In most schools, budgets are tight. It can be difficult for teachers to get additional resources, whether those are basic items or larger-ticket purchases.
Teachers shouldn’t have to pay for materials, and their classrooms and students shouldn’t have to function with insufficient resources. The unfortunate reality is that teachers must take on the role of advocate in addition to their primary role as teacher. At one point or another, teachers will need to request materials from the administration and other stakeholders in education.
Each school has its own policy about how teachers can make these requests. In all cases, however, it’s important that teachers make a compelling case for the resources and materials they need. Online surveys and forms are a great way to gather and present this information to support their requests.
Find out what your fellow teachers need
Teachers need materials to ensure their students meet school standards, but they often don’t have enough basic resources.
Tim Walker at the National Education Association reports that 94 percent of teachers spend their own money on essential classroom items. Mandy De Groote is one such teacher — in addition to basic school supplies, she also paid for curriculum out of her own pocket when her school didn’t provide curriculum to meet NGSS standards. Unfortunately, this story is all too common.
To advocate for their students, teachers need to work together and communicate regarding classroom spending and the materials they need. Teachers can start by creating surveys that ask fellow teachers which materials they need most. If the majority of teachers say they need better math curriculum because their textbooks are outdated, they may use this data to make a compelling case to administrators.
Another idea is to track all personal or fundraised money spent on materials. Breaking down this spending into categories will give administrative leaders a better idea of what teachers need most. Some items might not be directly correlated to state standards — like flexible seating or musical instruments — but if teachers highlight exactly how spending is directly connected to test scores, they may be able to persuade administrative leaders.
One major challenge for schools is that there isn’t a systematic, objective way to decide which materials are effective in achieving standards, writes WestEd researchers Dan Bugler, Stacy Marple, Elizabeth Burr, Min Chen-Gaddini, and Neal Finkelstein.
They suggest that teachers use focus groups to discuss the materials they need. Surveys and written feedback from these focus groups can prove what essential materials the teachers in your school need most.
Use student data to make your case
It’s one thing to ask teachers if they have what they need for the classroom; it’s another to ask students and families if they have what they need to continue learning at home.
Teachers in high-poverty schools say students don’t have sufficient digital access to complete schoolwork at home, report Linda Darling-Hammond, Molly B. Zielezinski, and Shelley Goldman at the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Because students aren’t able to complete their homework, they’re missing out on crucial learning opportunities.
School leaders need to know how many students are struggling to finish assignments due to a lack of resources, whether that be no computer or internet access in the home or a lack of food, books, or writing materials.
“Data is the language of educational leaders. We love our kids individually, but we make decisions about them as a group, so we have to think big picture,” write Tuscaloosa City Schools administrators Andrew Maxey and Mike Daria. Forms are an easy way to collect this important student data; ask parents what resources their children need to meet their academic goals.
Before broaching this sensitive topic, a teacher needs to have a strong relationship with the families in question, as well as a general understanding of their home situations. After explaining how their feedback might support a request for new resources, teachers can ask students’ families if they would be willing to participate in a survey.
Partner with other advocates: Parents, community leaders, and NGOs
Remember that you aren’t alone in advocating for your students. Even with a strong case to administration and district leaders, there still might not be enough funding to cover all of your requests. When you feel at a dead end with your administration, it might be time to turn to community leaders and other nonprofit organizations for help.
Building connections with outside organizations can help students access local resources, says educator and curriculum designer Jennifer L.M. Gunn.
There are many organizations that want to help, especially in terms of STEAM learning. However, it takes time to reach out to these groups and ask what they can do for your students. Knowing your fellow teachers’ needs and your students’ backgrounds will prepare you for conversations with community leaders.
Parents and community leaders will be the first to volunteer for your cause at fundraising events or awareness campaigns. Using forms, you can easily accept volunteer applications online and schedule volunteer hours without unnecessarily wasting time and resources.
Get your students involved
It’s hard to find a teacher who hasn’t used outside funding or their own money to buy class resources — but the responsibility for building a better classroom doesn’t have to fall on you.
You can also get your students involved in funding your classroom.
Use surveys to find out what the students themselves would like in the classroom. You can pull quotes from these surveys and put them on a crowdfunding page, or add them to videos, blogs, or on social platforms. This can be a great way for students to support their own education and advocate for themselves.