Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Importance of Respect When Working Collaboratively with Others

Several years, I visited a new church. It was an inviting place to be - the people were nice, the chairs were comfortable. Then the minister began to talk. He spent 30 minutes or so chastising the congregation because there weren't more people there. I remember thinking, "Does he realize that he's upset with the wrong crowd?" Needless to say, I never returned to that church.

This weekend, I had a similar experience at a Youth Substance Abuse Summit I attended. I was invited to attend, as were there other 80 - 100 people who were there representing 6 or 7 different communities. We were there to explore ways we could collaborate to decrease youth substance abuse.

We heard some good speakers who shared some excellent information. Then we were sent off to work in community groups to come up with action plans for addressing the issue that we would continue to implement long after the summit activities ended.

In my community group, we had some good discussions. We went back and forth on several issues, and we struggled with finding a good starting point. Many of group left early (it was a Saturday, after all!). Our facilitator was a bit inexperienced, but she did her best to keep us moving forward. I admire her efforts because keeping us on track was probably a little like herding kittens. As we approached the end of the day, we had a plan to meet again and a priority list of issues we would address. Not bad.

Then, with 30 minutes left to go, a new facilitator came in the room and starting chastising us for all that we had not accomplished on that day. He said some rather inappropriate and untrue things about our community. He spoke to the group harshly and cruelly. In the end, all of the good will and excitement that had been built up over the past 24 hours was gone.

As you can imagine, I was angry. I was a bit upset about some of the things he said about our community that were not true (clearly, he has not been involved with the work in our community in recent years and months), but I was most upset about the way he treated those dedicated and hardworking people who were volunteering their time on a Saturday to do something good for their community.

The people he was most upset with were all the people who were not in room, but he took it out on the dedicated folks who were hanging in and working to the end of the day.

We expressed our frustration about what had happened with the organizers of the summit, but in the end, we have decided to let it go. We know that we are planning to move forward with the work in our community. We know we have done good work thus far. We know the really hard work lays ahead.

Here's the lesson I pulled from this experience ---Organizations are working collaboratively with other organizations more than ever. Not only is a collaborative approach the best way to leverage the most existing resources within a community, but most state and federal grants (and many private grants) now require inter-agency collaboration as a condition of funding.

How are we treating our collaborative parnters?

Are we showing them the respect they deserve for giving of their time and energy to help the effort?

Are we showing respect for their dedication to their community?

If not, it's time for an attitude adjustment. Remember, working with groups of people and agency representatives is not easy. Tasks that seem like they should be simple can take much longer than we expect. The discussions we have with our partners as we negotiate details and ideas are extremely important in paving the way for future progress.

Now, I could choose not to go back to that church were I was chastised years ago, but I cannot (I will not) choose to walk away from my own community. Collaborative partners simply must find a way to work together. We must get passed the petty hurts and offenses and keep moving forward - together. The stakes for our children are too high to let someone who is ill-informed and rude throw us off track.

The gift I got this weekend was a reminder about the importance of treating my fellow community members with respect.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What You Need To Know About Grants.Gov

O.k., I'll admit it. I was not very fond of when it first came out. It was glitchy. It was cumbersome. It cramped my creative style.

Things have changed. Not only have major improvements been made to the whole system, but I have adjusted to change...and now I embrace it. It helps that I have no choice.

What is It is the online source for finding and applying for federal grants. Most, although not quite all, federal grants must now be submitted through the website.

Here are some important things for you to know about

  • Your organization must be registered on prior to submitting a federal grant through the system. Registration is not too difficult, but it is a multi-step process that can take up to a week to complete. If you think you might want to consider submitting a federal grant this year, I highly recommend that you register now. Waiting until the wee before your grant is due is a bad idea.
  • If you were registered in the past, you may need to update your registration. Log on to the system and make sure that your registration is still valid. Update any authorized users and email addresses that need to be updated.
  • has a new blog now with some nifty information. It is definitely worth checking out. For example, today I learned that there are 165 different grants closing on September 30/October 1 (63 for HHS and 101 for EPA). The system is going to be really busy (translation = expect long upload times and glitches), so we should all plan on submitting our applications early.
  • You can sign up on the website to have notifications of all new grant announcements sent to you via email. You have to wade through announcements for pesticide grants and loads of medical research grants, but it also gives you access to the announcements you want as soon as they come out.
  • The website now has an RSS feed so you can subscribe to find out about any updates to the website as they happen.

If you are even remotely thinking about applying for federal grants, you should check out Accept it. You'll be happier.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Learning the Wii Way

I bought a Nintendo Wii today. I had been holding out for months, in spite of my teenager's black-belt level of whining and begging. What changed my mind?

Last week, I heard about an after school program in northern California that had purchased a Wii system. Now, the context in which I heard about the purchase was interesting. It was shared with me that some school administrators were questioning the value of such a purchase. I can almost hear the conversation...

'At a time when budgets have been cut and funds are low, and everyone is being asked to be a bit more frugal than usual, can we really justify spending money on a video game system? Don't we need books and other real instructional materials?'

But the second I heard about the purchase, I knew it was genius. In fact, I can't think of any other school-related expenditure that would guarantee a better return on investment (ROI).

Here's why:
  • It's hard enough to motivate junior high and high school students to attend after school programs. Since Wii is all the rage right now, it seems like it would be a great motivator for attendance...and for participation in general ('If you get your homework done, there may be some time for Wii...').
  • At a time when childhood obesity is at an all time high, and experts are searching for ways to combat it, an activity that kids like that also gets them moving can't be a bad thing, right? And the youth attending the after school program are the ones who most need the additional motivation for physical activity. The athletes are already in sports. The teenagers who are not in organized sports get little physical activity. Wii could really make a difference for some of them.
  • We know from research that some kids learn best when they can be physically involved in their learning. Wii, and the huge assortment of Wii games, can provide a unique opportunity in that area.

Video games have typically been a stationary, and often solitary, activity. Yes, I know all about online games and even the hybrid of video system/online games, but most kids don't have access to those, and those youth who need additional academic support and participate in state and federally-funded after school programs are typically the ones who do not have the resources to afford those systems.

So, the news about this school's purchase got me thinking. . .

and I bought a Wii.

For five hours this afternoon, my 16-year-old, my 4-year-old, and I played video games. We laughed, we sweated, we moaned when it was time to stop. In what other world (other than this virtual Wii world) could the 4-year-old take on the 16-year-old in a boxing match - and have a chance to win? We all burned a few calories and had a great time together.

I have never been a big supporter of video games, but this was different.

We spend a lot of time in education trying to get young people to come into our world of print and mathematics, and we usually do it in ways that are not very engaging.

Maybe we should all spend a little more time in their world. We may all learn more.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Disadvantaged by Expectations

I attended a school board meeting last night where I observed a presentation made by several school administrators about the 2008 summer school program in that district. There were three separate programs there - a k-6 program, an Algebra Academy summer program for students in grades 5-8, and a 7-12 program.

The Algebra Academy program looked spectacular. Students who had scored proficient or advanced on the previous year's California Standards Test were invited to participate. The Academy ran all morning on the days it was in session, and students progressed through a series of 35 minute class sessions with no real breaks. The teachers were math experts who love teaching math. The sessions were exciting and interactive. Students were using manipulatives, playing math games, and building things. In short, they were having a blast--while they were learning!

Then we heard about the traditional summer program for students in grades 7-12. The program was designed for students with Ds and Fs who needed to retake a course or two, or get some additional tutoring to pass the California High School Exit Exam. The presentation talked about attendance and students completing "essential assignments." Overall, it looked like the program was successful because high percentages of students passed their courses, but it was clear that neither the content of the program or the methods employed by the teachers were anything like the Algebra Academy.

Here are the questions that were running through my mind after the presentation:

Don't the students who have been struggling with grades deserve an exciting, engaging program, too? Don't they actually need it to succeed?

Why should engaging teaching methods be reserved as a reward for students who have demonstrated that they can succeed with more traditional methods?

If all teachers during the regular school year employed the type of hands-on, motivating teaching techniques used during the Algebra Academy, wouldn't there be fewer students with Ds and Fs? Wouldn't overall attendance also be better? Wouldn't fewer kids drop out of school?

Why do we expect that students who have performed better in response to traditional, less interactive teaching methods need more creative methods to really excel and keep from getting bored, yet we assume that those who have not performed well in response to traditional methods need more of the same to "get it right?"

I completely understand the challenges associated with motivating students in today's secondary schools, and I also understand the challenges associated with teaching to standards and preparing students for exit exams and proficiency tests. However, the expectations of most schools regarding which students need which teaching methods is completely confused.

The more advanced students absolutely should have access to creative, innovative programs and engaging teaching methods.

All students should have access to those programs and methods all the time.

Students who are disengaged from school and getting Ds and Fs know what most educators think about them and what they expect from them. Eventually, they will adopt those same expectations for themselves. By high school, most of them have already.

The current approach will continue to disadvantage those who are already disconnected from the schooling process and traditional methods.

Restructuring programs for struggling students is difficult. It demands much more of administrators and teachers. Most importantly, it requires the courage to advocate for an instructional approach that takes more energy to implement and bucks up against over 150 years of tradition in secondary education.

Who will have the courage to do it differently?

Monday, September 8, 2008

Welcome to the New Year!

O.K., it's September and most people think the new year starts in January. However, if you work with schools, you know exactly what I am talking about. The new year starts in August or September, right?

As we start the new year, I thought I'd take a few minutes to let you know what you can expect from the Grant Goddess Blog this year.

1) The main purpose of the blog is to provide updated and current information and advice about grant writing and program evaluation. The blog goes hand-in-hand with the Grant Goddess website, so please don't just check one and not the other. There are links to the website on the right hand side of the blog, and you can access the blog from the website by clicking on the button on the navigation bar that says, "Blog" (catchy, no?).

2) The difference between the blog and the articles on the website is that the blog is much less formal and more closely linked to our everyday work here at Creative School Resources & Research. As issues come up in our work, we'll post articles to the blog. Those concepts may be expanded on in website articles, but you can rest assured that there will not be any duplicate content.

3) I will be making a concentrated effort to post at least several times a week (dare I say every day?). If you have questions or comments, please comment to posts. I would love to hear from you and I will respond.

4) While there are some links to other resources on the website, our first discussion of cool resources for grant writing and evaluation will come on the blog. This is also a great reason to subscribe to the RSS feed for the blog so you can know when new content is added right away. You can also check it every day.

Here's to an exciting new year!

About Creative Resources & Research

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Woodland, CA, United States
Creative Resources and Research is a consulting firm specializing in grant writing, grant seeking, program evaluation and professional development training. We have worked with hundreds of clients including public and private schools, school districts, universities, non-profit organizations, and social service agencies throughout California, securing over $155 million from federal, state and private foundation funding sources over the past decade. Our primary grant writers and program evaluators have over 50 years of combined experience in the education and social services fields. At CRR we prefer a personal approach to the clients we work with; by developing long term relationships, we are better suited to match client’s needs with available funding sources. We provide a variety of services to help assist you, including grant writing, evaluation consulting, professional development opportunities, and workshops.