"Whatever you think you can do, or believe you can do, begin it, because action has magic, grace, and power in it." Goethe

1 Comment

Teachers: Go get that Grant! Five Tips for Writing Successful Grant Proposals

It’s Tuesday, and that means I’m sharing some kind of tip…usually a teaching one… I think. That’s the plan for today. We’ll see how it goes.

Today, I’m sharing tips on how to write a successful grant. If you are a teacher, you know that there are opportunities throughout the year to apply for grants.  There is an email about a funding opportunity in my inbox at this very moment. Don’t leave that money on the table! (If you aren’t a teacher, you might still find some of these tips helpful).
I’ve been lucky enough to receive quite a few grants through the years, and I have been able to help my colleagues get a few, too. When I finally sat down to break down the process, here is what I learned:


1. Decide what you want. Try to convey it in way that is interesting, has potential to engage students, and will enhance learning. Catchy titles help, but you must have more than that to get a proposal funded. After you decide what you want to do, think of every subject area that is involved. Consider writing a lesson plan that includes the materials you need. Do you see some other uses for these same materials? Are any of the items reusable? Include this information in your proposal!

2. Guidelines and deadlines matter. Don’t get eliminated before you even get started! Order of information and length of proposal are often specified. Read the information carefully. If the funder asks for five signed copies, don’t send three. Be sure you meet the mailing deadlines. I’m a last-minute writer, but I have to allow time for the post office to make its mark, too.

3. The “5 W and 1 H”  Rule applies. Who will it impact? (The more the better.) What will be done? (Innovation matters!) When will it be done? (Include a timeline.) Where will it happen? (on campus, outside field trip, etc.) Why is it important? (Persuade the reader and include data.) How will it be done? (List steps, examples, etc.)

4. Go the extra mile. Include research about your topic. Include pertinent data about your school and test scores. Include your voice so that the reader can relate to your situation. Be very specific when writing the budget. This is not the time to estimate.

5. Proofread. Check and double-check your final entry. Ask a colleague or other expert to read your proposal. Spelling and/or typographical errors can leave doubt in a reader’s mind regarding your expertise.

Following these tips will help you receive funding for many projects. I have been able to buy art supplies, fund field trips, purchase Kindles, cameras, center materials, plants and gardening materials, and many other items with money from grant sources.

Do I get every grant I apply for? No. But, I have learned something that makes me smile and try again. Not getting a grant does not mean your proposal is not good. Sometimes the funder runs out of money. Maybe they just don’t like what you are asking for. I have submitted the same grant with just a few minor changes to title or budget and received them from a different source. Keep that in mind. Keep copies of what you submit in an electronic file  or hard copy folder.

Feel free to ask me any questions you have about grant writing, and I’ll try to help! Remember…you can’t get it funded if you don’t write it! Good luck!

Leave a comment

Enjoying the Last Days of July

Kirschblatt web

Kirschblatt web (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today is the one week anniversary of this blog. I am celebrating that! Thanks to my friends and fellow bloggers who have encouraged me so far. I am also celebrating the last Monday in July. We have one more Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday than normal this month, and I am really grateful for that. Time has been on my mind a lot. Where does it go? I am amazed at how fast one day can go by, and catch myself wondering what I am going to do when I have to go back to teaching in a few weeks. I am out of practice.

Even though I have been off, I still get up fairly early. By 6:00 or 6:30 most mornings, I am writing. Then I usually read the paper, take a walk, eat something. I do none of these things in a hurry. There is a luxury in taking time to do the most ordinary things. I like knowing that. Every year when I go back to school, I tell myself I need to remember these days and somehow make time for the slowness of them even in the back to school  busyness that is coming. I have not figured out how yet, but I’ll tell you as soon as I do!

Today I picked up another yellow leaf. I don’t why, but they are speaking to me lately. I took one yesterday and added it to a growing collection of items on my kitchen table: a blue jay feather, a pecan still in its green shell, a watermelon seed–things most people would either pass by or discard. I like seeing those colors side by side.  I think there is an art journal page in the making there. The paper waits, but it won’t wait forever. Why do I wait so long to do something about it? July is almost gone. I need to get the paint on the page. I tell myself this is my thinking time. I like to watch how the colors act next to each other on the page before I put them down for real.

I stopped to decide what to do about that collection this morning and saw that the leaf had already started curling. I’ll need a new one when I start to paint. One like this one was just a few hours ago: soft and moist, bending easily in my hand. Now, I can almost hear the crackle underfoot. The leaf warns me, Paint me while you can.  Enjoy these last couple of days of July.

Leave a comment

Writers Should Wash More Dishes… and Other Lessons from the Kitchen Sink


P1300597 (Photo credit: Zero-X)

The dishwasher is broken again. I really don’t care because I have time to get it fixed or maybe buy a new one. It is summer and I am a teacher, and that means my schedule is much different compared to a lot of my friends. I have time to wash dishes by hand. Time to call a repairman and not worry if he shows up at a certain time or not. Time to go compare the prices of new dishwashers if that is what I decide to do.

But, more than all of that, I have time to write about it. This blog is a new journey for me. It is a decision to write about writing, teaching, art, the whole process that is somehow tied together for me. I haven’t quite figured out where it is all going, but like I tell my students, “The important thing is to try.” And, since I also tell them that real writers write every day, I am also trying to do that here. Every time I make the decision to write, I make the decision to pay more attention.

So here in my kitchen, I pay attention to soap bubbles and smooth glass and the sound of water gurgling down a drain. Little things. Small moments.

I  like washing dishes by hand. I like running the water as hot as it will go, letting the bubbles fill up in the sink, using the  knitted cotton dish cloths my sister made for me. Whenever I wash dishes, I think to myself, You really need to knit some of those dish cloths  for friends. Then I get busy and go on to the next thing, forgetting all about that until the next time. Still, while I am standing there, I slow down. I really pay attention. Words start appearing. Writers need to wash more dishes. Maybe I’ll tell my fourth graders that. Their parents will be so pleased.

Today while washing plates and glasses, I remembered a December from years ago. The kids were little, it was Christmas Eve,  and my sister’s family was here visiting from out-of-town. All things magical were in progress: reindeer feed ready on the front porch–complete with colored sugar because we thought they’d like that, plate and mug set out for Santa’s snack, stockings hung in anticipation of fruit and candy and tiny treasures.  When it was time for the kids to go to bed, it was so quiet. Too quiet.

Santa was going to have a hard time sneaking in and making his delivery without being heard, so I turned on the dishwasher. All the crinkling of sacks and arrangement of gifts and filling of stockings would be done in complete undercover fashion because THAT dishwasher was one loud machine. One little detail: I ran it empty.  I was that desperate for noise…noise my family was used to hearing in the wee hours of the morning.

When a relative heard about that, he said (and I remember this sentence from over a decade ago), “I have landed among the crazy people.” Well, he may have had a point, but a clanging dishwasher bought some time that night…time to make things special for the next day.

I don’t need a clanging dishwasher any more, but that is what I have once again. Now that I think about it, maybe that is exactly what I needed.  I guess I’m getting a different kind of help today from that surprising source…a message this time to turn off the noise, revel in the silence, and wait for what comes next. I doubt it will be Santa, and I probably will go back to the convenience of using a new, quieter machine in the busy weeks ahead. Still, it’s nice to have time to slow down, wash some dishes, and think of some new words to get down on the page.

Leave a comment

Rain’s Power to Persuade

Most of the items on today’s list aren’t going to get done. A morning rainstorm changed my mind. It started around 4:00 a.m., a thundering entrance that jarred me awake. I was glad to hear it, even at that hour. I thought of thirsty azaleas, a receding pond. I didn’t try to sleep through this arrival. This storm was determined to be witnessed. Even the house shook during one particularly strong clap of thunder. I felt it in my heart, too, a jolt that does not permit you to forget, or to even think about drifting back off to dreams.

So, I made coffee, settled into a comfortable spot on the back porch, and just watched and listened. It was a show. There was hissing, splashing, dripping, a drumbeat rhythm as water hit the roof and windows. Jagged white light pierced the sky, leaving the faintest scar as it faded. Flashes of light in and out. Then, when I thought it was almost over, the thunder returned, and more beautiful rain. So I sat longer, watching it gush from the eaves, a soaking rain, one like I have not seen in months.

And in that moment, I decided that my back porch was the most important place to be.

We all need time to watch, but I think writers must take it. We need the time to watch, listen, record, and just think about what is happening right in front of us.

Today the rain reminded me, and I’m grateful.

Leave a comment

Dirt and Stick: All you really need to be a writer

Today I am thinking about Dr. Caroline Preston. She was one of my favorite professors three decades ago. Wow. Three decades. She gave all of us young education majors something to think about when we were busy planning all of the complicated lessons we were going to be teaching our new students. We usually had something cute to accompany our plans, our hearts set that if our materials were cute enough, we could win over the most reluctant writer.

Her words come back to remind me every single year as I start thinking about what I’m going to do to help my newest group of students. The words?

“Dirt and a stick. You can teach those children anything with just dirt and a stick.”

Every single year I think about her and offer up a thank you to wherever she is now. I lost track of her, but I have not lost track of her message.

Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the newest program, the latest fad in teaching. It all comes down to dirt and a stick, or in my slightly more modern world, paper and pencil. Technology is great, but it has to be available. It has to work. It cannot be a babysitter. It certainly cannot replicate the feeling of pencil in hand, moving thought across the page.

Cute ideas are fine, but they don’t make good writers. The newest program, guaranteed to bring up test scores? Ditto.

Writing daily makes good writers.

I think about what real writers do. We write. We gather our students around us and we use that “dirt and a stick” and create meaningful pieces of writing. It is not easy. There are days when we want to take our foot and wipe out everything that was on the ground, or ball the paper up and throw it away. But, when we return the next day to start again, we do not need a new program. We just need a renewed commitment to try again. We write. We discuss. Once the mark is on the page, we can do something about it. We celebrate the written word and all the possibilities that await us. We just write.

I am excited to start a new writing year with my students. I hope you will come along for the journey. Paper and pencil are the only things you’ll need.

Leave a comment

Christmas in July

I am a lover of all things Christmas, and with today being July 25, that is what is on my mind. My friend Wendy and I keep each other in check with Facebook postings once each month, reminding each other that December 25 is indeed on its way. Today I beat her to the first post with three words: “five golden rings.” It is a way for us to stay connected since she lives in Tennessee and I am in Texas. It is a way to think ahead to glimmering lights on trees and tinsel and giving. It is a way to think of others. My mom loved Christmas the same way I do. She gave my sister and me this same little plaque several years ago. I’m not sure about my sis, but my reminder never gets put away. It has a place of honor next to photographs and other treasures. Dickens speaks to me every day. When I follow his simple message, life gets back in sync.



8:00-4:00 Teaching: Will you take the challenge?

“She’s one of those who is out the door when the bell rings.”

Have you heard that before? Have you even been guilty of saying it or nodding in understanding when it is said of another colleague?

This is not a post for teachers only. It is for anyone who knows a teacher, who understands what they do and how much heart and soul they pour into their classrooms. Most of all, this is for every teacher who gets to school on time and leaves on time.

There. is. nothing. wrong. with. that.

I think sometimes we get  caught up in the mentality that the longer we stay  at work, the better prepared we will be, or the better results we will get. And, for those who don’t stay, the opposite is true, right?  Wrong.

I have been the teacher who stays late. Even when I am determined that this will be the year I don’t do that, sometimes it still happens. But it does not make me a better teacher. It makes me a tired teacher. It makes me a teacher who can’t give my best because I have not taken the necessary time to recharge.

What makes me a better teacher is being at school when the kids are at school. Period. Being there when they are there. And, if I can be there rested and refreshed because I left on time, then all the better. Read those words. Left on time. Not early. Not illegally, of all things. But simply, on time.

I can lift up my teaching friends by supporting their choice to leave on time to be with family, work a second job, take a walk, run errands, explore a creative habit or hobby,  and just be the people they are. I support them because it is their time.  I can also support my colleagues who choose to stay. I just want to point out something about how those hours add up. It’s good information to keep in mind.

We all know there is no way to accomplish everything we hope to during the course of a school day. The real question is, how many hours would it take? Think about the time you or someone you know spends before or after hours, for no added compensation. Let’s just say an hour extra a day. Say you get there 30 minutes early and you leave 30 minutes late. That’s reasonable, right?
After one school year spending that daily extra ONE hour only, you have given up 180 hours. 180 hours divided by 24 hours in a day= 7.5.  So,for every hour a day you stay, you lose over a week of your time. Your time. Not your employer’s time. Consider that.

Will I make it out of the door on time every day this year? I doubt it. But, I’m willing to take the challenge to try. More importantly, I will not criticize other teachers who do.

Waiting out a drought…


Quiet Surprises

The fish don’t bite every day, even we expect them to. We caught several a few nights ago, one cast after another. This morning, things went a little slower. Luckily, this gave me time to think and listen and just be present. I could pay attention to the orange bobber on the end of the line, the coo of the doves as they dipped to drink and then flew past, the enormous black butterfly that darted by and returned again. I thought about how I love to fish here… more than any other place I know.

Last year, this pond was nothing but a dried up bed. The beavers and the drought did their damage. But, today is different. Even though we are still in a drought, there’s  some water here now thanks to early spring rains. It’s deeper than ever thanks to the time we had to dig it out when it was dry. Mesh and wire and reinforcements keep the beavers at bay.

Good times always come back around. It’s nice to have time to remember that while waiting on the next bite.