When technology was a new and exciting classroom innovation, it wasn't hard to convince school leaders and boards to add it to the budget plan. Every district wanted its schools to be able to compete with national, and even global, counterparts, so they scurried to find funding for new technologies through state or federal aid or private grants. Districts bought hardware and software, school management systems were introduced, and teachers were sent to workshops to learn how to use all these tools. It was clear that technology would be part of every school district's budget plan for a long time to come. Today, there are ways to capitalize on your school's technology budget and make a case for new purchases that will benefit your classroom.
Making Technology Budget Decisions
Technology is now a way of life in schools, and it's been a tremendous benefit to students, educators, and management. It's also been a huge addition to school budgets. But today, school administrators and boards—those responsible for the school budget plan—are looking at technology requests with a much more practiced eye. Teachers or principals who are hoping to get approval for a key piece of technology, like a class set of laptops, a smart board, or a specific teaching app, need to be prepared to present their case and answer some tough questions about the practicality and usefulness of their request.
At my school, a technology committee was established in the early days of technology innovation. Teacher representatives and administrators make up the committee, which is chaired by the instructional technology leader. The committee is charged with formulating technology usage guidelines for students and teachers, and it approves all requests before they're presented to the board of education. Teachers requesting hardware or software purchases can expect to be asked these three questions by the committee: How will the new technology improve student learning? What proof can you show that it will improve student learning? Will the improvement be worth the cost?
Successful and Failed Requests for Technology
Not long ago, I presented a request to the committee along with a group of teachers. We wanted to purchase a mobile computer lab: a class set of laptops along with a cart. We explained that a mobile lab would greatly increase student access to computers since the building only had one computer lab. Teachers would be able to sign out the mobile lab for several days if students needed to finish a project, and greater accessibility would improve students' technology skills in both writing and research. As an example, we showed the committee short research papers that a class had completed in the computer lab. A mobile lab, we explained, would double the number of students who had the opportunity to produce similar work. While expensive, it was far less expensive than building another computer lab. In the end, the tech committee approved our request, and so did the school board.
A request that did not fare so well was one for software that a teacher had seen demonstrated at a conference. It provided an engaging way for students to review material: questions flashed on a screen and students could press a handheld buzzer if they knew the answer. It was fun, exciting, and expensive. The committee agreed that students would probably love it and it would improve learning, but the cost for such a limited use was deemed prohibitive, and they rejected the request.
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Every school has its own model for approving teacher requests for technology. But in my experience, teachers who were most successful with getting the green light on their requests had done their homework and prepared thoughtful answers to the three basic questions. Schools always want the best technology for their students, but they may have to pick and choose carefully. If you feel like you've come across a can't-miss tech opportunity for your school, make sure you put your best foot forward when presenting it. You never know what your school will jump at the chance to acquire.