Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

       I thanked a teacher and he got $10,000.

Mr. Steven Miller was my 6th grade general studies teacher and he made me realize that it was ok to be me. It’s ok to be crazy and think out of the box. It’s ok to go above and beyond other people’s expectations of you (though they might think that you're odd). It's ok to not fit in when you were meant to stand out. Genein, it’s ok to be the best you!

So I nominated him for the Sondheim Award in 2011 by writing the following essay. After discovering that he won, he contacted me and we taught a class together! Priceless! A simple thank you letter to him would have been sufficient but you know me….Go BIG or go HOME! Thanks Mr. Miller!

                                                                                                     Inspirational Teacher Steven Miller
                                                                                  A Story by Genein Letford 

The tie. It was the tie. As I shuffled my feet shyly within a rambunctious group of 6th grade Black and Latino students, we all stood there in suspense to see what type of tie Mr. Miller was showcasing that day. Anxiously waiting in line, we watched as our teacher careened around the corner with a…drum roll… GREEN ELEPHANT TIE that matched his rather large elephant mug! As his glasses hung on for dear life at the tip of his nose, he grinned a silly grin and greeted us with a cheerful, “Good Morning Folks!” Whether sunshine or hurricane, he always started out our day with a joyful salutation. 

Eccentric and unique could possibly be words to describe this man but he is the type of teacher that is not easily put in a box. Having an affinity for music, I remember being eager upon hearing his decision to start music lessons with us. He turned on the tape player and me and my other minority, low-income classmates slowly turned our heads toward the sound of John Denver’s ‘If I Had A Hammer’. Snickers echoed across the room. If it wasn’t rap or hip-hop, we didn’t recognize it. This John Denver person was singing about hammering in the morning and the evening? WHAT!? The looks on some of my classmates’ faces ranged from disgust to bewilderment to confusion. 
Mine just reflected discovery. 

Our teacher, a white man with an eccentric flair, had just opened up a whole new world for me. No longer trapped within the confines of what we were expected to listen to, I now had an emerging love for John Denver, Joan Baez and the many other artists who were hiding behind the doors of cultural stereotypes. Mr. Miller took those these kinds of chances with us. From the graceful art of calligraphy to getting filthy reenacting the gold rush of ’49, he was not afraid to give all of himself in his teaching, no matter what our backgrounds were. He was the most innovative and creative teacher I have ever known. 

Fast forward 20 years and now there are 40 little eyes staring at my crazy music shirts or weird treble clef earrings as I greet them with a joyful, “Good Morning Class!” I am blessed to teach music to my English language-learning students who happen to reside on the lower rungs on the socioeconomic ladder. Nevertheless, they have garnered a hunger to dance to Beethoven’s Fifth, watch Gustavo Dudamel of the LA Phil conduct the Venezuelan Orchestra and create while Duke Ellington mixes his instrumental sounds like a painter on a canvas. I glance at my 2010 Great American Teacher Award I received in November for being a dynamic, innovative, and somewhat eccentric teacher – rather like Mr. Miller. I chuckle to myself wondering which child in front of me will carry this on. Mr. Miller was the pebble thrown in the pond and I pray the ripple never ends. 


So thank a teacher this week. A note, a letter, an email, or if you want to nominate them and share with the world how they impacted your life, here are a few opportunities going on now!

MLB - Target and PEOPLE Magazine are honoring teachers. Nominate by today, May 6th!

Farmer Insurance has a platform to thank a teacher. Teachers can then submit grant proposal for up to $2500 for classroom projects! 

Thanks to all the teachers out there who make a difference for students and teachers alike! A big thanks to my first teacher, my mother, Gwen Jefferson. You are my greatest inspiration and reminder to reach beyond the stars. 

Genein Letford

Friday, April 11, 2014

Easy Grants for the Busy Teacher

Grants, Fellowships, and Awards
Grant Tips from the NACP Grant Expert

Grant writing is like the chicken and the egg dilemma. Do you start with a great project idea and no funding source, or begin by identifying a possible funding source to then develop a project to match?

Why not do both?

Brainstorm a list of great ideas and look for funding sources to match. At the same time examine all possible funding sources and see if one of your ideas could be modified to fit their requirements. Here are our best tips!

1. Be Organized AND Follow Buzz Grants– After you visit the website pages listed, bookmark your favorites on your web browser with the due date at the beginning of the bookmark title. This way you can see which grants are coming up soon. Bookmark the grants that you know you and your school can qualify for (i.e. low income, Title 1, High school, location grants, etc.)

2. Be Mindful of the Reader – Some grants have distinguished board members who review them while other grants are read by the plumber next door, (everyday people read Donorschoose grants) so when writing, use terms and language that will be understood by that particular audience. Don’t use teacher lingo (NCLB, IEP, etc) with non-teachers - or at least spell them out.

3. Be Succinct with Official Grants – Most grants that have official reviewers read hundreds to thousands of submitted grants. Submitting a grant is not the time to utilize your creative writing skills and/or phrases. Get to the point and state the need, the project and other responses specifically asked by the grant committee. Do not write flowery colorful statements to state something matter of fact.

4. Donorchoose.org (DC) Grants – Everyone has his or her own style with DC grants but this is what works for me. Since readers of these grants are everyday people and/or corporations looking to give a lending hand to students in need, you have more wiggle room to connect on an emotional level with your writing. DC requires you to describe student need (basically that school funds are low or students don’t have access to requested materials) while this is an important beginning part of your proposal DON’T go into a four page essay about how your students are disadvantaged. You want to certainly connect to their emotions but the power of your proposal should be in the project and how it will benefit the students (why they need these materials). Most of my proposals are succinct yet still successfully connects the reader to my disadvantaged students. People may not have all day to read Jproposals and some search for short yet powerful projects to sponsor.

5. Be Realistic with Supply Request – If you’re writing a grant that requires an itemized list of supplies for a project that you have not done before, carefully plan to make sure you will not be short on supplies or have an excess of supplies. Grant reviewers frown upon projects that request too much money for a simple project, so be sure to do your research and explain your need for the requested supplies.

6. Sample Other Past Winning Projects – Numerous grant sites post past winning proposals and projects on their site for public view. Therefore, while you aren’t copying a past winning project, you can be inspired and cognizant of the elements needed to create a winning project.

7. Use Their Key Words – Terms like ‘inner city’, ‘low-income’, and ‘Low SES’ are often used interchangeably when describing the requirements of a grant. Try to use the key words that the grant description uses when describing your student base. If you are trying for the ‘Urban Teacher Award’, use the word ‘urban’ to describe your student’s community (if applicable) instead of another word.

8. Don’t Give Up On the First ‘NO!’ – The first few grants I wrote were not accepted and I had the option of not applying anymore or to “keep on truckin”. Now, five years later, every grant or fellowship I have applied for in the past two years has been accepted. So don’t give up!

9. Keep Submitted Grants and an Updated Resume – If a grant is not accepted with one program, save it to possibly submit to another program if the requirements are acceptable. Many of the teacher fellowships need resumes, so it is imperative to keep your resume up to date. Email me if you would like to see a copy of mine. Also, sign up for grant search engines in order to directly receive grants and fellowship information.

10. Think Outside the Box! – Try to submit projects that are unique and will be a special experience for your students. I received a FEDCO grant to take my students to tour UCLA and study math and architecture by drawing all the geometrical shapes of Royce Hall. They then had to build their own college campus that incorporated mathematical and geometrical skills acquired on the UCLA field trip. Unique and never done before!

Fellowship Advice: - If you are able to go on weeklong fellowships, then I would certainly advise that you do. Some are only a week and some last up to a month or more! Being able to travel, learn, and collaborate with some of America’s best teachers in different parts of the country (and the world) is an invaluable experience that will enrich your career and your life. Most of the previous tips apply for fellowships but the most important one is to be set apart. Why does this fellowship want YOU to be a part of their cohort? What can YOU offer to the overall experience? Be unique, be excited, and most of all, be YOU!

Some of these fellowship trips can be used as tax write-offs as well (but please seek tax advice from a professional tax accountant for specific details). Some fellowships pay everything (hotel & flight) for you upfront and other fellowships have you pay for those fees upfront and then they give you a stipend at the end of the fellowship (like the NEH fellowships). Either way...still worth it!

Last Words: Your students deserve the best and you deserve to be able to give them the best. During these hard economic times, don’t become discouraged because funds are low but become tenacious in finding different ways to make things happen. Be proactive and diligent and it will pay off for you and your class. Feel free to email me with any questions or clarifications. I can email this document to you so you can easily cut and paste the web addresses in your browser. Thank you and WRITE ON! 
God bless!

Genein Letford, 
NEW Academy Canoga Park

Websites and Resources

Updated April 4th, 2014

Grants Alert  (Follow on FB and Twitter @grantsbuzz )

Teachers Count –Grant Search Engine


(Travel during the summer to learn!)

Teaching Awards
(Win money for you and your school for being a GREAT teacher!!)

...and so much more! Google them!
The money and opportunities are out there for your class...now go GET THEM!

Genein Letford, NEW Academy Canoga Park
© Genein Letford

CC Photo Credits:
EntrePollo - Chicken Egg
Seed Money Team Jenkins

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Building Your Own Creative PD – Getting Past NO - Getting to Create!

DING! I turned my head to see the email pop up. Heart quickened, eyes focused. My first response letter from the NEH Summer Fellowship is in. I quickly scanned it just to see,

‘We regret to inform you that we cannot offer you a place for this year’s program.’

As my heart sank as the second DING from the NEH Gettysburg Fellowship sounded.

Same letter. Same reaction.


Even though it got me down (hence my FB post)...

..my PLN brought my spirits back up and on April 4th (which also happened to be my 5th wedding anniversary –montage here-) Hilton Teacher Treks called.

“Genein, we received over 1000 applications and only 15 were chosen. Congratulations! You're among the chosen!  We are sending you to South Korea and Japan”, shared the enthusiastic director of the Hilton Teacher Treks. AHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Wow! Upon hearing that, I was immediately humbled yet ecstatic to be in that selective group. But while reviewing my essay, I know I have to give kudos to the presenters at Edcamp LA (David Theriault , Bill Selak and the Bedley Bros) for their part in helping me create a winning proposal.

The mission of Hilton Teacher Treks is to help teachers spread an understanding of cultures and create a future generation of travelers. This is based on the vision of Conrad Hilton, who desired to increase ‘world peace through international travel and trade.” Who not better to do that than educators?


So that got me thinking, ‘How can I take what I learned from EdcampLA and CUE14 (student blogging, photo walks, visual literacy and increasing authentic audience) and combine it with lessons I already implement while aligning it with the mission of Hilton?’

Out of that question birthed these proposed essential questions:

1) How can the arts be used as a text for cultural and geographical exploration?
2) How can I widen the authentic audience for my students to share their cultural 
learning and interpretations of cultures using the arts?

It was from these questions I went to work on building my own creative PD that incorporated and interconnected social studies, geography, cultures, visual arts (paintings, photography,  architecture, script) and performing arts (music, dance and recitation of poetry). I will also be blogging during my excursion and will be interacting with my students (and with my PLN) from across the world.  Come travel with me virtually!


Saturday, we had a wonderfully intense Twitter chat, lead by David Culberhouse, on the theme of creativity. So many great questions (below) and responses permeated the feed but it reminded me how there needs to be PD time for teachers to tap into their own creativity. Jeff Farley mentioned that teachers should go to a PD not in their subject area. 'How can ELA integrate math? How can science marry social studies?'

Good stuff man. Good stuff!

What are YOU doing to enhance, provoke, exercise, or strengthen YOUR creativity? 

Just food for thought. Nonetheless, I am grateful to God and to Hilton Teacher Treks for this special opportunity and I know that this experience abroad will revolutionize my teaching in a myriad of ways.

Congrats to Mr. Jeromie Heath who was selected to go to China! Let's collaborate!

Have a CREATIVE Week! 

Genein M Letford

MUST Follows from  #satchatWC

1)What does creativity and innovation look and sound like in education?
2) What has to happen to encourage more creative and innovative ways of thinking in education?
3) In what ways do we hamper and discourage creativity and innovation in education, our schools, and our classrooms?
4) What are you doing, learning and or reading to inspire more creativity and innovation in yourself and others?

5) Describe some ways that you've tried to engage more creativity and innovation in your work? How did it go?

FYI - 

I will begin my trip in Toyko, Japan and visit the Imperial Palace and East Gardens. At every location on the trip I will choose a track from the album ‘Japanese Traditional Music’ which will reflect my experience of the natural surroundings or architecture. I will also begin my ‘photo walk’ of each visit to storyboard my experience in each city. I will then choose one photo, and while listening to the chosen tradition musical piece, I will write a haiku expressing my interpretation of the environment (natural or man made).  Upon a visit to ‘Old Japan’ in Kyoto, I will head to South Korea.

After Kyoto I will arrive in Seoul, South Korea to further dive into the arts component of the trip. I will visit the National Center for Traditional Korean Performing Arts, The Korean House (which has a mask dance, pansori and other traditional dances) as well as the Traditional Korean Music Center, which features a hybrid of Korean drama, dance, music and samullori. The War Museum of Korea is where I will play ‘Arirang’ a famous Korean folksong and complete my first sijo, a Korean style poem.  I will also visit the Gyeongbok Palace.

The final two visits will be Gangneung, which holds the Sogeumgang Valley, and Changwom, where the Music Fountain in Yongji Lake holds a spectacular sight and exhibits how natural itself is musical. The Gyeongnam Art Museum will allow me to analyze South Korean Art and compare it to the Japanse art. I will continue my photo tour that started in Toyko, documenting these Asian cultures, scenery and people in a visual art form.

(If you are planning to apply next year and would like to see my proposal please connect with me via Twitter or the blog!)

 School - Life Photo Credit Unknown (please forward info if you have it!)