Program officers are Fund for Teachers’ primary point of contact for grant recipients. These individuals field applicants’ questions; support new Fellows throughout the summer; and continue to encourage them once back in the classroom. Other than living vicariously through the Fellows with whom they work, program officers’ favorite part of the job is meeting those teachers in person — which Alycia Johnston did this month at Reflection events in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Chicago.
Reflections are just that, evenings in which Fellows convene to reflect on all they accomplished over the summer. We asked Alycia to share a little about these inspiring nights when she witnesses the impact of Fund for Teachers grants…
Q You see Fellows twice a year: at Orientations in the spring and Reflections in the fall, after they’ve had a few months to process their fellowships. What’s the “before and after” you observe?A At Orientations, I hand teachers checks for up to $10,000 and say, “We believe in you and your ideas.” Because they rarely hear this sentiment, the teachers look shocked — even though they worked diligently on their proposals for months and received their award notifications via email weeks earlier. During these “pre-fellowship” events, the teachers are reserved, cautious and sit far apart from each other. During the Reflections, however, the same teachers are chatty, warm, laughing and sharing their learning. Getting their attention can be a challenge because they are eager to network and leverage each other’s fellowships to benefit more students.
QWhat are the most common things Fellows say during Reflection events?A Hands down, that they’ve never been trusted with so much autonomy as educators. Teachers live in a one-size-fits-all/cookie cutter/prescribed environment when it comes to professional development, so the freedom represented by a Fund for Teachers grant is unprecedented for most. Fellows talk about walking back into their classrooms after their fellowships with a confidence they didn’t previously have. They feel like experts on topics they pursued during the summer and that impacts how they teach the rest of the year. I also hear:
- “I’ve never seen an organization that meets me where I am.”
- “At every turn, Fund for Teachers says, ‘Yes! Do that!'”
- “Throughout the process of designing a blueprint for learning, executing my plans and bringing it back to students, I felt honored, trusted and respected as a professional.”
Read more about the Tennessee Reflection here.
QYou’ve been a program officer for eight years. What advice do you have for teachers preparing their application for a 2020 grant?
A In my opinion, the most important part of crafting a solid proposal is identifying one’s passion. It’s so clear when someone wants to travel to Italy and writes a proposal for that purpose versus when someone finds a need in their practice or gap in their knowledge and then creates a road map for how they are going to address those learning goals. Also, no matter what teachers want to learn or where they want to learn it, their proposals should be personal and capture their passion for the topic. If a teacher can make a case for why it’s vital for them to make this fellowship happen and their passion shines through, that’s a great start.
Click here to meet all three of our program officers and hear their tips for crafting a strong grant proposal.
(Pictured L-R: Salma Zaky, Alycia Johnston and Stephanie Ascherl while filming a Facebook Live tutorial. Watch for upcoming Wednesday Webinars led by these experts on November 13, December 11 and January 8. Register here.)