Financial Advice: Three Levers to Shift Conditions in Schools
It can shape the discussion. It can shift policy. It can encourage compliance. But money itself won't solve the challenges facing the education system. It's how we spend money to reshape structures and systems that will determine the success of schooling in America.
From my perspective as a teacher, the most effective grant initiatives will ultimately be those that aim to transform systems and structures through sustainable processes that build capacity, strengthen connections, and heal the conditions of our schools and communities.
Since initiatives are only as valuable as how they are used to shift school culture and practices, the extent to which they will be successful depends on the capacity of people on the ground floor to leverage their implementation as a vehicle for change. Thus, I believe focusing on systemic processes within the following components of schooling will yield highest returns for dollars spent.
Build leadership capacity of stakeholders to enable administrators, teachers, students, families and communities to redesign, guide, and support schooling systems. This may require training to help build the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to lead the transformation, as well as rethinking roles, including hybrid positions for teachers. Those on the ground floor of schools need to be equipped with the tools needed in order to enact change. This year our school became a Linked Learning school, designed to restructure what and how we teach so our students can be college and career ready. It has not only helped build student skills, but is positively transforming processes of how we function as a school.
Strengthen connections between research, policy, and practice so that there are mechanisms to calibrate alignment between each entity. This will ensure that research-based policies are enacted in tune with the reality of what it means for those in schools. Positions like the Teaching Ambassador Fellowship at the U.S. Department of Education aim to do so, and can be expanded upon in other sectors of education.
Support the conditions of schools and communities so that positive, collaborative, resource rich environments are the norm, not the exception. Working in such environments will allow student needs to be met and increase teacher retention. Shifting school culture and climate is at the heart of transforming schools so that students and teachers can thrive. Community-school models like those in the Cincinnati School District aim to do this in systemic, sustainable ways that dramatically increase achievement.
It has been said that we vote with our wallets. If I could, I know what I'd vote for.
Linda Yaron is a National Board-certified English teacher, Teach Plus Fellow, and CTQ Collaboratory member in Los Angeles. She blogs for developing teachers at The Foundations of Teaching and is currently seeking her own Kickstarter funding for her classroom project to send students to present their voices and art at the U.S. Department of Education. It meets all of her above criteria.