Sunday, October 5, 2014

Show Me the Money!

"Enhancing motivation through autonomy, mastery and purpose."  This suggestion was one of several topics for this blog that was posted to my wall on facebook last evening.  It's tough coming up with a new topic every day, related to education, that I feel either passionate enough, or knowledgeable enough, to feel like anyone would actually care what I think.  I've written before on autonomy -- in fact, it's a topic that Leslie Gates and I will be presenting at the National Association for Gifted Children's conference in Baltimore in November.  The reality is that autonomy and purpose is not just for the gifted -- we all want to do what we love, and succeed when we can be assessed in an area where we really shine, right?

"Enhancing motivation through autonomy, mastery and purpose."

One of the areas in which teachers are evaluated is their involvement in participation in communities.  (You can see the entire Pennsylvania Teacher Evaluation Tool here).  Long before Charlotte Danielson created her framework, I began to volunteer on the executive board of the Donegal Foundation.  For the last fifteen years, I have had the privilege of being a part of an organization that has, as its goal "enriching education through community partnerships."  The foundation is comprised of teachers, community members, and a representative from the school board and provides scholarships to students, opportunities to develop community health and wellness initiatives (including a 5K and funding for well-being incidents where students may require, for example, a warm coat or eyeglasses), and grants for teachers.

Several years ago, the Donegal Foundation applied for, and was added to, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) list.  Businesses are encouraged to make donations to scholarship and educational improvement organizations, and can receive an 80% deduction on the money they contribute.   That figure increases to 90% after three consecutive years. 

The executive board met last week because $20,000 in unexpected money had been received and we needed to decide, quickly, how to spend the money.  Big problem, right?

Without boring you with the details behind EITC, which you can certainly read yourself -- especially if you have a business that pays taxes -- you need to know that the money donated goes specifically to enhancing or enriching the student curriculum beyond what the district funds usually provides.  Past projects in our district have included poets, artists, and musicians "in residence" for a week or more to share their passions with some hands-on learning.  Elementary school kids have worked to create 3D mosaics in schools and community,  built instruments, written with a local author/professional who shares a passion for writing -- you get the idea.

EITC funded projects are approved, and funded with community donations.  And in this time in education where it seems like there is little time for anything unscripted or directed, teachers are working, hard, to find ways to motivate and inspire.  When kids see adults using math and English, celebrating the arts, or valuing skills that seem boring to them within the confines of the classroom, they become motivated to understand the skills to emulate the artist in residence.


Are the teachers scrambling to write grants to get a share of that $20,000?  You bet.  To a classroom teacher where their annual classroom budget is $150, the idea of a project with four figures is a dream come true.   

If those dreams and ideas are funded, kids have a drive to complete something for an authentic audience, instead of an audience of one (usually the rubric creator/teacher) the quality of the work improves dramatically.  And the learning experience stays with them for a lifetime.

Authentic learning is not new.  Johnny Tremain did it quite well, as did the apprentices of many experts.  EITC is helping to create a school full of apprentices who see a value to learning beyond the walls and rubrics.