Grant Guru Tip #13 by Gary Carnow: Starting Small

In preparing for today’s article, I did my usual research and reflection. I googled teacher grants, grant proposal do’s and don’ts, and mini-grants. I looked through my three bookshelves stuffed with grant writing resources. I perused some of the resources and paced back and forth. Finally it occurred to me that my own experience with the mini-grant process is how I got started down this road in the first place. For those readers who have attended one of my workshops over the years, you no doubt have heard this story. You are excused and may return next week. For others, perhaps my story will inspire you to give a grant proposal a try. I have told a part of this story in Tip #6. Today you get the complete story.

For me, it began with a flyer in my mailbox. I was teaching in a gifted and talented magnet school in one of the canyons in Los Angeles. The County of Los Angeles, our intermediary educational agency was offering a series of $1,000 teacher grants. The application form didn’t look too intimidating. I didn’t have any prior grant writing experience, but at that point I did have ten years of elementary teaching experience. It looked simple enough. The “Application for Innovative Project Funds” consisted of four pages. The first page was a title page. Simple enough. Project title, summary of project, school and district name, and the amount of funds required. It did ask for a phone number. As I look back at that first grant proposal I noticed that in 1983 Los Angeles had only one area code, the first split didn’t occur until later that year. The first page also asked for assurances, a signature from a superintendent and six copies mailed to the Los Angeles County Office of Education. The font on the application is most certainly letter gothic, this was when I was using an Apple II computer and my dot matrix ImageWriter printer too pixilated. I had to settle with using the school secretary’s IBM Selectric typewriter after hours.

The application itself was pretty straightforward. The first section could be no greater than half a page and simply said, “What do you want to do? (Program).” This section was worth thirty points. The second half of the page, worth twenty points asked “How is your program new or different? (Innovation).” Page three asked “What are your objectives and how do you plan to evaluate your results?” This section was worth up to 25 points. The bottom of page three asked, “How will your project benefit other educational personnel in Los Angeles County either directly or indirectly? (Transferability).” This section too was worth ten points. The final page, worth fifteen points asked “Is your project reasonable in cost?

I wrote this grant application with a fellow teacher, Connie Gibson. We brainstormed many ideas and dreamed big. We developed a program that we called Prolific Thinkers. Our thinking skills program would provide educators with a Prolific Thinkers Manual, a resource handbook to help teachers provide fun and innovative thinking lessons for their elementary students. The second part of our program would be a Prolific Thinkers Symposium that would provide teachers with sixteen hours of professional development training. The third part of our program would provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate their learned thinking skills in a Prolific Thinkers Marathon.

Our program’s premise was simply that if we are to remain a nation of innovators, then we must offer our students the opportunity to think critically and creatively. By providing students and teachers with a framework for active problem solving, we would be developing innovative thinkers who will be equipped to generate the solutions to challenging situations. The programs objectives, to provide the framework, inservice teachers, publish the manual and run the marathon were described along with how each part of the program would be evaluated. Providing this program would help educators teach kids how to think. The manual would be sent to each school district in Los Angeles County and the funds would pay for the production of the manual, postage and symposium and marathon supplies.

I remember how ecstatic I was when I learned in early January of that year that our proposal had been funded. When the reality set in, I asked myself what were we thinking? We would now write a manual, publish it, create a professional development class and run a thinking skills marathon – all by June. We somehow did it all, although the $1,000 grant did not cover all of our expenses.

That early grant writing experience was now, as I look back, a life-changing experience. It was my first proposal, my first funded-proposal, and the first of many proposals to follow. The manual eventually became my first co-authored published book distributed by a major educational publisher. The grant led to many workshops, presentations, and conferences.

My advice to those starting out in writing grant proposals is to look for the “small grants.” These mini-grants (and sometimes gifts) are typically under $5,000. They are aimed at classroom teachers and usually supported and funded by local educational agencies, service clubs, and other civic-minded groups. In some areas of the country corporations and foundations may have mini-grant program funds available. These kinds of grants are great places for the beginner to get a start. All other grant writing rules continue to apply. Your grant must be succinct and describe in sufficient detail what you plan to do, how you plan to evaluate what you do, and how you will share what you do with others. The proposal must follow all applicable rules and regulations stated in the grant request. As always, give yourself enough time to prepare the proposal and spend a good amount time of editing what you wrote. When you are successful in the mini-grant process, you will be more than ready to tackle a larger proposal.

Dr. Gary A. Carnow serves as the Director of Technology and Information Services for the Alhambra Unified School District. Dr. Carnow is the co-author of two software products published by Knowledge Adventure. He is also the co-author of three books, Prolific Thinkers (1986, Dale Seymour Publications), Software-in-a-Book: The Cruncher (2001, Teacher Created Materials), and Software-in-a-Book: KidWorks Deluxe (2001, Teacher Created Materials). He has authored numerous publications and learning resources for Apple, IBM, Scholastic, and others.