You work in education. You literally work within an institution that believes in the power of learning, growing, and investing in oneself to advance knowledge and impact the world.
Then why, oh why, is it so hard for us to ask for money so that we can invest in ourselves to better serve the school?
I know why…
It seems like we never have enough funds in the budget to do everything we need to do for our kids. We feel guilty focusing resources on ourselves because we’re so used to giving to others. And we also think we have the dang internet and YouTube. If we don’t know something – we can Google it or watch a video!
Well, I’m here to tell you that the best, most impactful school communicators out there invest in professional development for themselves – whether it’s through state or national organizations, product-specific training like InDesign or Adobe products or social media training like the programs #SocialSchool4EDU offers.
Today, I’m going to give you a little pep talk and provide 7 steps to get professional development funding approved for your role. Once you read these steps and put them to use, please give me some feedback! I want to know what works so I can better serve more school communicators like you.
Step 1 – Identify the Professional Development Program
This seems obvious, but if you are asking for money to sign up for a program, you better know what’s included, the cost, and the time commitment. There are many opportunities available, so if you’re not clear on what you want, it’s going to be tough to get approval for it.
Many programs will have a one-page flyer that will detail all of this information, making it much easier for you to understand and to explain it to someone else. Here is our one-page flyer for our membership program, for example. If you don’t spot one of these for the program you’re looking at, ask for it. They likely can provide it for you.
Next, read the testimonials. A good program will provide feedback from current customers so that you have insight into what kind of results you can expect.
Step 2 – Evaluate Your Strategic Plan
How does professional development tie into the strategic plan? I can almost guarantee that “communication” is in there somewhere, so communications-specific PD shouldn’t be too tough to tie in.
If you don’t have a strategic plan in your school district, that’s OK. Do you have overarching goals or initiatives? Are there some common themes that the board is looking to improve? That’s what you need to research so that you can tie your specific program to some high-level goals for your school or district.
If you are employed within a school district, your professional knowledge and skillset are part of the strategic plan. What you bring to the table in helping the district achieve the components of its strategic plan is critical. By investing in your professional growth, the district is also investing in achieving its goals. This is true of every employee at every level within the organization.”
Step 3 – Identify How Students Will Benefit
The mission of every school focuses on students. If you can tie your professional development opportunity to how it will impact students, you are going to have a higher success probability for getting the funding approved.
Haggerty explains it well, “When student stories are shared to a broader audience to be celebrated, when a levy/bond issue passes providing essential funding to the classrooms, when parents/guardians are made aware of the safety of their child in a crisis or emergency, or when a vital partnership is formed providing outside resources to an initiative supporting students, the benefits are clear. And these are just a handful of examples that can be tied to how communications work helps students directly.”
If you can gain the skills you need to be successful in these efforts, there is an obvious impact on students. The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and your state SPRA chapters often have webinars and other resources on this topic! Of course, #SocialSchool4EDU does too!
Step 4 – Identify How Your Job Performance Will Improve
Learning better strategies and gaining access to improved tools will ultimately make you more productive in your work. Be prepared to make the case for how your boss and others in your school will benefit from your increased job performance.
“Just the ability to share ideas is so essential for any profession,” states Haggerty. “In this profession, people have always been willing to share their work and their ideas for others to utilize. I think it is one of the most giving professions around. School communications is fast-paced and ever-changing, so not having to re-create from scratch is so helpful.”
Social media is always changing, which makes that aspect of your job particularly challenging. Facebook literally modifies its platform each week.
Jen Bode, Development Department Assistant with Arizona Lutheran Academy, is a member of our social media program. She states “The biggest advantage of being surrounded by other School PR professionals and social media managers is the motivation the group provides! Need ideas? Go to the group. Got issues? Go to the group. Need moral support? Yep, go to the group. The group has helped me celebrate the positives, navigate the negatives, and wade through the questions of social media.”
Step 5 – Evaluate a Cost Justification
Often an investment in training can lead to cost savings for your school. For example, if you save time each week doing a specific task because of an investment in training, you could easily prove a payback for the initial investment.
When it comes to our membership program, the cost is $795 for one year. If the knowledge that you gain helps attract or retain just one student in your school – that cost back into the district could be as much as $7,000 or more. That means there is nearly a 10X return on the initial investment – WOW!
Jen Bode, Development Department Assistant with Arizona Lutheran Academy, shared: “Administrators often do not recognize the role that social media and communication plays in retention and future recruitment.”
It’s true. Your communications efforts have a direct financial impact.
Step 6 – Time Your Ask (Maybe)
Your school has a budget cycle. Typically, fiscal years run from July 1 to June 30 each year. If your PD opportunity is thousands of dollars, you likely are going to need to have it in the budget in order for it to be approved. So get prepared! Budget planning happens throughout the year, and you may have to ask if you’re not sure.
Timing your ask to the budget cycle is important for bigger ticket items, but smaller costs are not as critical. Every budget has some leeway and if you’ve done your homework in steps 1-5, the timing of your ask may not be as critical. Are you asking for a few hundred dollars when the payback for students is high? Well then, it’s totally worth it for the district!
Step 7 – It’s Time to Ask IN PERSON!
Don’t hide behind your computer and ask via email. You’ve put together a lot of work to justify your request, so ask your boss for 15 minutes of their time to talk through this opportunity. You know them better than I do, so you’ll know if they want printed materials to go along with your conversation.
Before going into the meeting, strike a power pose. Be confident in your ask, knowing that you did your research and you know that the funds you are asking for will have a direct impact on kids!
I would suggest having a few notes written down from what you gathered in steps 1-6. Bring those to the meeting. Your superintendent or supervisor will know that you did your homework before just coming in to ask for money. Your script could go something like this:
I’ve been looking into programs that can help enhance my skills for the school and I’ve identified what I believe is the best value for our investment. The (program name) provides (list benefits) that will help me (list results).”
OK – it’s time to put this advice to the test! Whether you are looking at my program, or another association or training, it’s time to start your homework and make the ask. The worst thing that can happen is a “no.” But remember, if you never ask… the answer is always “no.”
I’m confident that if you do your homework and go in confident and prepared, you will earn the funding you deserve. Let me know how it goes!