“I thought it was just me…” I’ve heard this too many times from smart, dedicated, engaged new board members who sit in meetings and feel out of touch, unworthy, unintelligent. They don’t understand what is going on, why decisions are being made, and what their role is. They frequently end up leaving the board because they don’t believe they can make an impact.
It is not them- it is the board.
How can boards of any size, and especially small school boards that expect so much of their members, hope to be strategic if trustees don’t understand their roles, don’t have the information they need, and haven’t been properly oriented? One of the most critical responsibilities of any board is to enlist the right people and give them the necessary information to accomplish their responsibilities. And yet often, small school boards overlook this important focus.
Before we can expect board members to fully participate in the work of the board, we need to provide them with a significant amount of information about the school and about the board itself. This takes thought, planning, and time. To best orient new board members, there should first be careful planning regarding the what they need to know, when they need to know it, and how they will gain the information. Time for learning and discussion is needed rather than just handing over of documents. Consider orientation as a year-long activity with periodic check-ins for understanding and continuing discussion. Furthermore, don’t assume that because a new board member is a parent or a member of the faculty or staff that they have this information. Each new board member should be treated similarly and given the same information in the same way.
Information to share with new board members about the school:
Information to share with new board members about the board:
There is a lot to discuss with new board members. Therefore board orientation should start as early as possible, be thoughtfully planned and implemented, and be a year-long endeavor. Small schools especially need board members to roll up their sleeves and fulfill the many expectations placed on the board. New board members will be better and sooner able to engage and participate if they have comprehensive information, perspective, and context about the school and the board.