In a time where nothing seems certain and plans for the start of the school year get more scrambled by the minute, focusing on the future may seem futile. Picking a theme and decorations for your classroom environment? Hard to do in earnest when having a physical classroom isn’t a guarantee. Creating lesson plans and activities for your students? Without knowing if you’ll be virtual or in-person, you don’t know who or what you’re really planning for. Everything is subject to change, and the unsettledness of it doesn’t feel good.
Something I discuss in detail in The Thrive Guide is dealing with disappointment, and it’s running rampant right now. The joy and anticipation of beginning a new chapter in your life has been marred by a broken world. While none of it is fair, your mindset is going to determine how you come out of this experience. You are in control of what you learn and how you prepare yourself to be successful.
I debated on what would be a good blog post series to accompany The Thrive Guide, but with the continuing uncertainty over how many of you will be teaching this year, it’s difficult to pick something that would be useful to everyone. So I am going to veer in a different direction and teach you how to write grants.
This may seem to be a completely irrelevant topic right now while you’re trying to piece together information about your classroom arrangements or are waiting in angst for someone to let your know what will be your reality for this year. In a world of unknowns, this I know to be certain: you will spend an enormous amount of your own money to not only set up your classroom, but to teach your students your entire career. You will have needs, you will have ideas, you will want something better than what you have to reach your kids - and it will all cost money. That’s where grants come in.
What is a grant? There are organizations, non-profits, and companies that award money for projects and resources to schools and individual classrooms. After reviewing applications to see which proposals best fit the mission of the organization and make the best use of funds, money is awarded to those selected for the completion of the project. A grant doesn’t need to be paid back; you will often have to provide documentation of how the money was spent and share the results of the project or impact of the materials. I will be posting grant opportunities on my Twitter this fall, but a good place to start looking for funding sources is Donors Choose and GetedFunding. I recommend every new teacher set up a Donors Choose account, as they provide many ways for teachers projects to be funded through businesses and donors. A quick Google search will bring up more grant opportunities that you can imagine, and your school district may even offer funding opportunities throughout the year as well.
Grants open up the possibilities of what you can do in your classroom and save you money. They also help you build relationships with organizations and businesses in your community. There will always be things that you either need or want to purchase for your classroom, no matter how long you have been teaching. This school year may pose some unique needs in order to teach your students at a distance, especially with technology. The only caveat to writing grants is that the success of your application depends on how well you write it and put it together. I will share 12 grant writing tips over four blog posts to teach you the best way to share your ideas and needs with funders so you can secure resources for your classroom. Learning the skill of grant writing from the beginning of your teaching journey will serve you well throughout your entire career. These are time tested tips from my experience of writing grants and securing funding for projects over 17 years in the classroom.
1. Think project, not product.
Start by brainstorming a list of ideas or things you feel would improve your ability to reach your students. Then, prioritize the things on that list by importance through these questions:
Which ideas or resources on your list are the most urgent for helping your students? Consider their needs, strengths, and weaknesses.
What are your instructional goals?
Can certain items be together into one project idea or need?
“Clustering” your ideas can help you settle on the project you want to focus on and give you a blueprint for future ideas.There’s nothing wrong with wanting a document camera or a math manipulative set for your classroom. Those are valuable resources that can improve your ability to teach. The fact that you simply want one, however, shouldn’t be the focus of your grant. Develop an experience or project for your students that has them use the materials requested in an innovative manner. That alone should drive the focus and content of your grant.
2. The title of your grant is like a headline…
Or a book cover - only your title will be judged. Just like the headlines you view while scrolling the news on your phone, certain ones are going to grab your attention: the ones that are most interesting and most aligned with your interests. In this case, the interests of the grant reviewer are their organization’s mission and purpose in providing the funding. A title that is unique and pertinent will “stop the scroll” and encourage the reviewer to turn the page.
The title of your grant is also like a movie preview. A snazzy, catchy, play-on-words will capture the reader’s attention and set your application apart from the rest, even before it has been read. Acronyms are also a great way to name your project and set its purpose. When possible, try to include the outcome of your project in the title.
Example title for a geology project: Can You Dig It? Sleuthing Students Excavate Learning with Fossils
Example title for a math and geography integrated project: Off the Grid: Using Map Skills for Math Mastery
Another important note on titles: don’t be misleading. Your grant title should describe the true content and nature of your project.
3. Consider your audience and funding source.
Those reading your grant and distributing funds are most likely not teachers, especially if the funding is coming from a company or non-profit organization. They are usually business professionals who aren’t familiar with educational terms and lingo. You have to step into their world and write clearly, concisely, and persuasively. Keep the education jargon to a minimum - especially acronyms (IEP, ESOL, and TTI aren't going to mean anything to them unless you explain what they stand for). Help them “see” your classroom by describing life with your students on a daily basis - in plain English. This is an opportunity for people outside of education to get an understanding of the needs and issues of actual classrooms. Alway tie the outcome for students back to your project and requested materials. How is this going to improve learning for students in a way that won’t happen otherwise?
Grants also serve as public relations (PR) for the organizations that fund and award them. It's school–business partnership where both parties benefit. If your grant application is accepted, you are being chosen to represent their mission and goals for being viewed as a supporter of education. Project proposals that best represent the mission of the company or funding source are going to become front runners. Learn about the organization awarding the funds. What do they produce or support? What types of projects have they funded in the past? Do your homework and apply it to your writing - so you make them want you to represent them as a grant recipient.
My assignment for you: think about some of the needs you or your students may have coming into this school year and what resources may be needed to meet them. Do a search for at least three grant funding sources (I highly recommend Donors Choose if you at least know what grade and/or subject you will be teaching). While it may seem a little out of order to be doing this now, the world as we know it has been “out of order” for much of this year. This is your way of taking control and being proactive about your needs in the classroom. In the end, it really will make “cents.”