When my son wants something, my first response is “why?” At this point he knows the question is coming, and most of the time he doesn’t even make me ask why. It’s nice that he’s not yet socially influenced enough to use “everyone else has one” as his reason. He usually supports his requests with a solid example (if not multiple examples) of how he’d use the item.

It seems, based on my PLN, that a lot of schools are buying technology before asking the “why?” question. I often see articles about “what to do with your school’s [fill in the device].” I hear from people who have had technology purchased for them and then don’t use it because it’s too confusing. I see teachers trying to use something simply because they’re told they’re supposed to be using it. As an accounting and finance teacher (and all-around frugal human being), I cringe at this. I can’t help but think about the purchasing decision-making process that I teach—that I pound into the heads of my students, that my poor children and wife are subjected to every day—and wonder why these principles are so often ignored by our profession.

I don’t think that schools need to treat the purchasing process exactly the same way as households do. R&D, tinkering, testing, and exploring with new devices bring strong value to educational entities. However, it seems that the moderation of this activity has been swallowed up by premature excitement for “it” because “it” is technology and so must be good for our kids. As we closely watch how we spend and use public resources (and rightfully so), it’s crucial that we maintain a respectable decision-making process when purchasing anything. The last thing we can afford is to buy another iThing or gThing with no dedicated purpose, vision, or plan for using it. We need to figure out where we want to be before we start moving there. We have to envision the end and reverse engineer our buying decisions to ensure they will enhance our journey to that destination.

Responsible consumers do this naturally. We buy food because we’re hungry (unless I’m face-to-face with a Snickers bar at the grocery checkout) and we need to be un-hungry. We work backwards (subconsciously) and get to the tool that will make us “un-hungry”—food. Reverse engineering is a great process for that; for decades, educators have been applying reverse engineering to curriculum design, emotional intelligence development, and student success planning. If we commit to leveraging this strength with digital purchasing decisions, we’ll set our teachers and instructional coaches up for clearer and more meaningful implementation experiences.

So let’s make sure we maintain our credibility with our taxpayers’ money and give our teachers and students a clearer path towards success. Let’s make sure we’re able to answer the questions my son knows he has to answer before buying. Why are we buying this? How are we going to use it? We can create a building full of “why do we have these?” or one that’s asking “why didn’t we get these sooner?” In which building would you rather teach? More importantly, in which building would you rather have your own child learn?

Sean Crevier (@busedcrev) is a business teacher and technology integration coach at Vernon Hills (IL) High School.