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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What Is Your Investment Strategy?

What Is Your Investment Strategy?

By Dr. Ryan Donlan
Assistant Professor
Department of Educational Leadership
Bayh College of Education
Indiana State University

During challenging financial times, school leaders must be careful, indeed, in how investments are made in Human Capital.  Most discretionary spending is gone.  Cuts are being made across the board. Times are tight.
Some have reacted by pulling in the reins on professional development funding, curtailing trips to conferences and redlining fees for in-house trainings.  Others have narrowed the focus to “needs,” not “wants, “ oft-times defining needs as training in only those content areas that will help in securing the biggest bang for the school achievement buck.  Understandable, it seems, with finite resources.
Again, these are tough times.
Although we in ISU’s Bayh College of Education’s Department of Educational Leadership have sound knowledge of school finance, we can’t – and wouldn’t – tell you how to spend your money.  You are best positioned to make those decisions with knowledge of your local circumstances. 
We can, however, offer some food for thought on how to think about a new “Investment Strategy” in your greatest asset – “your people” – the star performers who make a difference on behalf of children and community each and every day.  Please let us know if this advice is helpful.
First, only invest in Human Capital that will result in Social Capital.  The days of sending teachers to trainings, only to have them return to the buildings to shut their doors and teach in isolation, are over.  Unless you will reap five-fold the investment with those involved in professional development opportunities, spend elsewhere.  Social Capital involves not only teachers within buildings networking to share their newfound expertise; it also involves those with new skills seeking community partnerships that can augment the in-class experiences for students.  As a possible rule of thumb -- “two inside partners and at least one outside partner” should be secured for each professional development opportunity leadership provides to staff.  That responsibility for securing the partnerships is the person’s attending the training.
Second, invest selectively in staff opportunity when it comes to attendance at soft-skills trainings (as I differentiate those from content-area or academic skills trainings).  Soft skills trainings, as I define these experiences, are those that help staff more effectively “reach” students through socio-emotional channels. Study the content of such to ensure that the dividends will  positively affect student “self-efficacy.”  None can argue the benefits of students’ feeling good about themselves, but I would argue that an unintentional byproduct of an overemphasis on self-esteem, as opposed to self-efficacy, in students has been the fostering of an unintentional, yet overindulgent hyper-consumerism, as opposed to an increase of individual responsibility. Staff members have a point if they say, “If kids feel awful, they can’t learn.” I agree. However, I would also pose that the path toward feeling good about oneself is through success borne of hard work and personal effort, as well as the first-hand knowledge that one is empowered to make a positive difference in his/her life as a student and as a person.  We must empower students, not enable them. Professional development should train educators to do just that.
Finally, at Indiana State University, we offer graduate students ongoing relationships and lifelong learning & professional development, not simply in-class experiences.  Consultants and trainers should do the same.  While opening your school’s checkbook -- pay heed only to outside consultants who are going to offer ongoing relationships, as opposed to one-shot drive by’s.  Some of the very good ones do this by offering ongoing coaching to organizations at reasonable prices or instructional materials for reasonable purchase after events; others do it by maintaining an active, vibrant, and professionally enriching on-line presence, one through which clients can continue learning after trainings are complete.  Still others allow for continued communication through Blogs, Twitter, Skype, and other Professional Learning Community portals.  Whatever medium exists … make sure it is one that will allow continued “learning” after the day of training is complete, in whatever form that works best for your staff.  Time and money are too precious to expect otherwise.
What is your investment strategy?  Have you examined it recently?


Dr. Ryan Donlan can be reached at (812) 237-8624 or at and can be found with his own on-line personality on Twitter at

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