Category Archives: needs in the classroom

The Second Step: Developing a Solution

If you want to secure grant money for your school, the first step is to understand in detail the problems your school faces. Once you have clearly identified those hurdles to student achievement or school-wide success, the second step is to develop a plan/solution that has the greatest likelihood of achieving your goals.

When I first became a middle school principal, our test scores indicated that we had a reading problem. Overall, our students read about 1.5 grade levels below the national average. We already had a Title I reading program, but we weren’t getting very good results. We did our research and found that:

1) Although we had a serious school-wide reading problem, only our very poorest readers attended reading classes.

2) Although we knew that reading was a skill, we did not provide enough time during the school day for our students to practice that skill.

3) Monitoring large amounts of independent reading is difficult without enough computers and specialized software.

With that knowledge, we were able to put together a comprehensive plan in which:
• all students, regardless of their reading levels, would attend a reading class.

• each student would spend one hour each day in reading practice on appropriate-level materials.

• we would use the STAR reading test to determine the beginning reading levels of students and to measure growth.

• we would use Accelerated Reader software to monitor students’ daily reading.

In addition, we would initiate “structural” changes in order to meet the needs of our new program:
• In order to make time in the school day for students to receive an hour of reading practice, we had to change from a 7-period to an 8-period schedule.

• All of our teachers became reading monitors in order to monitor 30 minutes of reading practice time. The regular reading teachers monitored the other 30 minutes and taught mini-lessons on skills.

• We had to purchase STAR and Accelerated Reader.

• We had to purchase thousands of library books to match the reading levels, interests, and reading volume of our students.

• We had to purchase dozens of computers to monitor the program.

We developed a special budget in order to put our plan into place. While our solution was relatively expensive, we did not consider costs when we developed the plan. We only considered the results we would likely achieve. To get the money we needed to fund our plan, we tapped into the regular budget, Title I, and special education funds. But that wasn’t enough. We wrote grants and we entered into a partnership with the software company to do detailed research as we measured our students’ reading growth.

When your school faces a hurdle to student achievement, the key is to build a plan that directly addresses the problem and has the greatest likelihood of success. When you are developing your plan, don’t worry about costs. That will come later. If you can, find schools with similar demographics that have faced similar problems and made major improvements. Duplicate the best parts of their plans if it’s feasible for you to do so — without consideration to money.

When your plan is complete — and you’re sure it is comprehensive and has an excellent chance of success — then comes the time to start worrying about the budget and finding the money to fund your program. Which brings us to the topic we will cover in my next post: finding grant money to fund your program.

7 Ways to Motivate Yourself to Apply for a Grant

It’s not easy to get motivated to fill out grant applications. I know that. I spent twenty years in public schools as a teacher and an administrator. Asking for money shouldn’t be an educator’s job. After all, we signed on to teach children, to bring light into their lives, and to build a love of learning within their hearts. Unfortunately as the years roll by, you may find yourself discouraged, underpaid, and pulling money out of your own pocket to fund the basic needs in your classroom or building.

Try not to be discouraged. I believe teachers are still the most influential people on the planet. I have many conversations with past students, and it still amazes me how much they remember about my class and about me. My wife retired three years ago after teaching first grade for thirty-four years. She still gets more hugs and smiles than the law allows, often from large men a foot taller than she is. They love her. She taught them to love school. She taught them to read.

While teaching is a tremendous vocation, it can still get discouraging when money is not available from your district to fund the activities and projects you know your students need. You need to motivate yourself to write grants to supplement the money in your budget. Here are seven ways to get motivated to write those grants:

1) Write a grant for a very special project that you have personally always wanted to do but could not get the district to fund. This is very motivational because it’s all about you and something you want personally.

2) Write down new skills that your students will be able to develop by using grant money to enhance your budget. You may need to buy special materials or get help in your classroom to make sure students develop these new skills. Think about how these new skills could change your students’ lives.

3) Apply for a grant with a partner. It’s always easier to do a chore when you have some help. You should share the burden of writing the grant and the joy of what you both accomplish with the grant money.

4) Write a grant that will allow you and your students to have a very special experience. You might go on a very unusual field trip, bring in a motivational celebrity to your school, or build something together that your students will never forget.

5) Write a grant to keep from spending money out of your pocket. Then, buy yourself a gift with the money you didn’t have to use for school supplies.

6) Write a grant centered around the bottom few students you’ve had the most trouble reaching. This might be a program to get help from parent volunteers, an after-school tutoring program, or a program to buy computers and software that might help you reach these difficult students.

7) Let others know you intend to apply for a grant. Just like a New Year’s resolution, you’re more likely to complete your grant application if others know you’ve made a commitment to apply for a grant.

Grants shouldn’t really be about the money you’re going to receive. They should be about student achievement and the positive impact that a grant will have on your students. However, sometimes we need a little extra motivation to complete those applications. Maybe one of the above seven motivators will be just what you need to start completing a grant application this week. Don’t delay. Apply for that money you need and stop getting it out of your own pocket.

The First Step: Understanding Your Needs

If you aim to secure grant money for your school, your very first step must be understanding — in detail — the needs your school faces. To understand the true depth of those needs, you must consistently perform needs assessments. A good needs assessment measures the difference between what you expect of students in your classroom, school, or district, and what actually happens. The wider the gap between expectations and actual outcomes, the larger the need you have.

The easiest way to do a quick needs assessment is to look at the goals you set for the year and see if you met them. The end of the school year is the ideal time to assess your progress. By that time you should have state tests, nationally-normed tests, and locally developed tests to help you determine the actual growth of your students. If you do not currently have assessment tools in place, proper assessment should definitely be your first goal for next year.

As you begin to fill out grant applications, you will need to include details gathered from your needs assessments. Remember, a needs assessment is any instrument that measures the difference in current conditions and desired conditions. Typically, most of the information you need for grant applications can be gleaned from testing instruments, but you might also need to use student, teacher, or parent surveys.

In addition, your disciplinary and attendance records might be used you as needs-assessment instruments. For example, I often talk of schools where students perform 1.5 to 2 years behind in math or reading. You might determine from your attendance records that the at-risk students who score low in reading and math are the ones who have the poorest attendance. Maybe the problem is not class size or the instructional programs you currently use. Maybe the problem is that students are not learning what you’re teaching because they don’t attend school regularly enough to master the skills they need to perform on grade level.

Good needs-assessment instruments help you to examine a wide range of problems and programs from many different angles and to determine exactly what problems you face. Failure to review those assessment tools at the end of each school year, simply put, is a mistake. In fact, your grant program should be built around those needs assessments. You should perform your needs assessments, use them to determine the largest problems you face, and then determine if you have local money to fix them. If you do not have enough money locally, then you should use a grants database to explore the many opportunities for grant money that can be used to address — and solve — those problems.

From time to time, new needs surface in a district, school, or classroom — needs that have not been part of your regular needs assessments. You may be seeing gang activity in your school for the first time, a larger percentage of dropouts than you have experienced before, or an influx into your community of a sizeable number of students who cannot speak English. Those issues are excellent candidates for grant writing because you have not experienced them before, so it is unlikely you have built money into your budget to address them.

As you are surely aware, the end of the school year does not mean that you lock up the doors and head off on vacation. If you write grants for your school, this is the time to study the results provided by your needs-assessment tools to discover the problems that need to be addressed through your grant-writing program. If you didn’t get that done during the summer, you need to do it now. Needs assessments are the starting point of any good school grant program. Be sure you use them to your advantage.