I’ve never considered myself a technology whiz, and if you’d asked me 12 years ago, when I was teaching 7-9 band/orchestra what my technology needs were in the classroom, I would have said, “A stereo. And sometimes, a microphone headset.”
Fast forward to now and I’m teaching K-4, with a full complement consisting of my laptop (yes, my one personal one that I’m writing this blog post on right now), a projector, and a stereo….
But with just these tools I also use:
• YouTube– for everything from mini-history lessons to ‘Just Dance’,
• Spotify– all my school programs and Mass music can be streamed at home for students to practice with),
• Audacity– for recording students practice so they can hear how they are doing from outside the ensemble; and also when they’re being disruptive I’ll secretly hit record, wait for silence, then play it back so they can hear exactly how inappropriate they were being… ha ha ha
And my big goal for this year is to get Sibelius on all the computers in our school lab…..I guess I’m not as old school as I thought I was.
[For more ideas on how you can use tech in your music classroom, check out Midnight Music. For ideas on how to use the tech you have check out THIS article. Plus this fun one from Mr. D about technology in the music classroom...]
I think most of us want to be using technology in our classroom, but are frustrated with the potential expense that is brought with it. You can’t just buy ONE of anything, but more than one of anything will break our often non-existent budget.
But these days we can’t NOT have technology in our classrooms. It can enhance our effectiveness, streamline our teaching, eliminate the need for a lot of paper and consumable resources, and open our students up to more tools for learning. I’ve even seen ‘use of technology’ on teacher evaluation forms!
So today, I’m going to walk you step-by-step through how YOU can secure more technology for your classroom. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Define Your Need
One of the worst things you can do is go to your principal, booster club, or potential donor and say, “Well, I’d like some money to buy more techy stuff for my classroom.” Something so vague can feel discouraging to the person you’re asking, making them feel like the burden is on their shoulders to solution it for you.
It’s like my son saying, “Mom, I’m thirsty.” Sure you are, but what do you want me to do about it? Do you want a drink? If so, what do you want to drink? How much do you want to drink? Do you want me to get it for you?
Imagine instead if you were to say to your principal/boosters/donor, “I’d like to come up with $5,000 for a tablet cart and new projector for my music classroom so the kids can learn to read music more effectively, and I have a plan for how to do it.” Now we’re talking.
So Step 1 is to make your need very clear. If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to check out THIS article I wrote about how to draft a powerful ask, and be sure to download the resource for writing yours so that it’s clear and effective.
Always be able to answer, “How will this make a difference?” It’s just like sales- you don’t sell the drill, you sell the hole. You need to get people to see what the transformation will be, what the end product is- and make it something desirable enough that people buy-in quickly. Sell the vision.
Step 2: Ask a Warm Audience
Once you’ve defined your need, ask anyone your principal will let you. I call it a ‘warm audience’ because those are the people you know, and who know you. They’re the easiest ones to ‘sell’ on your technology need.
Running an ad in the paper asking for donations would be considered a ‘cold’ audience, because they don’t know you and it’s more work to convince them to give. Always start with your best bet: the people who know you… your warm audience.
I’ve recently heard the heart-felt sighs of a teacher whose principal won’t let her even ask for donations in a concert, for fear it will make the school look like they don’t adequately fund their music programs (which…yeah…they don’t).
So look back at Step 1. If you have a clearly defined message that isn’t “Hey give us money for our music program”, but rather, “Hey, help us enhance our music program” there’s small difference in tone, but a huge one in perception.
You don’t have to limit your ask to in-person either. Send emails. Post it on your program or school’s Facebook page. Send home a note with your students. Tell everyone why you need it, what it will do for their students, and when you need it by. Easy peasy.
Step 3: Look Under Your Mattress
Not literally. But metaphorically.
All of the financial statements from your district and your school should be open for anyone to request and look at. If your principal/admin are pretty supportive, then just ask. Ask if there’s some funding in the technology budget, or the textbook budget, that they would be willing to let you use for what you came up with in Step 1.
Or go over the financial statements themselves. See how much your district/school/organization spends on technology and see if you can’t get a little bit of that to come your way.
Why? Because even if it’s a little bit, it can help you leverage what you’re going to do in Step 4.
So tell your admin that you’re wondering if you could tap into some of the technology funds from the school or district, and that you intend to apply for grants and would like to have a commitment of a little cash to leverage matching donations.
Use those exact words: leverage matching donations.
That means, if you get $500 from your administration, you can then look at grants that require some kind of cash matching. Don’t worry if this sounds unfamiliar to you, it’s common practice for a lot of organizations- especially big government-type ones, to ask for some buy-in from the community or school. It’s their way of asking for proof that there is local support for your project. If you can’t even come up with a little money up front to apply for a grant, then it allows them to say, “Why should we fund your program when not even your community will.”
So trust me here, if you can get even a few hundred dollars right from the school or district, you’re going to have LEVERAGE going into the grant request process.
Step 4: Go for Grants
Look, grants are nothing to be afraid of. I remember writing up my first grant. I was 3 years into my teaching career and I was asking for money to start a Tri-M chapter. I was combining my ask with those needs of a few other teachers in the school who also wanted to start elite programs for advanced students.
It was intimidating to read the cerebral virtual legalese some of these grant requests are written in. May as well be trying to read Maori. But I buckled down, saw it through, and received my request, starting the first Tri-M chapter in the middle level in my district.
Honestly, the most challenging part of going after grants is finding one that is aligned with what you need. In my experience something like 90% of grant requests have a specific mission they are trying to fulfill- very few are for ‘general operations’ and allow you to spend the money however you see fit.
It’s just like most of the tax dollars that fund our public school systems- they’re tied up in mandates.*
So the trick is to either have a method for quickly identifying those that are most easily aligned with your own needs, or to have an ask that’s adaptable enough to shift to meet the needs of the grantor.
Also, you should always start by looking for LOCAL grants. I know you’re going to be tempted to go right for that $50,000 VH1 Save the Music grant…but like I said in Step 3, if you can’t show local support for a program, you’re going to have a hard time convincing a big corporation to give to you. Remember, they are a ‘cold’ audience. You’ll have to work much harder going further from your home base.
Once you’ve applied for every applicable grant in your town, county, and state…THEN go national.
To help simplify for you, I’m going to give you this list of potential technology and music ed grants I just spent a bunch of time researching for you!
Step 5: Go Online
Crowdfunding is uber popular right now- and for good reason. On a single page you can craft pocket-jerking message that has people throwing tear-stained money at you. Plus, there’s very little actual work to it, it’s super share-able via email and social media, and it’s a very low-barrier way for people to give to your program.
But there are some down-sides. You have to have an account accessible for the funds to transfer into, which means you can’t just throw it together on your next prep period. You have to be able to create some images at the least and video at the most, and not everyone feels very comfortable with that.
We’re trained to teach kids to project and sing with clear vowels, not to graphic design and video produce.
There are also fees involved. Usually there’s 2 fees when you use an online donation site: the fee they take for offering you theservice, and the fee for processing the transactions (which is typically around 3%). That means if someone gives you $100, you may only actually make $95. Now that’s okay, if this service feels worth that to you, then don’t be deterred. In fact, you can even ask donors to increase their donation by 3% to cover processing fees. Most of them will.
Either way and no matter what, you’ve absolutely got to thank your donors for the amount they gave, NOT the amount you received.
Of course, you also have the option of creating your own donation page– if your school permits. This is a great time to have a booster club or a district foundation- some entity that’s specific for raising money- because they don’t have the kinds of red tape that you do! You’ll still have the issue of 3% transaction fees, and unless you can get the website management system and hosting donated by someone, then you’re looking at a minimum of $200 to build the site. Again…this might be worth it to you.
Any way you look at it, soliciting donations online is about 1,000x easier and more effective than hosting an event or selling stuff.
Step 6: Go Commercial
There’s a huge movement in business right now called ‘Corporate Social Responsibility”. I had an entire class on it while working on my MBA, so trust me here. Businesses want to look good in their community- like they’re giving back. It builds good will and actually improves their overall profits.
Some big corporations actually have a fund specifically for giving, like Wells Fargo. They will also have mandates, like all your grantors probably will, but it’s from a for-profit corporation rather than a non-profit, so it’s less regulated. [Okay, if that’s a little confusing and you’d like more clarification, just comment at the bottom or shoot me an email].
Just like with grants, start with your warm audience. Start with businesses that are owned or worked-at by the parents of your students, then your community, then your county, then your state…you get the idea.
Wanna know the HUGE advantage to going right to businesses instead of individual donors? They don’t have to give you cash. Check out your used electronics store, or even your local Best Buy, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco….they’re typically all locally owned and they all sell tablets, laptops, software!
Why is this an advantage? Because they can give you the hardware you need as an in-kind donation. They don’t have to give cash. And to them, this is an advantage. Because if they give you a $200 Chromebook, they can claim the retail value of that gift at $200, but it likely only cost them ½ of that.
And if you’re not picky about the age of the device or software, it could be a great way for them to get rid of some older inventory- which decreases their inventory expense and allows them to purchase newer items to sell. In fact, if you’re going to ask for this type of donation (instead of cash) you can use that exact term: Inventory Expense. And if you really want to get their attention, say “Depreciation Expense”. These are costs that they have to pay, that cut into their profits, by just having inventory laying around.
Think of it like for every year you have that string bass just sitting in the storage room not getting used, you lose $100. You’re going to want to get rid of that bass or get someone to play it, right?
Step 7: Go Traditional
And by ‘traditional’ I mean host a fundraising event or fundraiser sale. I like to leave this one until the end because I personally think hosting events takes a lot of time and effort outside of our work time and it’s not always worth it. You end up spending money to make money…which is typical, true. But you end up spending MORE money to host an event. MORE time than building a donation page or typing up a flier to send home.
And the more money and time you spend, the less you have for your project.
If you spend $1,000 hosting a spaghetti dinner night and you make $5,000 that night I just have a hard time not thinking “well, we could have had $6,000”. So…if the return is high enough and you have the help you need and you can justify it more than monetarily (like you’re building good will and influence and showcasing your program), or if it costs you nothing to do the event, then sure, go for it! 😉 You have my blessing.
I actually just picked up this book and it has some great info in it. My biggest tip for event-hosting is: Stack your events. Don’t just do a car wash, because not everyone wants to get their car washed, right? Do a yard sale AND a car wash! Give everyone some way reason to give, some way that is comfortable for them. Just like you have 3 different methods for teaching minor scales because you know every student learns differently- you need to have multiple ways people can give because some will give online, some will give at an event, some will give you in-kind donations….etc. etc…
And of course, you can do a ‘sale’ fundraiser- where you turn your students into money making machines. I’m still working on how I can aggregate a list of high-quality, high-yielding fundraisers for you, but I’m not there yet. I like that this makes kids do the work, but I don’t like how, just with events, you don’t get the highest yield-to-effort ratio.
To read an article from a more scholarly person than I concurring with my anti-event advice, CLICK HERE.
Bonus Step: Your Last Resort
If you are in desperate need of a laptop and you can’t get anything from your admin and you’re not permitted to do any of the other steps and you just need something quick and painful- you can charge a class fee for music (I whispered that in my head when I wrote it).
That’s why my kiddo’s teacher is doing this year. Am I happy about it? No. Will most of the parents pay it? Sure! Is it worth it? Absolutely. Especially if you go back to Step 1 and have a clear ask.
Look at it this way- if you’re like me and have around 250 students, and charge $5 fee per student for ‘classroom technology’, then you’ll have about $1200 to either spend or leverage.
Some additional TIPS:
• BUILD A TEAM: If you can, collaborate with other teachers. Grantors like to know exactly how many students their money is going to help. It helps THEM justify collecting funds from THEIR donors! So get a team together and really go for the gusto. You’ll also be able to check each other’s work and work together to find opportunities that will be ideal for you. Remember, the more people = the more power.
• ALWAYS SAY THANK YOU: Seriously. You need to be able to give everyone who gives to you 2 things: a receipt and a thank you.
Keep this in mind always, because you won’t be given more if you’re not thankful for what you got in the first place. Take some time to order a set of donation envelopes, and set aside a time once a month when you’re going to personally thank your sponsors and donors. Get the kids involved, they’ll love it.
• Check out all the awesome tech knowledge and free lesson plans you can get from Katie over at Midnight Music. If you’re feeling like, “Hey, this is some hard work and I’m discouraged and is it worth it?” then you need to pop on over to her site and get that enthusiasm back! You won’t believe all the awesome hacks you can have at your disposal when you have technology in your classroom.
From smart boards to projectors to audio systems that let you talk over the band while they play, technology is here as a tool for you, for all of us in our music classrooms. Even if you’re a little low-tech like me, there are still huge advantages for your students, and technology is their language.
You know using more technology in your classroom is going to make your job easier, students learn and engage more effectively, and even enhance your own CV. And now you have a step-by-step process you can follow to get it. – Elisa
[* How do I know about this? I used to serve on my school district’s finance committee. I currently serve on our district’s nonprofit foundation board as the treasurer. I don’t know everything about school funding, but I know a fair amount.]
How do YOU use music in your classroom? I’d love to hear about it! Comment below and tell me either
1: your favorite software you use in your classroom OR
2: what you would do if you suddenly ad $1,000 to spend on classroom technology?
Why not take a moment and share with your colleagues?