Culture Check

I fell into Tik Tok at the beginning of quarantine as a way to find quick laughs that didn’t tax my rapidly deteriorating attention span. Around the second week, I started seeing posts with the caption “So I heard we were sharing our cultures” accompanied by the song “Laxed (Siren Beat)” by @Jawsh 685. The videos start with people dancing in casual Western/American attire and then switch to traditional dress of their country or culture.

There’s so much joy in the variations. Some of my favorites are from @monicajoelleo, @notoriouscree, @ abenaakuaba, and @that_brown_couple. Like many other Tik Toks since COVID-19, the videos are increasingly intergenerational. I am so here for this. Celebration, instead of shame. The format allows for a user to showcase more than one heritage or outfit without making it disruptive. There are additional variations, like @asaptuppy offering a Māori interpretation and inviting others to duet with their own traditional dance.  I especially appreciate how the posts don’t center Whiteness; while comments make clear that learning is happening, education and explanation aren’t the point.

Contrast this normalization to Asian Pacific Heritage Month, or Native American Heritage Month, or Black History Month, or whatever other limited time period you want to grant BIPOC and compare it to the rest of the school year.

When it’s not International-Ethnic-World-We’re-Not-Racist-Colonizers Party Day, how welcome are our traditional stories, food, dance, language, and dress in the classroom? How supportive are you of staff and students who suppress themselves so they don’t get mocked for being weird or harassed for not being American enough? Do you teach all staff and students the difference between appropriation and appreciation? Do you shut down the sexualization of  the “exotic”? Are you only an ally in the comfort of your classroom or have you moved for changes in official school policy to support us if it doesn’t already? Do you protect us or pressure us to assimilate?

If a student wears a barong tagalog to your class’s formal meal and another student asks why they are wearing a trash bag, what do you do?

Of course, I have to turn the lens on myself as well. I couldn’t do a Tik Tok culture challenge if I wanted to. I don’t own a Maria Clara or pañuelo. I haven’t worn anything like that in fifteen years. And why not? That stuff is cute! I have always loved how light plays on piña, but I remember how I felt as hearing comments made when I wore Filipino clothing casually out in public.

I don’t need your permission to celebrate my culture, but I don’t need your mess either. Our students definitely don’t need it, what they need is the safety to be themselves. Social media allows people to understand that even if isolated, they are not alone. Would I have those items in my closet already if I’d had Tik Tok as a teenager? I can’t say, but what I can do now is help create a world where we can all be ourselves, authentically and completely.

The last time I wore a kimona: 2005.
My mom and I (right) in 2005, the last time I wore a kimona.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE  to read yesterday’s blog post by Min Pai (and be sure to check out the link at the end of each post to catch up on the rest of the blog circle).



Hashtag Hot Mess

A hashtag is a peculiar thing in that it is defined by the ways it’s used. No one person can claim it because anyone on social media can assign a hashtag to a post. Yet people can be denied full access to a hashtag. For example, (1) when users using web-readers encounter hashtags wherein words are mispronounced due to lack of capitalization or (2) when a user is blocked by a 2nd user, the 2nd user’s tweets will not populate in the hashtag search for the 1st user. I’d further venture to say the meaning of a hashtag can change depending on the platform in play (Twitter vs. Facebook vs. Instagram).

So #OklaEd is mutable (It’s a pun, guys! Too soon?) by nature. Three years ago, I blogged about what #OklaEd meant to me (link) but last night’s edchat compels me to revisit the question.

But, first, a caveat: This post is my hot take. I don’t speak for anyone else or any organization.

#OklaEd, the Twitter hashtag: As stated above, the hashtag can’t be controlled. Even if @OklaEd, “the official Twitter account” describes it as “the hashtag that brings OK educators together. #OklaEd is not political & promotes constructive dialogue”, there’s no way to enforce the mandate. It can be the mission of the edchat, but not the hashtag. The hashtag is simply the collection of posts using the signifier with no reference to relevance (hello, spam). As a user, it’s a tool that I can use with varying degrees of skill (such as refining filters or to reach a wider audience) for various purposes, but I don’t get to tell someone else how they can use it.

#OklaEd, the edchat: every Sunday at 8 pm Central, except Christmas. Every fifth Sunday is the legislative update, moderated by @shawnhime, Executive Director of the Oklahoma State School Boards Association. The chat is organized by @mrsbeck25 and @coach57. To the best of my knowledge, organization means they manage the calendar for the other Sundays. Until this school year, anyone could ask to moderate a Sunday chat with the topic of their choosing. Now, after community feedback, only educators or someone partnered with an educator is able to moderate.

So what’s a moderator do? You come up with enough questions for the hour, usually 7-10. Sometimes you make the pretty graphics but hopefully you type out the questions, too, because ACCESSIBILITY. Most importantly, you keep the conversation going by adapting questions with the flow, retweeting other participants to amplify or ask for clarity.

Yesterday an issue arose where many Oklahoma educators had previously been blocked by one of the moderators @angmlittle. This was a problem because (1) the blocked users wouldn’t be able to fully participate in the chat and (2) the moderator can’t fulfill their role if they can’t see all the responses. I thought the simplest way to patch the problem would be to re-type the questions and post them again to the hashtag so they’d be visible (a retweet would not be visible) as well as screenshot or re-type the responses of the blocked users. After the chat, I thought we’d be able discuss the issue of blocking with input from the chat. I was clearly wrong.

One topic the chat discussed was the effectiveness of working within the system versus working outside of it. I pointed out “Working within the system isn’t a possibility for everyone, especially if the system was designed to keep you out” (link). How ironic that the system of this particular chat was designed to keep particular people out. (Point: the moderator did eventually unblock everyone. Update: @The_Whistle says this is incorrect and not everyone was unblocked.)

My personal thoughts are that while you can’t take away someone’s right to block (and I use that right), it’s a reasonable expectation (from now on) for someone who is voluntarily moderating the #OklaEd chat to unblock everyone for the duration of that particular chat.

But guess what? I’m not in charge so that may or may not happen. Maybe others will agree, maybe not. I can only control myself. My reasons to stay are my own and, yes, they do include that I am one of the few participants of color. If I decide not to participate in the #OklaEd chat, that’s fine. World keep on spinning, hashtag keep on hashing.

Has the chat changed in the years I’ve participated? Yes. That’s what happens in any organization over time (I’m reminded of #MTBoS), never mind the sea change of last year’s walkout.

I think one of the main problems in #OklaEd is the sense that you can’t believe in the worthiness or positive potential of an idea/organization/cause/thing and criticize it at the same time. Surprise! You can. I’ve talked about how #OklaEd has been a positive force in my life, and yet I’ve had to peace out for a spell or two.

Sometimes I think the chats are too shallow, too repetitive, too unwilling to address anti-racism and LGBTQA. I think the people who complain that chats are “too political” or that “being kind” is a panacea…you get the picture. Anyway, please don’t suffer from the illusion that I have glorified #OklaEd. There’s definitely some work to do, but that’s not something I can stuff down people’s throats. What I can and have done is found other spaces, other edchats and communities to join. I may circle back around later because Oklahoma is my home, but it’s also okay if I never participate in #OklaEd chat again; I’ll still be part of #OklaEd.

Another issue of contention was who is the #OklaEd chat for and who gets to participate? Who gets to dictate this? My response is “Who’s going to enforce it?” No one because that’s not how Twitter works. If you’re after a closed discussion, Twitter is simply not the venue for it. Take it to DMs, a private Facebook group, or some other backchannel if that’s what you’re after. There’s no reason to discuss the earlier questions; the point is moot.

Now let’s say you aren’t interested in a particular #OklaEd edchat topic? Scroll on by like the grown person you are. If you’re not interested in any of the topics, the move is to moderate the chat you want want to see (The @s are posted above) or scroll on by.

I will say, however, that public education is a public issue. Why would you try to limit the discussion to educators? How can you reason the exclusion of students and parents? Nihil de nobis, sine nobis; nothing about us without us. I’ve seen lots of discussion on why elected officials have been invited into the edchat, but how are you gonna exclude your neighbors? Who decided we can include educators from other countries and continents in the chat, but not the people who live here? I get the narrative where educators don’t want policy made by people who don’t understand education, but this isn’t lawmaking, it’s an open forum. If you, an individual, don’t want to listen to another individual, that’s okay, but First Amendment says you can’t stop them from talking.

Now First Amendment doesn’t do anything to stop a person from showing their a** on Twitter either…Who’s job is it to police that during an edchat? I’d say the moderator in the chat. I digress.

I support anyone’s decision to leave the #OklaEd edchat or stop using the hashtag (not like you need permission). It’s not like they stop existing with that decision. #OklaEd is many things and it’s not like it will disappear because of any one person.

#OklaEd, the community: is made up of people, the community extends beyond a hashtag (on any platform). The hashtag helps find resources and people, but without the people it’s useless as a 404 error. The hashtag is a tool; the people are who matter. I think there’s a danger in nostalgia, in romanticizing the early days of #OklaEd, the golden time when we all loved each other and only talked about “teaching”. That never happened. We’ve always had tension, differences, and conflicting agendas because the #OklaEd community is made up of people. We were never a monolith, we’ve always been dynamic. We always will be. There are people who just discovered #OklaEd through the rise of advocacy last year and there are people who are part of #OklaEd and don’t know it. It doesn’t make them worth less. I believe in #OklaEd, I believe that Oklahoma educators want our students to become thriving (beautifully complicated) adults.

And yet…

“We all have to unite” sets off my defenses. The tone policing masquerading as righteousness* turned me away as much as the clout chasing. I have no interest in participating in a system where you can’t speak truth to power. This is a crap dismount to a long and winding blog post, but that’s all I’ve got. I’ve got no wisdom, no resolution, no answers. Next week’s chat is “What’s Next for #OklaEd?” and I can’t even predict how that’ll go or if I’ll be there. As Brene Brown would say, my armor is on. I’m not sure how effective I can be with it between us.



*Please consider the NPR’s podcast “Code Switch” episode on “Respect Yourself: What does ‘civility’ look like and who gets to define it? What about ‘respectable’ behavior? This week, we’re looking at how behavior gets policed in public.”


🙌🏾✊🏾 (Hands raised in celebration, resistance)

I wouldn’t wear yellow from the ages of 8 to 35 because my skin was too dark.

If you asked me if I hated my body or appearance, I would have shrugged it off. I’ve never wished for more height, less curves, or sharper cheekbones. My body has always done what it needed to do. I didn’t realize how much I hated the color of my skin until I caught myself mid-text, finger hovering over the brightly colored thumps up emoji.

Well, I’m not Simpsons-yellow. Few people are outside of a comic book or cartoon. It’s probably an effort to be race-neutral, and I’m supposed to be relieved emojis are not white by default. I should be appreciative that in 2015, we were blessed with six shades to choose from. Four years later, the Post-Fenty world deserves better.

Anyway, there I was agonizing over what I will call Brown #2 and Brown #3. I picked the first, lighter color. I deleted the emoji and hesitated. Then I pressed my whole hand up against the phone screen. The darker tone was clearly, plainly, painfully closer to my skin color, but I did not want it.

I’d already overthought using brown emojis with my colleagues. It wasn’t enough that I could practically feel the hypothetical eyerolls directed dead at me for “making race a thing” again, now my own colorism jumped out.

My mom trained me to daily use Eskinol, a ubiquitous Filipino beauty product that “whitens in as early as 1 week.”

Aunties warned me, “Don’t go outside, you’ll get darker.”

As a teenager, our Pinay friends would look from me to my lighter-skinned sister and ask, “Why are you so dark?”

To be dark was to be ugly, unwanted, and unattractive. I was too dark, yet also accused of “acting too white” for reading books and speaking English too well. Caught between the complicity of code-switching and colorism, I buried it all. I stopped hearing it. I refused to wear hats or cover up in the sun, but I also avoided wearing yellow and orange. While I liked the colors, I didn’t like the way they made my skin pop and emphasized the tone.

Intellectually, I understood the preference towards lighter skin was rooted in colonization. Proximity to whiteness signifies power, protection, and privilege; a bias that compounds the Anti-Blackness in the Asian community. Intellectually, I understood it was wrong.

Yet there I was, 35 and struggling over this stupid emoji.

Such a little thing.

Yet these daily “little things” matter and we don’t talk about it enough. My mom still pinches her nose to proudly describe the narrower nose on the Spanish side of her family. I walk down the beauty section at the Filipino store and the models are still all light skin and long straight hair.

My significant other is white. My sister’s children are also white and Korean. Colorism is so insidious, I question how it influenced our romantic choices. Unconscious bias is still bias.

Colonization tells us lies that we believe and tell ourselves; we tell our children. It teaches us how to hate others; it teaches us how to hate ourselves.

Here’s the truth: my skin was never too dark. I believe it. It’s no longer the shallow false peace of suppression. I believe it and not only will I wear whatever color I want, I am going to talk about colorism and the harm we do to our communities when we perpetuate it. WE are going to talk about it it.

This blog post is part of the #31DaysIBPOC Blog Challenge, a month-long movement to feature the voices of indigenous and teachers of color as writers and scholars. Please CLICK HERE to read yesterday’s blog post by Chad Everett.

Love Letter to EdCamp

*Record scratch*
*Freeze frame*

Yup, that’s me!  My first EdCamp, back when I didn’t know how to hashtag. If you’re wondering how I got into that situation:

Now this is a story all about how
My life got flipped-turned upside down
And I’d like to take a minute
Just sit right there
I’ll tell you how I became the prince of a town called Bel-Air
learned to stop worrying and love the bomb
addicted to EdCamp.

Four years ago, I was a computer teacher at Tomlinson Middle School in Lawton and thirsty for professional development. I found Wes Fryer‘s website Moving at the Speed of Creativity through a web search and didn’t even realize he was in Oklahoma (then Yukon, now of Casady) until I noticed the EdCampOKC banner.

I’m gonna mention a lot of people in this post. It’s not to name drop, it’s to illustrate the connections I’ve made through EdCamp and how they have shaped me professionally.

Anyway, back to my story. At the time, one of my main partners in crime was Jen Lamb, a fellow TMS teacher who went on to be Director of Elementary of Math for OSDE and is now an Instructional Coach at Santa Fe South. Jen and I traveled almost two hours to attend our first EdCampOKC. We had no idea what we were doing but were totally cool with that. I remember finding our way to a cafeteria, picking up some swag (I still have my Bloom’s DoK wheel in my office.), and waiting for the yellow-shirted people to start the show. People in matching outfits always know what’s going on, right?

Someone gave an inspirational opener, maybe stood on a table. We were introduced to the two tenets of EdCamp:

  1. Participants build the schedule there.
  2. Let your feet do the talking. If you find yourself in a session, you don’t like, get up, and find one that is better for you.

Then they pointed out a huge butcher block sheet of paper with a grid and told us to have at it. Jen took the pic below. When I saw it pop up on my Facebook memories a few days ago, I was stunned to realize it was a picture of Beth Richert, who I would later work with at Clinton Public Schools.


I don’t remember if I wrote anything on the board. It didn’t really matter, though, because I still got what I needed.

Beth facilitated my first session on Google Apps for Education. At first, I was super distracted because of the room. I had never seen trapezoid desks before and I wanted them. I probably took twenty pictures of those desks and all the different arrangements before I realized what Beth was saying: People could type on the same file at the same time!  I was, as the kids say, shook. I am not exaggerating when I tell you it changed my life. My brain immediately went crazy with the classroom collaboration possibilities. I am told I walked into my librarian’s office (That’s Kris Burd. I like to think we mutually enable each other.) the next Monday with some kind of crazy fire in my eyes and said, “We’re doing this.” We did it and four years later, Tomlinson has taken G Suite for Education (new name, same awesomeness)  and run away with it. My EdCamp experience touched thousands of students from just one session.

(There’s this whole other story where I became a Google Certified Trainer and got networked with an international group of fellow nerds, but it’s boring. The important part takeaway is EdCamp -> International Personalized Learning Network.)

I remember learning how to make a QR code and how to attach it to an audio file (RIP Audioboo). I think that was also where I was introduced to Claudia Swisher and Jason Stephenson in “Reading for Pleasure” and used TodaysMeet, the backchannel tool, for the first time. I remember an intense discussion on how to retain our veteran teachers. Most importantly, I remember leaving  with a To-Do List and the determination to cross off every single thing on it. I was energized and refreshed in that way teachers need or they burn out.

It was MAGICAL, I tell you. Was every session a hit for me? No, but as I became comfortable enough to walk out of the misses, it didn’t matter. I got what I needed. Did every session have someone that influenced me so much we became besties? No, but there were people that now I feel comfortable reaching out to for advice and feedback when I need it. (Poor Jun Kim , Director of Technology for Moore Public Schools, was the recipient of several of desperate cries for help.) Eventually, when I learned about #oklaed after the second EdcampOKC (I was not in the room where it happened), my PLN did become part of my daily life. Not to be too sentimental, but I met educators who would become some of my favorite people, real friends I could call, text, or hold whole conversations with in Bitmoji. They not only provide insight because they know how schools work, but do so from a distance that keeps our discussions from degenerating into mere whine fests. (Although, sometimes, there is wine.)

I joined the organizer team for EdcampOKC 2015 and my PLN has only gotten better. The organizer team is a diverse group of educators from all over the state even though the event is in Oklahoma City. Seriously, I was in Lawton. Erin Barnes is in Sapulpa, Kevin Hime and Anne Beck represented Clinton, and Tammy Parks lives in Howe. I would probably not know them without EdCamp. Now, some of us only see each other at the actual camp but others, I see more times outside of the state of Oklahoma. Even when some of us move across the state, it doesn’t matter because we’re still connected.


As an Oklahoma teacher, I deeply feel we need to be connected to other educators. We especially need to be around people who know the mission, who realize the kids are the mission, and do the work despite all the crap we are fighting (I’m looking at you, Oklahoma legislators). Whether it’s new ideas, a kick to the butt, or a morale boost, EdCamp gives me what I need. This is why I love EdCamp: it isn’t about the prizes, it’s about the connections and conversations* EdCamp makes possible.

I hope to see you there.




*riffing off Anne Beck here who said, “[Edcamp] is not about products, it’s about conversations.”

What Does #OklaEd Mean to Me?

OklaEd.pngAbout a million years after Scott Haselwood (@TeachFromHere) put out the call for people to reflect upon the impact of #OklaEd, I’m finally posting my response…which kind of came out like a love letter…

Mirror: I read back through my tweets, not out of conceit, but to check myself. Am I posting what’s real and true, good and bad? Am I living all those clever memes and well-intentioned quotes? Is what I say in the quick heat of a Sunday #OklaEd chat authentic to what I actually do? There’s no time in an edchat to prevaricate and sometimes those questions are hard, man. I’m pretty sure I’m looked through a storify and questioned, “Really? That’s your initial response?,” reflected (pun), and then thought, “Yeah, that is definitely what I think.”

Platform: #OklaEd is a platform to share what’s going on in my classroom and district. We all have our passions and this the place to let your flag fly. I remember a recent conversation @ChrisParadise and @JMaxey1  about essential Makerspace supplies – a conversation that I actually felt comfortable butting in on because of the reputations they’ve built sharing their own classrooms on #OklaEd.

Resource: I’ve never been one to linger in confusion so I ask a lot of questions. Even with a Master of Education, as an alt cert teacher, I have a lot of gaps. Through #OklaEd, I am able to take advantage of knowledgeable people like @DrTerriOU, @KelliAnglley, and @CalypsoGilstrap.

Recharge: We all get down. At several points in my teaching career I have just felt worn smooth out. Being part of #OklaEd can take me beyond my site (because sometimes the whole building is just worn down and out, you know?) to experience the positive energy going on in other parts of the state. This last fall, @MrsDSings has been like my spirit animal either lifting me up with her ebullience or lifting me out of my brood by eloquently expressing my rage!despair!frustration in a timely blog post.

Inspiration: If you know me, you know my brain goes a gabillion miles an hour and I like to connect with other people who make their ideas happen. Through #OklaEd, I’ve been inspired by rock & rollers across the state including @MrP_tchr, @MrsBeck25, and @elynnhlll. It’s also helped me keep up the Mutual Admiration Society with @ladywolf2014

Battle Cry: I’m gonna be honest here and say that I’ve blacked out my social media a lot this legislative season because it was like Crisis! on top of CRISIS! If it wasn’t for the fervent (and persistent) calls to action from  @ClaudiaSwisher,  @BlueCerealEducation, @Grendelrick, @Edgeblogger, @angmlittle, @coach57@mrsthornbrough, @mrsveldhuizen, and @bridgestyler I’d’ve checked out even more. Beyond being passionate (and, ya know, right) it’s the diversity of their personalities that really appeals to me. I see their words and then I am moved to make my own even though I feel like my representative and senator should know by now exactly how I feel.

Opportunity: I love being a part of something bigger than myself. Twitter allows me to share what I love and do it by being my own weird self. Participating in #OklaEd’s afforded me a lot of chances to make a difference. I’m even pretty sure I wouldn’t have my current job if I hadn’t jumped headfirst into #OklaEd – not too shabby for a hashtag.

PS- I tagged a ton of people in this. If I left someone out, you’re still awesome.

Conversations About Ahmed: Student Quotes from Class Discussion

Today my class went rogue on our lesson plan to discuss #IStandWithAhmed. I’m not going to sum up the event, but will point out the Washington Post article, @IStandWithAhmed Twitter account, and Ahmed Mohamed Wikipedia entry. I will also say that it was difficult to find any resources without bias; most publications were heavily in favor of the young man. I would have preferred a more Joe Friday “Just the facts, ma’am” account, but we make do, right?

I asked them several questions including:

  • What would you expect if you made a clock at home and brought it to school to show me or another teacher?
  • Why was this important enough to change our lesson plans for the day?
  • What do you think will happen next?
  • Do you think the hashtag will matter around in a year?
  • What does this have to do with you?

Mostly I tried to shut up since one of the hardest things is to listen. Sometimes the conversation got out of control and we need to work on that, but I would like to say one of the greatest moments of today was that by the end of one class, all the students had moved forward and closer to each other as the conversation became more involved.

In any case, I’d like to share  some unedited quotes from my students’ conversations. They come from grades 6-8, ages 11-14.

  • “They were wrong to assume, they didn’t check it out.”
  • “The teacher could have asked him to examine it.”
  • “He looks confused. If he really wanted to do harm, he would have known what he was doing, he wouldn’t look so confused.
  • “No kid that wants to blow up a school wears glasses and a NASA shirt.”
  • “They’re stereotyping him because of his race and he’s Muslim.”
  • “People are accusing of each other of being racist.”
  • “He probably wasn’t even Muslim because a lot of them weren’t Muslim, he was just Indian. Some people aren’t really Muslim.” “You can’t tell they’re Muslim because of the way they look.”
  • “No one knows their human rights anymore. I’ve been reading about this because I am so heated. They need to teach us about human rights.” “They feel we don’t need to know about it because they feel like we’re not mature enough.”
  • “I don’t know who the man is. I just know he’s making our decisions.”
  • “I thought they at least should have investigated and looked in his room and disabled it and reassembled it and figured out stuff before they arrested him.”
  • “At least my cousin isn’t Osama.” [discussing comments made to one of our Muslim students, not in the class)
  • “It would have taken 5 freaking minutes to check. It’s not that hard.”
  • “People like him are geniuses. He’ll grow up to be like Albert Einstein.”
  • “I think he shouldn’t’ve brought the clock to school. He should have asked to bring it to school.” “Even if he asked first, they would have thought the same thing. That it was a bomb.”
  • “But isn’t the numbers supposed to go down? On a bomb? I think the numbers on my clock go up.”
  • -“If a regular white student brought it in, they wouldn’t think he did anything wrong.”
  • “He looked terrified.”
  • “I think the teacher should be fired.” “Why? The teacher did what was right.”
  • “The teacher was racist or didn’t like him.”
  • “How did he get through security?”
  • “With stuff happening around the world, they have to be careful. An ISIS official made a threat saying they would send half a million soldiers to attack Europe and the U.S. when we least expected it. Then you have thousands of Syrian refugees coming here and to Europe that are mostly men with a few women and children.However, they aren’t your average sickly, ill refugees. This are built, strong men who could all be ISIS soldiers. So, by welcoming them here without question and open arms is upsetting so many people. The U.S. government is planning to feed 10,000 of the, which is upsetting U.S. citizens because there are so many of are people that are homeless and starving that aren’t being helped.”
  • “I think it’s stupid. It’s just a judgment call. There’s nothing connected to it that would explode. People just assume it’s all technical and a bomb. It makes kids…it was racial profiling.”
  • “In this day and age, everyone wants to make the world a worse place.”
  • “We’re getting to an age where we’re curious and want to build stuff but we could get accused of trying to make bombs and stuff.”
  • “I think the race doesn’t matter to the teachers. I think the media made it a big deal.”
  • “I feel like it was a good thing that the whole situation was blown out of proportion because it has brought more awareness to things of this nature: racial profiling, religious profiling…”
  • “They could have at least called his parents.”
  • “Even if he explained it, they don’t know what a bomb is made of or what a clock is made of, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
  • “Over the summer, we had #BlackLivesMatter and this is kind of like the same thing. After 9/11, people got a lot more racist against those people so I’m not gonna lie, I don’t think bringing the clock to school was a good idea but it makes sense to ask first because that would have cleared some stuff up.”
  • “I think they shouldn’t have arrested him without letting him show it off.”

PS- My students were very excited that I would post some of their quotes on Twitter.

Okay, I Have a Dream. Now How Do I Fund It? Tips for the Beginning Classroom Grant Writer

I started grant writing out of the ugly desperation of a $9 budget versus my students’ expectations of technological glory. We had floppy drives in 21st century and they wanted to make stuff. For awhile, I brought in a lot of my own personal equipment but there comes a time when you have to stop that or quit teaching. After a few years, it was pretty much, “Well, what’s the worst that could happen? It’s not like we’re gonna lose money.”

Several thousand dollars and a truly epic room makeover later, my students’ dreams have only grown in glory (kids are crazy like that) so we’re still writing and we seem to be winning more often than not. Dr. Terri Cullen (@DrTerriOU) described it as “snowballing”; I like think it’s because we are improving with practice.

I am pretty sure there are people who are better at grant writing than me; I go for grants that are $10,000 or less. Maybe one day I’ll tackle a biggie but, for now, I am happy with how the smaller size ones add up. (2010 me’s jaw just dropped thinking of $10,000 as small potatoes.) I’ve been getting asked for tips lately. In fact, I presented beginning grant writing at Podstock (resource) in Kansas last week so it seemed the right time to put it all out there and blog. While I can’t guarantee that what works for me will work for everyone, it’s not going to stop me from sharing my top 10 in hopes that it might.

10. Dream, in parts

The overall vision for “The @ction Lab” (yes, I named my classroom) is to put the “laboratory” back into computer lab by turning it into a creative space for collaboration, experimentation, and discovery. It’s an awesome vision, right? But expensive. Rather than put all my eggs into a basket and tackle a big grant, we were able to break our dream down into discrete parts and then write small grants for each project. It’s good to write them as standalone projects because they are easier for you to describe and the grant readers to digest (just because you have the whole big picture doesn’t mean you have to tell all about on every grant). If your district has a foundation, I would recommend writing for them since your competition is limited.

I like small grants. When you start small, you get a chance to really build up your confidence and skills. For example, you learn how to manage your grant money. It’s important to learn the particular ins and outs of money in your district: Is there someone you need permission from before you can apply for a grant? Are you allowed to write for matching funds? (Matching funds is when you win a grant for a certain amount of money, but your district needs to come up with an equal amount in order to fund the project.) Are there limitations on items you are allowed to include in your budget? Find out and be sure to keep documentation. I once almost lost $7500 because my budget approval got lost somewhere in the chain. Luckily, I never delete emails.

Some grants give you a lot of freedom while others only allow you to spend the money on field trips or professional development. Having your big picture/vision/dream is important in order for you to spend your money strategically.

9. Sell it

I am not great at self-promotion but I realize that you have to sell the project. If you can’t explain why your project is significant then why should people give you money? I would emphasize the significance and not your Tale of Woe. Most schools are struggling right now so you can’t depend on that to make a grant organization pick you; you have to make your project/school/class stand out and especially stand out as an entity that will succeed.

I’d also like you to consider The Cute Name. It is a truth that I tried to deny, but I can fight no longer: Giving your project a catchy, even pun-y, title is worth it. I’m not sure if it’s simply something that sticks in the head of grant readers but if you can come up with a good title, do it.

8. Read the directions

This one seemed pretty obvious to me, but then I started reading grant applications and was stunned by the sheer amount of recklessness. I have read fourth grade essays with a better grasp of parameters and appropriateness. If you are applying for a grant, read the directions. Read ALL the directions because every grant is different. I admit I keep a list of projects (and a wishlist of items with prices) and try to fit grants to them, but you still have follow the directions and adjust accordingly. You may want to look for things like budget. Is there a budget or are they just giving you product? If there is a budget, are you allowed to change it later? If something goes on sale, can you spend the difference on more stuff? Are there limits on vendors? Can you spend the money on stipends? If you have questions, I would not hesitate to contact the grant organization. I call and email frequently and no one’s blocked me yet. In fact, I sometimes get great unasked for advice.

7. Research the grant and grantees

Most organizations are getting good karma for giving away their money so there should be a lot of promotional material for you to review from past winners. Sometimes you get really lucky and they even give you a case study. I recommend reading everything you can about the grant and grant winners. Look for patterns and try to reflect specific terms used in the grant documentation.

I am something of a persistent stalker (ask my principal) and have also been known to contact grant winners for their proposals and/or advice. Everyone has been cool about it. If you ask me about a specific grant, I will usually give you a copy of my proposal. I don’t think that anyone is looking to copy proposals, it’s just comforting to see what has been accepted.

6. Don’t be afraid to go sideways

STEM and physical fitness seem to be the main grant “hooks” I see lately. I teach computers but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to apply for a physical fitness grant. An art teacher can apply for a math grant; a math teacher can apply for an art grant as long as the project fits the grant. If you can make it work, do it.

5. Sustainability

I’m dying to do a wearables project with kids making bracelets with LEDs. Unfortunately, most of the STEM grants I find want projects that will be sustainable. The wearables project is all consumables; I could do the project for one year and then I’d be out of material. So even though the bracelets are #1 on my list, I wrote the grant for a drone because the drone will be used for years. I’m still looking for the right grant for wearables.

4. Know who’s judging you

Some grants go through several rounds. For example, the first round might be grants read by teachers and other volunteers scoring by rubrics. The second round might be foundation members arguing without a rubric. Sometimes the grant organization tells you how you are being judged; if they don’t tell you, ask.

We all know that there are buzz words in education: PBL, STEM, active learning, and so on. If your grant is being read by educators and you are using buzz words, you better know what they mean and use them correctly. If your grant is being read by non-educators, you need to stay away from the jargon and explain yourself clearly. Remember, you are writing for understanding not to prove how clever you are.

3. Give options

I learned this from another grant writer. Imagine you have an organization that gives away its yearly bucket of money until its gone and they only have $2000 left at the end of the day. They throw out all the grant applications over $2000. There’s two grants left and you wrote for $3000 because they said you could write up to $5000. Boo! If the grant application allows for it, write budgets for different levels and make sure that each level is a complete project in itself. Last year, I wrote a grant with options for $1,500 and $4,000 and got $3,000.

Voya Unsung Heroes actually requires you to write for different tiers of $2,000, $5,000, $10,000, and $25,000.

2. Cold reader + 1

I usually have a lot of people read my grants before applying but I recommend a minimum of 2: a cold reader and a non-educator. To me, a cold reader is someone who is reading it cold. They have never heard you talk about it before so they aren’t filling in information you didn’t actually write. If you are lucky enough to have a rubric, give your cold reader the rubric and have them score you.

I would also suggest you have one person read for content and another for writing. Several grant organizations have stated that if it is between two grants of equal merit, they are going to the one with better writing.

Frankly, I have students read through my grants (this is probably why I switch between singular and plural possessive). They are the most honest readers you will ever have. For serious.

1. Follow through

Many moons ago, when I was fresh and new, I won a Donors Choose grant. It was the year that Stephen Colbert promised to sing Rebecca Black’s “Friday” if so many Donors Choose projects were funded by his fans (Video). Well, I was one of the lucky beneficiaries and got Flip cameras (RIP). However, I didn’t send all my thank you letters to my awesome donors. I was young. It was the end of the year. I was moving classrooms. Wah, wah, wah. I didn’t do it. Now I am unable to ever use Donors Choose and let me tell you I am sorry about that. Learn from my mistakes!

Now I make duplicates, I keep receipts, I have thank you cards -the whole shebang. I know better. You must follow through, especially because it can sometimes have consequences. For instance, if you do not complete the post-fellowship reporting for Fund for Teachers, they will tell the IRS that the money is income and then you have to pay taxes on it.

On the bright side, if you follow through spectacularly, it can lead to more money! The money could be from the same organization because you’ve proven yourself trustworthy. The money could come from a new organization because you have a proven track record. Either way, you win.

I’m at the point where I can juggle a few grants at a time and still follow through on my obligations. It helps that I keep a 3-year plan of grant cycles and when I want to apply for certain ones (#listersgottalist) to help stay balanced.

Okay, phew, I’m done now. I hope someone actually reads this and I hope you get to do something awesome with grant money this year. If you do and I helped, drop me a line!