If you know me, you know I love kids.  I also have extremely high hopes for each of them.

Like the kind of high hopes that lead me to want to keep raising the bar – not only because I want the “scores” to be better, but because I’ve seen kids with confidence ace tests that they previously have bombed.  The confidence comes from those high expectations – and teaching kids to meet them.  Confidence is key.

So, I’m often kind of perplexed when I visit schools that have a zillion behavior programs, self-esteem boosting programs, character education programs, pizza party for reading points programs, anti-bullying programs…(I could go on forever) and the kids aren’t performing well academically.

It just doesn’t make sense to me.

I mean, if the bottom line of mastering grade level skills, is excellent teaching (coupled with lots of feedback and ultimately building confidence in skills that translate to real-world application), then why all these programs?

Now, I know this is definitely not going to be a very popular thought, but it’s a recurring one: Struggling (academically) schools oftentimes cover up sub-par teaching with non-academic programs and they call it “caring for the whole child.”

I call it “covering for sub-par teaching by implementing programs and highlight things other than the sub-par teaching.”

And I’m not even sure that they know they’re doing it.  Because programming struggling kids can feel really right.

I’m not trying to be disrespectful BUT I have seen true, without-a-doubt confidence in kids not when they were chosen as the student of the month for perseverance, but when they actually persevered and stuck with a task and mastered it.  And their confidence soared when they were lavished with “You did it!” feedback from a teacher that challenged them with the task.

I’ve had to talk to so many districts and schools and say, “Wow!  You are really committed to the kids socially (because there was very obvious evidence of that around the school), but it doesn’t appear that academics are as important (as there was very little evidence of academics at all around the school).  What’s that about?”  More often than not, after some long conversations, we’ve found that the social program “noise” was covering for the following:

  • Lack of teaching confidence
  • Lack of teaching skill
  • Struggle to come to grips with high expectations for all kids (even “those” kids, as they’re often called)
  • Overwhelm
  • Lack of instructional support

The bottom line?  Your social/environmental/reading incentive/character education/physical fitness/student of the month/anti-bullying programs cannot out-pace your instructional power if you’re expecting to serve your kids well.

And we cannot afford to feel like we’re really doing things for “the whole child” when we’re struggling to be powerful teachers.

Teaching trumps programs every time and the reason is because instructional confidence (for kids AND teachers!) does equal performance.  And if student performance is not the final measure of our work, then we’re focusing on the wrong thing.


Jill Jackson is not your average educational consultant – just read her latest book “Get a Backbone, Principal! 5 Conversations Every School Leader Should Have Right Now” (free to you at www.jackson-consulting.com)!  She has worked with many of the nations lowest performing schools and maintains that it all comes down to the quality of the instruction.  Period.  She was a teacher, administrator and interventionist and is happiest and most effective when she’s coaching fellow educators in their district, schools and classrooms.