07 October 2014

Breaking Down the Silos Between School Finance & Teaching and Learning

Last week I once again stepped out of my comfort zone, big time. I attended an education finance training in Chicago where the majority of the attendees were CFOs or other business types who provide technical assistance to districts and schools as they align instruction priorities and finance decisions.

Several of the comments made by my table partners alarmed me, and I pushed back on them too. Take this statement--

"We can't have people so close to issues involved in decisions about how we spend money."
                             --anonymous person at my table

Really? Wow. No. I couldn't let that one slide. I believe there are teachers who are logical minded and plenty smart enough to help make decisions about how we spend money that will impact their students. So, of course, I calmly brought this up, and was repeatedly smacked back down. I'm not one to stay down for long though. Advocating for teachers as part of decision making processes is important to me, so that's what I did. By the end of the session, I had a couple of people beginning to see my perspective.
"Someone from leadership needs to determine what needs to be fixed and take steps to fix it"            
                            --anonymous person at my table
Another shocker. Why should it be someone at the top making decisions about how to fix problems? I learned recently about some of the best places in America to work, and each of those places values the input of everyone on every level in the company. Can't it be the same way in our school systems? Students, teachers, janitors, administrative assistants all are people who might have suggestions for budget issues in our public schools.

Beautiful Chicago at Night from the Air
Honestly, I can't say I've previously paid much attention to how money is spent in our schools, but I've decided I need to change my perspective on this, and I was inspired by Irvin Scott from the Gates Foundation who said he used to not think much about the finances either, and then he determined that if he was going to think about wisely spending money on the resources needed for instruction, he needed to understand the bigger picture. He recited a poem for the group and reminded us of the high expectations we need to establish and maintain for our students. Sometimes we need resources for helping us maintain these high expectations. The image he shared was perfect. We want students on their tip-toes reaching our expectations, and we certainly don't want students to stoop to meet our expectations. Again, all the more reason to think about how we spend our money to impact student learning.

According to reports from Smarter School Spending, only 8% of schools and districts compare investments based on student achievement. I'm not sure why this surprised me. I worked in schools and districts for nearly fifteen years, and countless times I saw money wasted on various fads or initiatives that were not necessarily aligned to any learning goals or objectives.

Educator friends, I encourage you to learn what you can about finance decisions made in your schools and districts. How? If you're all about instruction---step out of your comfort zone & learn something new about finances and make your voice known in a logical and smart way.

Finally, though, I think it's essential that we break down the silos between the people in finance and the people in teaching and learning. By working together, we have a greater chance of making smart decisions about how money in our schools is spent. If you need tools to help you make smarter decisions, you might consider checking out the tools I learned about last week.