I still remember my first board of education meeting, more than 20 years ago.

I admit I was a little nervous when I walked into the meeting. I made it a point to sit next to one of the board members I knew — an elementary school principal who had joined the board after her retirement.

She became something of a mentor to me over the next several months, as she patiently answered all kinds of questions I had. In the years that followed, I have tried to repay her kindness by doing the same for other new board members.

Last month, a whole crop of new board of education members walked into their first board meeting, and began serving their communities.

For those board members, I have some advice.

First, find a mentor on your board. Every school district in the state is different, and there is a lot to learn about your specific board of education — even if you’ve been an involved community member for years.

Second, take the NJSBA New Board Member Orientation training as soon as possible. While the law gives you a full year to fulfill your mandated training requirements, taking the Governance I course as soon as possible will make you a better board member.

NJSBA offers several ways to complete this course. There is a self-paced online course through NJSBA Online University; there are live virtual sessions — three 90-minute programs; and there is a comprehensive New Board Member Professional Learning Experience. This program is modeled after NJSBA’s popular in-person “weekend” orientation program, which cannot be held during the pandemic. The program provides a mix of video presentations, virtual small-group settings run by experienced board members; and live sessions with NJSBA staff. That program runs from Feb. 21 through April 19. Registration information for all programs can be found on the website.

Once you have completed your new board member training, don’t stop there.

Early in my career as a board member, I volunteered to be our board’s representative to the Burlington County School Boards Association. Attending county meetings gave me access to the informative and timely programs held in the counties; it also enlarged my network of contacts among local boards. I became acquainted with board members from neighboring school districts with whom I could talk and compare notes.

Then I volunteered to be the Burlington County School Boards Association’s representative to the NJSBA Board of Directors. That informed me even more about current issues in education, and continued to widen my knowledge base. The more you volunteer, the more you learn.

If you feel you don’t have time to take on additional volunteer commitments, there is an abundance of online training from NJSBA that is available 24/7, including webinars, videos, podcasts, and other virtual training. Back issues of School Leader and School Board Notes are available online for your convenience, too.

I know that the training I have received from other board members and from NJSBA, as well as my network of friends and acquaintances who are board members has made me a more effective board member.

And being the best representative I can be for the students in my community is the reason I walked into that first board of education meeting two decades ago.