Funding your dream classroom

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by Carmen Watts Clayton
cwattsclayton@gmail.com

Carmen Watts Clayton

Carmen Watts Clayton

Teachers; please sit down, look around the classroom, and fill in the blanks: “Last year we broke the _________ and I sure wish we still had one!”. “We used up all the _________ last year and the only way to replace it this year is to buy it with my own money.  🙁 ” “If only we had enough technology, like a couple more __________ or that ___________ I’ve been reading about, then I could do this exciting new hands-on lesson…”

The items that come to mind for the blanks are the beginnings of a master wish list that every teacher has at the start of every year, and later on too. No matter how well meaning our administration is, they are a mighty bureaucracy that is often slow to respond to all the needs of a classroom teacher. Materials and curriculum, technology and communication tools, Common Core, project-based, ELL, Special Needs, and NGSS all require teacher innovation and inevitably additional tools and materials. Whether you have the necessities and want to try out the frills, or whether you’re just trying to cover the very basics for your students, crowdfunding is just a few clicks away. You too can fulfill your wish list incrementally by utilizing close-as-the-Internet resources allowing your status as a nonprofit classroom to bring kind and generous people to your door to give!

Crowdfunding has been around for a while now. The concept is simple: put your “wish list” on the net and tell your story; let people who see it and feel generous toward that goal give things or money to buy what you need. Not only is it simple, but surprisingly effective. Believe me when I tell you there are MANY people who believe in what you do as a teacher and want to help you in ANY way they can. So how do you find them?

One online resource that I have used many times over the past few years, and have been truly humbled by and thankful to, is Donors Choose. This is one of several sites that offer services to find donors for your projects and “wish lists.” I am a fan because:

  • It’s a nonprofit, which means their hearts are in the right place and they charge less fees than many other sites;
  • It works! And is easy to understand;
  • It walks you through the proposal process easily, prompts you, and reminds you to include all the information;
  • It helps you shop and puts your items on virtual lay-away till donors are found;
  • It automatically buys and ships your things to you at school;
  • It helps you do the appropriate “Thank-you” to all your donors, so you frequently get repeated donations from a giver;
  • It rewards you! The site gives points to help you to post new projects, professional development, and field trip proposal choices, and they’ll find extra donor partnerships throughout the year that means your project can be funded by half, instantly!

Start the steps to having a dream classroom now

  • Sign-up for an account at Donors Choose. Your school location will be verified.
  • Start a proposal for some of the things on your wish list. Keep the first proposal small — if possible, less than $450 including fees (about $350 materials to start).
  • As you look at the pages you will complete for the proposal, review the prompted questions, work on a great title for the project, look at other teachers projects on the site, shop online for great products, divide your master wish list into smaller portions to ask for incrementally, devise a lesson and standards which fit your project, and take some compelling pictures of your class/school/project that meet the guidelines.
  • Project proposals started can be saved and completed later! Take some time to do a good presentation of what you want, why you need it, and how you will use it, and your project will probably get funded. Be compelling in your persuasive writing! Your audience will do the rest.

I have gleaned several thousand dollars of additional technology, art supplies, professional development, and other things I wanted each year for the past three years. You can do this even with a teacher workload. Keeping up with one or more project proposals posted at the site takes less than two hours a month once you get going. Start small. The rewards are great, and will inspire you! Get a proposal up early in the year and watch your enthusiasm grow as you get funded.

The site’s matching funding partners mean your project could get funded half way at any time. I had two projects get funded in one weekend when Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave a million dollar match last fall. I had already received donations equaling half the proposals, and their donations completed funding I needed. The effort was so successful the foundation extended it and double the funds they gave last year!

Once you have posted a complete project proposal and it is live on the web, notify other teachers in your building, parents, friends, family, community organizations, and others. Send an e-mail with a link to your Donors Choose class page. Donating is easy and fun and there are incentives to give (like a ‘double your donation’ promo code for the first week the proposal is posted.) Remember to post a link to your proposal on your social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Google Drives you share, and others.

Good luck with your wish list! I love to hear your comments and stories. Have a great and rewarding school year.

Carmen Watts Clayton is lead teacher in a moderate/severe elementary special day class. She is seeing fantastic performance results by offering art-integrated environments with technology access. You can e-mail her at cwattsclayton@gmail.com with your experiences or questions.

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