Goodbye Ops Blog, Hello Ed Blog

Goodbye: Closing out the Ops Blog (all 5 entries of it, oops) with a few final thoughts on what I’ve taken away from doing nonprofit operations (or a small slice of it, anyway). As part of my transition process, I wrote out a financial procedures manual for the incoming Finance person. I tried to boil down the big picture/higher level stuff and came up with the following points:

  • Document well. Make backups anyway. In case something gets lost, having a second (or third) copy and a second (or third) plan keeps things running without dropping the ball. Multiple systems also provide multiple angles as a system of checks.
  • Create checks and balances. Our finance system is designed to prevent theft from happening as a worst case scenario. We always have someone approve something before a financial transaction and no one should ever pay anything they approve. Likewise, if there are any problems as we innovate with the finance system, a system of checks and balances helps catch problems and blindspots as they arise.
  • Keep it as simple as necessary and no simpler (Albert Einstein. Our Communications person is also fond of this saying). While we aim to have lean, efficient systems, we don’t want to remove anything that is necessary. Likewise, we realize there are no shortcuts, especially with documenting finances.

Hello: Tomorrow, I begin coursework for a Master’s in Secondary Education. To say I’m scared is probably a bit of an understatement. Today, I planned to start homework (2 pages on my relationship with math, which I am super excited to start writing), but was sidetracked (severely) by this amazing post on “Letters to a First Year Teacher“. So much good stuff. I wish I could print and memorize it all, but most of the teachers actually advise against that sort of thing. I think it would be awesome to write a Letter from a First Year Teacher at the end of the year. Note: that post, and this one from Dan Meyer, are lighting the fires of bloggerdom (what?!) within me. Make it happen, self.

Five Paragraph Essay

These days, I’m fascinated with David Coleman, and not just because he shares a name with a dear friend from Peace Corps. Ed policy wonks can read more here (hat tip to journalist Dana Goldstein, whose writing I just can’t get enough of). The short story is that he helped write the Common Core and was recently named to head up the College Board.

The quote that most sticks with me is one he retracted (it was that good, I guess): “It is rare in a working environment that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday, but before that, I need a compelling account of your childhood.”

Very little of the writing I learned in high school (5 paragraphs, although/because thesis to some extent, concession paragraph, and a concluding paragraph that I still don’t know how to write) comes into play today (to be fair, I work in nonprofit operations). I’ve learned (through ever-patient college newspaper editors and a line-editing boss) to trim my writing down to drive the main point home. No narrative at all, really. Quick, effective writing and supplementary formatting/bolding.

That being said, quite a bit of the work we do externally involves narrative. Our blogs, our emails, our speeches all involve telling stories about what we do and the people we do it with/for. People don’t relate to numbers, they relate to other people. This is especially true (I think) when teaching students – if you don’t engage them, they might not care enough to learn. The takeaway for me is that you need to master both the facts and how to tell them. What’s that saying about silver bullets?

Speaking of narrative, check out “The Experiment” about schools in New Orleans (decidedly pro-charter, but most of the schools in New Orleans are charters these days, apparently).

Things I Did Today:

  • Return phone calls (no one there)
  • Draft emails (short, sweet, to the point)
  • Draft memo on our current evaluation process
  • Do massive revision of financial procedures (almost done)