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Make Good Choices

We have a really cool concrete cat bench in our front yard. It has cats on the supports and sits in the perfect spot in the shade by a fountain. We purchased it after my daughter’s favorite cat, Marvin, went to kitty heaven, so it’s especially meaningful. It’s a great place to sit and read or just sit and relax, but the bench wasn’t always so relaxing.
When we brought the bench home I immediately started pointing out the places I thought it should go. You can imagine the conversation. I say, “How about by that tree?” My husband says, “That spot is right on top of the sprinkler head.” “Well then how about beside that plant?” “That spot is low so rainwater will collect around it.” After several vetoed proposals, I finally asked my husband to suggest a couple of viable options for the bench placement. At least then I could make a good choice. You see, my husband had knowledge about the big picture that I didn’t have. I was just thinking of where it would look pretty at the moment while my husband was looking at the long-term plan.
I’m guessing science teachers come to you at all times of the day and school year with a variety of requests. They’ve seen materials they’d like you to purchase, they’ve found a workshop or conference they want to attend, or they are sure if you find funds for a specific online program it will keep students interested and engaged. Some of these options might be amazing while others may work for a while but eventually become just as irritating as the spray of a sprinkler while sitting on a bench.
So what’s a science leader to do? Here are a few practical suggestions for managing teacher requests without pulling out your hair.
Have a district plan
Before a teacher approaches you with a request, it’s a good idea to have a policy in place so you are making purposeful decisions rather than emotional ones. Use this policy as a guide when spending money on requests presented by teachers and principals not only to keep from hurting feelings but also to get the most out of district funds. Your policy might include a limit to the number of teachers per building who attend an event or rotating teachers who attend the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST) so a variety of folks get the experience.
Know that you don’t have all the answers
It just isn’t possible to know everything about everything, so network with others who are experts in a particular field. Use trusted resources such as the science folks at your education service center, look to the Science Teachers Association of Texas (STAT), and network with members of the Texas Science Education Leadership Association (TSELA) to find other science leaders like yourself. Be open to new ideas but take time to look at options from all sides. Deadlines are always looming, but making a reflective decision is better than reacting to an impulse of the moment.
Offer solid options to teachers from vetted resources
Weed through the options that are available, and have staff members make the final decision. Teachers still get an option, but you know you can live with whatever choice they make. This could mean sifting through materials you are considering for purchase for campuses, visiting with vendors at conferences, or identifying speakers who match the vision of your district.
As science leaders, it’s our job to have the big picture. Teachers are looking for us to help them be amazing, so set them up for success by leading them toward resources, professional development, and experiences that are the best of the best. Gather that pile of science catalogs, professional journals, and conference fliers to read, study, and make a plan. Then take a deep breath and relax. I’ll meet you on my favorite bench when you’re done.
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