How do you make the most out of the money you have?
I hope the question above gets you thinking. Educational institutions around the world spend billions of dollars on textbooks, curriculum, programs, technology, and professional development. I’m sure I missed some categories, but you get the point. Now, I am not saying that anything listed is not valuable. On the contrary, there is research, evidence, and practical needs that justify many of the purchases that are made in each category. My point is this. In times where the budget hammer comes down and critical decisions have to be made, what criteria do you use to make them?
As a principal one of my primary responsibilities was that of preparing a budget. Requests were made through a digital platform and had been done so years before I took the helm. One significant change I made was allowing my teachers, through their department chairs, to have more autonomy over this process. Once funds were allocated to each respective department, I then told them to spend as they saw fit. After all, why should I make these decisions if I am not the one actually teaching the kids or serving directly as a facilitator of learning? It made sense that the people who had the most day to day contact with students were empowered to make the best choices with the funds we had. There were a few times I had to intervene though when some of the decisions were questionable at best, but oversight is essential.
Big ticket items or those that were outside the realm of specific departmental needs followed a different process. Many of these fell within the categories listed at the beginning of this post. In this case, the teachers submitted wish list items while my leadership team and I consulted with students and staff alike to determine school needs. The goal was to make the budgeting process more collaborative. Leaders need to understand the positive impact that shared decision making and more autonomy have on culture. In many cases, those making the decisions think that is the case, but reality states otherwise. An article in Education Dive titled “Principals, teachers have different views on employee input” shared the following:
Most principals — 96% — think that teachers are involved in making important decisions about their schools, but that’s far more than the 58% of teachers who feel the same way, according to a new RAND Corp. American Educator Panel survey of both teachers and school leaders.Just as teachers use strategies in the classroom to encourage participation from students who aren’t typically likely to volunteer their opinion or ask to be the first to give a presentation, principals will likely need to use multiple methods to ensure they are hearing from a broader cross-section of teachers.
The budgeting process and how money is spent represents one of the most significant decisions that have to be made each year. To build morale and culture, leaders need to relinquish some control and trust those who are tasked with educating kids.
Beyond school and district budgets all educators should be critical of how money is spent to improve not only student learning but also their own. All funds are precious, whether they originate from your school or out of your own pocket. Think about the supporting research and evidence of impact to guide your decision-making process.
When spending money on programs, curriculum, professional development, or technology consider these questions:
- Why invest in this product, service, or event?
- How will (or has) it improve learning outcomes?
- What criteria will be used to determine if it was a wise investment or to continue funding?
Spending any amount of money is a big deal. Engage in conversations at the district, school, or individual level to make the most out of what you have. When it is all said and done you want to be confident that the financial commitment either has or will continue to, positively impact learning outcomes for kids.