I get paid twice a month, on the 10th and 25th. In my last job I only got paid once a month. The total amount earned each month was basically the same, but let me tell you, trying to plan a month at a time for expenses is a lot more difficult than having to create a budget 15 days at a time. I am sure it is just a mental exercise, but my ability to not overextend myself and to ensure my outcome does not exceed my income has changed dramatically as a result of this change. Now, I am able to login to my bank account online twice a month, do a quick scan of purchases and deposits, make sure I am staying within my limits, and create short term plans and corrections if I am off track. When I was only getting paid once a month, for some reason my mindset was so different. By the 15th of every month panic was setting in and I found myself just trying to hold on. I found myself either in a defensive mode trying to hold on to whatever I had left or I would put my head in the sand and pretend everything was alright and end up in debt by the time I got paid again.
I think in schools, many of us fall victim to one of these two mindsets as well. Maybe not with balancing our checkbooks, but instead balancing our lesson plan books. When I was a classroom teacher, I will admit, I struggled to make a learning “budget”. I often just shot from the hip, spent my teaching capital on whatever I felt was needed on any given day, failed to adequately plan ahead, and after a few weeks decided it was time to assess my progress. I would give students a test or a quiz on all I had covered and was often shocked to learn that I wasn’t nearly as on track as I thought I was. Or, worse than that, I would give a test or quiz, would see amazing results, and failed to realize that those results were not part of any larger plan or aligned towards bigger goals, but simply a reflection of all I did. It would be akin to balancing my checkbook by looking at all of my new clothes in my closet as opposed to the dollars and cents available in my account. I would analyze what I spent my capital on instead of my progress towards generating true wealth.
In schools today, data has become a four letter word. Data is seen as a term that reflects judgement, condemnation, and evaluation. Data has been perverted from a word that should drive reflection, progress, and growth, primarily because so many of us have chosen not to look at our accounts, but instead to look at our closets. When others bring us our statements and we see a negative balance, we get defensive and blame those who deliver the news, instead of looking at ourselves and reflecting on whether or not we spent our time and energy where it would be best served and making regular adjustments where needed.
When I run a negative balance or get an overdraft charge, I do not blame my bank. It is on me. I spent more than I had on things I probably did not need. The good news is that often I can call my bank, ask for a fee to be waived, and then make the necessary adjustments to avoid making the same mistake again. By having created a regular pattern of assessing my balance every two weeks, I am much more prone to staying within my limits and staying on track.
In your classroom or school, it is critical to put yourself on a schedule for assessing whether or not you are on track, spending your time and energy where you should, and making adjustments before it gets too late. In too many schools today we are asking teachers to give up instructional time simply to assess students with the intent of predicting future success on another assessment. We put teachers on a prescribed pacing plan, in a scripted framework, ask for assessments three times a year, and one big assessment in the spring, without also allowing them to have the freedom to make adjustments, to deviate from what they have been doing and to better align their resources. We also have teachers who often do not focus on any designated plan or standards, who simply shop nightly for a new lesson idea (sometimes literally- Pinterest and Teacher Pay Teacher…ugggh) and when the time comes to measure progress, they find themselves in complete shock and without a plan for how to make adjustments to what has been done or needs to be done going forward.
I am a firm believer that the secret sauce, the magic pill, the silver bullet to highly effective teaching is the ability to reflect. If teachers are able to determine whether or not each day has gotten them closer to a goal, whether or not students have made gains, whether or not their lesson plan book is staying balanced, without the need for a judgement laced critique, we will see amazing results. My financial adviser gives me recommendations, but does not tell me what I have to do. If you are a leader of a school, the same mindset could serve you well. If you are a teacher, each month, determine how you will measure how much intellectual capital you expect your students to acquire and then spend some time at regular intervals measuring their progress. Don’t wait until the end and then panic when things didn’t go as planned, and don’t micromanage every withdrawal. Put yourself on a pattern that allows for frequent assessment of progress coupled with the ability to make adjustments, and when judgment day does arrive, I am sure you will be in the black.
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