In response to the post, “Brezina’s Rule Commentary,” a reader writes:
“I have to agree that master scheduling is a tremendous challenge for administrators to whom the fickle finger of fate points to. Either it ends up being at the mercy of computerized programs that may not be able to facilitate the kind of differentiated groupings needed to focus instruction in a practical and successful manner or it falls to less data-driven decisions and a matter of how can we get through the next school year with the fewest possible complaints.
I believe this points to a lack of vision of “what is in the best interest of the student.” I remember my mentor warning me about district policy on this matter, who said, “If it makes sense, we can’t do it. If we have enough people who think it will work, it will cost too much.”
What is the cost of not doing what is truly in the best interest of the student? If we have a shared vision and keep the data in front of us to best identify learning needs and not just graduation needs, then I believe the process becomes profitable in the eyes of the community who might just support a greater cost for a greater outcome.
As a farmer once told me, “If I plant a kernel of corn, I don’t expect to get back only a kernel of corn; I am going to get several ears.”
Let those with “ears to hear, hear!”
I do not disagree with your points, but the key is to get out of the advisor mode and get into the “do’er” mode. Specifically, I refer to the comments of your mentor and the idea that the community will support greater costs.
When I am in the advisor mode, I come to you with a new idea. I present the idea to you. I hope that you will like it and I hope that you will pay for it. Unfortunately, new ideas are generally scary and expensive, so the easy answer is, “No.” As an advisor, I accept that answer and go on to find the next hurdle that fate throws in my path. Because after all, as an advisor, I am really just a smart, decently compensated, random victim of fate.
We all begin our careers in this manner. Does any first year teacher actually control anything? Did you? The problem is, the system does such a good job of training us to be sheep (who are the consummate victims of fate – “grass good, wolf bad, what’s that”), that when we have the opportunity to break out of that role, we don’t know how.
When I am in the “do’er” mode, I am looking for new ideas and I am looking for ways to implement those ideas that do not require a district patron. Self discovery and self reliance becomes my mantra. So you ask, “how do I do that?”
I won’t bore you with the self discovery aspect of the equation. If you read this blog it means that you are already asking questions and looking for answers in multiple venues. It is the self reliance aspect, which as educators, trips us up. I’ll give you four quick examples on how to become more self-reliant, there are many more.
1. Sweat equity. As a teacher, you have your own labor and the labor of your students. As a department chair, you have the labor of your department. As an AP, you have the labor of your team. As a Principal, you have the labor of your campus. With sweat equity, you can stretch out dollars (materials are generally cheaper than labor) and/or put the people in charge of the money in a position to want to help you (either through generosity of guilt).
2. Find a rich patron. I have a friend who was the principal at a tough urban high school. He had one person on his fund raising list. Fortunately, this person was the head of a very old, very famous and very rich family trust. You don’t need central office, when your patron calls you and asks, “How do you want to spend this semester’s $50,000?”
3. Work your PTA and community. Give them projects to fund and revenue targets to hit. Make sure your campus fundraising for all your teams and organizations are coordinated. New elf hats for the drill team may need to take a back seat to new computers in the library.
4. Know your budget and aggressively manage it. Shift money, stash dollars where you know they will be approved but where you can later move it to your pet project. Scream every time the bean counters tell you, “you can’t do something.” Here is the truth, 95% of budget rules are local policy. Policies that are designed to give central office control over campus dollars. In the long run, those policies can be changed. As a principal, I controlled my entire budget, every penny. And, I could move it to any function. The principal in the district next to me only controlled a $15,000 discretionary fund.
You get the idea. So this leads me to this final thought, I often have principals and superintendents quietly ask me the following question, “What do you really do?”
To which I respond, “I teach teachers how to win, in terms of student performance. And, I give school leaders permission to act, in terms of creating an organization that optimizes student opportunity.”
Think. Work. Achieve.