I’m a big advocate of furthering your education, no matter what your profession is or what age you are in life. If you stop learning, growing, and changing, what kind of life are you really living? It seems appropriate that teachers have a wealth of professional development opportunities and many states, mine included, require a certain amount of continuing learning credits to stay certified. Two impediments to attending great PD sessions, however, are, as always, time and money. Summer can be a perfect time for teachers to further their own learning, and grants are one way to alleviate the financial burden.
Making a Case for Professional Development
Nine studies show teachers that receive substantial professional development increase their students’ scores by 21 percentile points.
Reformists say most districts provide opportunities; but most professional development is fragmented, short-term, and rarely focused on curriculum for students. Meaning? If you want something done right, you will have to do it yourself.
Finding Professional Development Opportunities
If I’m honest, I’ve been to workshops that have bored me to tears and that I would have done anything to get out of. We’ve all had poor experiences that leave us drowsy, brain-dead, and running for the hills. The key to good PD is finding something that interests you, with skilled presenters who engage you in the learning process. Think about how you like to learn. Are you ok with sitting in a huge lecture hall all day, or would you rather find short and intimate sessions? Are you interested in intense subject-specific matters, or would you rather bounce between topics? Knowing your own preferences can help pick the best conference or workshop for you.
Most districts and states keep an online calendar of opportunities, though regional or national opportunities can be fun and rewarding as well. Getting out of your own area and speaking to educators around the country can be eye-opening and reassuring all in one. Find conferences for your interest through online searches. EdWeek offers a comprehensive online search for professional development. Staff Development for Educators runs some of the largest conferences in the country with top speakers and fun locations. Check with national associations that meet your needs for national and regional conferences, like National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), ASCD, and National Art Education Association (NAEA). Any organization or topic that interests you, probably has a conference. Do a little digging and you’ll be drooling over the wealth of opportunities. If you prefer to learn in your pajamas, Annenberg Learner and Scholastic Professional have online videos and lessons for learning.
Funding Your Travels
Great PD can often come with a great price tag to match. The cost of a conference can be hundreds of dollars, not to mention the travel costs. While some conferences will cover your meals, you still have to figure in the price of exploring, parking at the airport, and those exhibit hall deals you can’t pass up. If you get sticker shock, it’s time to think about ways to fund your adventures.
Ask and You Shall Receive
Schools usually have a professional development budget. It varies greatly, but find out if funds exist. Sometimes just speaking up and proving the impact your learning can have is all it takes to get a trip paid for. Offer to give a mini-session back at school to the other teachers or plan a themed parent night. Other opportunities, such as the Send My Teacher program from the Mickelson ExxonMobil Teacher’s Academy, require a short essay response. If chosen, teachers receive world-class STEM instruction at the company’s expense. Just ask!
Become an Expert
Often presenters have fees for conferences waived. Can you speak for an hour about great ideas in your classroom? Do you have a unique perspective? Is the “hot” topic something you’ve taught for years? Look for “call for presenter” notices in association newsletters, magazines, and websites. You usually need only to provide a rough idea of your presentation topic and show that you are knowledgeable. Attending “train the trainer” events immerses you in a subject and then certifies you to teach others as well. Look at you, fancy pants!
Get a Grant
Education grants exist for nearly everything. While sites like DonorsChoose.org match teachers to funds for the classroom, others are willing to raise the education of our teachers and pay for your professional development. The National Association for Teachers offers grant opportunities to fund professional development. Teaching Today has a list of grant opportunities for teachers. Government agencies, like the U.S. Department of Education, and many professional associations offer teacher funding as well. One grant I received was to attend the Jump$tart National Education Conference and it was funded by a local bank. Search for your interests and there is a grant to match — guaranteed.
Grant Writing Made Simple
Grant writing is not nearly as daunting as it sounds. Most grant givers are just looking to match the opportunity with the right person. Often, grants have prefabricated forms that you simply fill in. Here are five simple steps to making your grant stand out and be a winner every time:
State the obvious. Explicitly say that you need this grant and why. Anyone can say their kids would love to learn XYZ, but you will stand out when you show a true need. Don’t say you would love to visit Las Vegas for free, say how the conference objectives match needs in your school and classroom.
Be explicit. If you are answering questions, give quantitative data and facts. Bleeding hearts have a time and place, but everyone really, really loves kids and everyone really, really wants to have this opportunity. Show it with numbers and data. If the grant asks for how money will be spent, show your calculations. This is a business opportunity, not a chance for companies to throw money out there.
Be an editor. If a grant says to write in 300 words, don’t use 302. If they say use single-spacing, do it. It is easy to sift through applications and toss out everyone who can’t follow directions. Even if you are typing online, copy and paste to a text editor and spell-check. Watch your grammar. You are an educator and no one will fund an illiterate teacher.
Extend the learning. Even if it isn’t asked for, find a chance to say that you are extending the learning to others. How can you share this information you learn with collegues? How can you take this opportunity and expand on it in your school? Can your class do something that impacts others after this opportunity? Showing that by paying for you they are reaching many more is important.
Still unsure? Grant writing sites are endless. K12Grants.org offers tips for teachers writing grants for the first time. If professional development isn’t what you are after, companies offer goodies of all types for teachers. Brands like Crayola, Toyota, Lowes, Target, and even U.S. Airways offer thousands of dollars in classroom supplies, field trip funds, and more. All for the taking if you just ask the right way!
Make the Most of It
Once you get an opportunity, make the most of it. Sure, skip out on the so-so breakfast session in favor of a local cafÃÂ©, but commit to the experience. Take notes, take pictures, and make contacts. Professional development is only as valuable as you make it. Being an active participant, and yes, that means turning off the cell phone surfing for a few hours, will refresh and inspire you.
What are the best professional development opportunities you’ve attended? How are they funded? Do you know of any great grants to share with others?