Sunday, March 02, 2014

Sigh. This whole MERIT application process is HARD.

Last night, I started seeing #MERIT14 tweets before I had even seen the official (internal) list of who was invited to be in the 2014 MERIT cohort.

The entire application and selection process is a bit of a mystical art-science, really.  I wanted to write a quick blog post to address the excitement and disappointment inherent in the days that follow the announcements.

With that in mind, here's a little Q&A.

Q: How do you decide who gets in?

A: We don't, really.  We use a number of factors to rank the applicants and then we cut up that ranking into accepted, waitlisted, and not accepted.

Q: What factors are considered?

A: First, we obtain a raw score based on responses to the long-answer questions on the application.  The raw score is based on an aggregation of scores from a large number of scorers from our MERIT faculty team and former (usually most recent or two most recent) cohort members.  We get several people to score each question's responses from ALL applicants.  We then use that data (which I believe is very fairly obtained) to get the raw score.

From there, we have points for all sorts of things: principal recommendation, attended an info session, previous relationship with KCI, applying as a team, etc.  Now we rank the folks based on the new adjusted score from highest to lowest.  We have an initial cut-off somewhere after the top 20 or so.  For the next 20 to 40 people below that first threshold, we have to consider a bunch more factors.

We try to maintain a balance of participants from different types of schools and districts serving different students.  We look to have a balance of grade levels.  Sometimes we have to consider specific donor requirements on how their funds are used.

What the process IS NOT is PERSONAL.  We can only accept about 40 to 45 people.  When there are a hundred amazing applicants, some have to be turned away.

Q: How can I have a better chance of getting in next year if I was not accepted this year?

A: First and foremost, focus on your students.  It is SO not about you, the teacher.  Your focus comes through in your responses.  So to start off with a strong raw score, make sure you truly address what the questions ask, with a student-centered focus, and keep to the word counts.  Also, SERIOUSLY, proofread.  Spelling and grammar mistakes affect the reader's perception of your ideas.  Period.  And that question where we give you a chance to tell us about yourself? Do it.  FREE. POINTS.

Beyond that, make sure your principal is able to highly recommend you with absolutely no reservations.  Come to an info session before the application is due.  Don't finish the application at the last minute. (We don't consider WHEN you submitted, but we all know that rushed work is seldom our best.)  Consider applying as part of a team if you didn't before.  Learn a lot about the program so you know what you'd be getting into.

And be understanding when we can't accept everyone.  Your attitude on that front goes a long way.

While you're waiting for next year's application window, what can you do to better prepare yourself for a future MERIT experience?  PD out the wazoo.  EdCamps, PlayDates, and local events (free and cheap, especially) are a great places to start.  Catch the self-directed PD bug.  Don't wait for a personal invite.  Sacrifice some Saturdays if you can to attend local educator-run professional development and you'll meet a lot of people who are in or have gone through the MERIT program.  What better way to understand what it's all about than to spend time talking with people who've been there?

Join your local CUE affiliate or similar organization so you can keep updated on what goes on in the EdTech world where we live.  Get on Twitter and follow #MERIT13, #MERIT14, and #CAedchat.

That's what I would do if I wanted to make myself a stronger candidate for a future MERIT cohort.

1 comment:

Steven McGriff said...

Thank you, Diane, for posting this blog. I work with Diane to plan the MERIT 14 program. We adapted and revised a 3-year old process for accepting the 45 applicants into the program. The end results of the process may seem like a mystery to all applicants--certainly those who are not accepted, but also those who are!

I would like to add some more dimension to Diane's post. She is correct in writing the process is not personal to the applicant, but the process is personal to us because we know the power of this transformative opportunity on every MERIT Teacher.

The human side of assembling a cohort of teachers is hard, as Diane wrote. We have learned from years of MERIT programs that the best cohort of teachers should represent a balance of elementary, middle, and high school teachers, STEM disciplines among the middle and high school applicants, a variety of districts, and the number of team members who qualify. There is an intuitive, human-based act of balancing the number of new and alumni MERIT teachers at one school site while accepting new schools into the program.

We strive to balance well qualified applicants who have confidence in using edtech, with applicants who are still hesitant, but willing to learn. Sometimes we make choices for those applicants who work in the kinds of schools that our donors prefer to see represented over more "statistically" qualified applicants.

As Diane indicated, less than half the applicant pool is accepted. Therefore, many, many well qualified teachers are excluded by our size limitation (less than 50). It is not possible to accept every qualified applicant.

While the process is not personal with respect to each individual applicant, it is very human centered. We trust in human resiliency to carry us through the process that must deny well qualified teachers the chance to participate. We feel the burden and regret for every teacher that did not get accepted into the program and also trust in their resiliency to bounce back from the disappointment. What would a teacher tell his or her student who didn't succeed with their best effort to achieve something?

For the cohort of teachers who are accepted, we believe you are special, but not unique. Receive your acceptance like a gift...with the humble realization that any one of the teachers who did not get accepted could take your place and MERIT would remain an outstanding edtech teacher professional development program.

To finish on an upbeat, we encourage every applicant who did not get selected for this year to heed Diane's advice. Finally, we are very happy for those MERIT applicants who were accepted and anticipate many great things will happen through them to create positive, innovative learning experiences for their students.

Best wishes,

Steven McGriff, Ph.D.
Professor-in-Residence, Krause Center for Innovation
MERIT Program Leadership Team