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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Decisions, Decisions

I was reading a few Twitter comments by a teacher who was wondering how schools (or decision-makers in schools) decide to spend money.  I certainly do receive lots of requests for purchases and I have been thinking quite a lot about this topic (someone warned me I would start to think in terms of blogs now that I started one!). 

In my district we have to follow district protocols for spending.  For example, we aren't allowed go to a big box store and purchase a projector on sale.  We have to order our projectors from a district department and must purchase a district standard product.  This sometimes is frustrating, but at the same time, the policy offers us protection if the product breaks down.  Okay, this isn't really what I wanted to write about but it's interesting to me as a new principal and it's one more factor that plays into which requests get funded and which do not. 

What I really wanted to reflect on in this blog is one possible process that could be used in making decisions about what to purchase.  Our school is working on a plan to request funding for new technology.  This has included meetings with interested staff, with department heads and with the whole staff.  One of the first mistakes I made was to take some input and then develop a plan that didn't really reflect what the staff wanted.  I presented that plan to a department head meeting and was kindly told that it was "a little off"!  I scrapped that plan and met with any staff members who wanted to attend a couple of meetings to develop some guiding principles.  I think this was a much better approach to developing a plan to request money.  If we have some principles that guide our decision-making, when we do get the money, we will be able to avoid any "those who yell the loudest get the money" problems.  For your consideration, I've copied the guilding principles that our staff developed:

Guiding Principles to be used in making decisions about technology purchases:
  • Flexibility is needed - (i.e. some teachers want a projector bolted, others on a cart; some programs or classes would make good use of a document camera while others need portable devices)
  • Be aware of transferability - if teachers change schools or rooms they need to have access to technology
  • Reaches the most students & will impact teaching and learning
  • Get the most bang for the buck
  • It would be good to try before buying - so that we are making informed decisions
  • Availability is important - that teachers can easily access and use
  • Sustainable - we need to take into account the issues down the road (purchasing apps, software, projector bulbs)
  • Reliability - choose items that we know will work and will help with the teaching and learning
  • Start small with teachers who are working to integrate technology and spend based on teacher interest -avoid giving technology to those who won't use it

I don't know if they are all-inclusive or if they are even the "right" kinds of factors we should be considering, but they are developed by our staff and so I think that makes them right for us at this time.  We might need to consider changing them later but at least when we do start to change them we can be sure to use a process that allows us all a voice in HOW the decisions are made.  

With limited funds available to us, I'm learning about what to consider in deciding what should be purchased.  Here's my own list that will continue to grow and may change:

  • follows the rules - school, district, provincial
  • transparency - able to and willing to share with others
  • awareness of what's happening at the school - need to know what programs are working and where time is being invested by staff
  • inclusion of staff in the development of guiding principles that work for the school
  • consult and consult!!  "Before you consult someone else, be sure you consult the person who will forever have to live with it." - Robert Brault
  • awareness of current research
  • learning not to run after the latest trend - take it slow when needed
  • learning not to wait too long so that any excitement or momentum is gone by the time the purchase(s) are made (well, that could mean it wasn't the right thing to do in the first place!)
I will probably need to add to this list as I continue. 

My purpose in this blog was to reflect publicly on how difficult and possibly time-consuming it can be to decide where funding goes.  It is important to think carefully about these decisions because we are talking about limited public school funds. 

 I welcome any suggestions or thoughts about this topic.

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