So this past summer I was having dinner with some educator friends of mine, when at one point one of them said that he wished he could find a way to generate more money for his school, because in his mind that was all he needed to turn his school into one of the best educational institutions on the planet…more money, more money, more money. What ensued was a very spirited discussion about how much the role of money actually plays in turning a good school into a great one, and to tell you the truth, it was probably one of the most interesting conversations that I’ve had in a long time. We talked at length about what actually goes into creating a great school…we discussed the characteristics that separate great schools from good ones and good ones from bad…and we wondered about whether or not money was actually a driving factor behind school and student success.
I have to admit that my friend’s argument was a good one, although the rest of us weren’t completely sold. He went on about the importance of having lots and lots of money to hire and retain the best educators on the planet, he talked about needing lots of money to add the kinds of programs that will cater to the passions of ALL his students, he discussed the importance of having up to date/current and proper facilities and resources to engage and inspire teachers and students in the changing world of 21st century education, and he was adamant that in order to hire instructional coaches, and student support specialists, and enough school counselors, and all the rest he was going to need more money…and he simply didn’t have it. He wanted more money for bandwidth and technology, he wanted more money for new maker spaces, he wanted more money for better and updated facilities, he wanted more money to increase teacher salaries, he wanted more money for professional development and his list went on and on and on. We all just sat there dreaming about what it would be like if we actually had all this money to bring this perfect school to life and it was a beautiful dream…however…the real questions that remained were, is it possible to create a great school WITHOUT all those things, and does being well resourced and rich actually guarantee that you’ll be come a great school?
The conversation went deep into the night and we went back and forth for hours. We gave examples of schools out there that we know of with all the bells and whistles that were not particularly inspiring places to be, and we gave examples of schools that we know of that have very little in the way of resources that are truly amazing places for teachers and students. We talked about the intangibles of great schools that need no money at all…things like great parent -teacher- community partnerships, schools that generate a strong and influential student voice, schools that set high expectations for kids, schools that teach thought instead of content, schools with strong character education programs and strong mentoring programs, and schools who are truly living their mission by inspiring their kids to want to come to school because it’s a safe and fun and rigorous place to learn…a place that they feel loved and supported and challenged and successful…none of that needs a lot of money.
Anyway, we finally put the conversation to bed as the sun was coming up with no real resolution other than the realization that it would always be nice to have more money…but great schools don’t have to be defined by how much money they have. It’s all about having just enough money to bring your mission and vision to life, and enough to inspire your students and teachers with meaning and purpose. How much is enough? I guess that depends on you as a school and how smart and efficient you are with the money that you have as an organization. It’s a fun conversation for sure and a great debate…we could always use more money I know, and if all of a sudden I had a windfall of cash the first thing I’d do would be give it all to the educators, because they are the ones who truly turn good schools into great ones. Have a fantastic week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.
Articles about the characteristics of a great school –
What Great Schools Do – John Hattie
Interesting Ted Talk – Barry Schwartz