonder whether people and voters understood the important role and responsibilities of their school boards.
As our newly elected school board members transition from the campaign trail to their responsibilities of governance, it is important to remember that they may not fully understand their new role as they ease into their seats this year. Thus, the importance of delivering a supportive onboarding program for the newly elected members is a fundamental and essential building block of a high-functioning school board. For a school board to move forward, sometimes the board needs to slow down to ensure that the new members feel welcome, understand the board’s governance culture, and the district’s vision. While it may feel like all this needs to be completed by the time they take their seat in January, extend your board and administrative team some grace.
Intentional and purposeful onboarding is essential before and after they are officially sworn in. Play the long game as you consider the essential knowledge and skills that are necessary to become an effective board member.
As you know from your own board experience, learning while on the job is part of development and growth. Often intended, but frequently missed in the onboarding process, is to ask questions about new board members’ interests, skills, and goals. In our haste to ensure new board members know everything about the operational and systemic complexities in our school district, we often forget that we have a new team member(s) who ran because they want to be part of the school board team that can make a difference in the lives of our public school students.
A simple phone call or note from individual board members welcoming new members to the school board will also go a long way in developing these new relationships.