This interview was conducted by Michael F. Shaughnessy for Education News.  The original article can be found at http://ow.ly/cts8i

1) Jill, first of all, tell us a bit about your workshops and in-services and what you try to accomplish.

We help struggling districts, schools and teachers improve their reading scores and skills of their students. Our goal is to go into a school and get our hands dirty and look at the data, look at the practices and connect with the teachers – we do this by modeling, demonstrating and coaching in real-life classrooms – we call it “getting in the trenches” with what’s REALLY happening in schools! The words that we live by are: it all comes down to the quality of the teaching. So, we work throughout a school to improve the overall quality of the teaching because we know that the student scores will follow.

2) Now, I can think of no time in the last, well 40 years, when teachers have been under such stress. What are your current impressions?

I think teachers are very stressed – but I think they’re stressed about the wrong things! On Twitter and Facebook and social media, I have lots of folks reach out and lash out about how standardized tests aren’t fair and how dare we look at students performance as a measure of the teacher and how learning is more than a test.

The way I see it, all of the time we spend fighting ‘the system’ is less time we’re spending stressing (or really putting our heads down and working really hard) about the preparation and care that it takes to design and deliver lessons that take students from Point A to Point B – and, most importantly, to long term reading skill mastery. I think that we’re doing a lot of fussing and fighting on the backs of the kids and I just can’t accept that.

3) Some teachers seem to just go about their business teaching kids, and don’t worry much about IEP’s AYP, NCLB and 504′s. Am I off on this?

You’re absolutely right…and that’s good and bad at the same time. Here’s the deal: in my experience, successful teachers are looking at their student data as a way to measure their success. These folks are putting in the real work on what matters in the end – quality teaching and all that goes into it. They aren’t worrying too much about the proverbial pendulum swinging or the latest crazy education scandal on CNN, they’re worrying about and fussing over and crunching the numbers and measuring success in THEIR classroom – because that’s their reality!

Successful teachers know that the IEPs, AYP, NCLB and 504s are a part of the work, and if they are providing daily successful teaching to kids in a highly managed classroom with lots of positive, academic based feedback the IEPs will show growth and their classroom will contribute to the school making AYP and such. I haven’t seen a highly skilled teacher who absolutely brings his best and most on-fire teaching to the classroom each day, NOT get results.

And, trust me, they are working against some pretty serious odds in the schools that we support!

The flip side of that are those educators who say that “the test isn’t valid” or that their students are successful but “the tests don’t show it”. In this case, they’re ignoring the measurements like AYP, IEPs and such in favor of gut checks and potentially random style-driven criteria in their head – obviously I think this is a dangerous practice.

4) The teachers I talk to pretty much say the same thing- they need more administrative support, do you address these issues?

Absolutely. Our goal is to not just have our clients show classroom success, but have that classroom success show across the school – and that requires serious commitment, protection of time and every day presence from the leadership. I can tell how successful a school is based upon the principal’s calendar. Really!

It’s like the more time I spend in the gym, the healthier I’ll be? Well, the same is true of principals: the more time they spend in the classrooms, the healthier the teaching system in that school is. It NEVER fails.

Whenever we visit schools or districts, we start the leadership system – we look at scheduling, non-negotiables, setting up the leadership team’s functions to look at reading practices in the school and guide the support and professional development.

One of the most powerful things we do (that initially many of our leaders are resistant to!) is practicing observations and debriefings with teachers. We work with leadership on what kind of data to gather when they’re watching teaching and then how to turn their notes into a very direct and very simple, but action-based, debriefing – the goal is to talk to teachers one-on-one and have them either stop a practice, continue a practice or adjust a practice. All designed to getting bigger impact in the classroom.

5) I have to tell you, that I observe teens and tweens and they seem to be gobbling up Harry Potter and have been hungry for these Hungry Games books. BUT, how do we get them reading other fiction, non fiction, biographies etc ?

Well – if I could fully answer that, I would retire on my private island in the Bahamas! What I see that ultimately captures kids’ attention EVEN WHEN THEY DON’T LIKE SOMETHING is the teacher’s enthusiasm. I think it’s highly underrated and undervalued!

I wrote an article recently about a Civics teacher I had in high school – I wasn’t what you would call a scholar – far from it! And I certainly wasn’t into Civics like I should have been. BUT the teacher was so enthusiastic about teaching Civics and used some fun (and embarrassing!) techniques along the way that helped my peers and me – GASP! – actually like Civics!

I find that some educators have the idea that the kids should come to class already motivated – I see that as the teacher’s job. It’s funny – I can follow a student around school all day and see her engaged in Period 1, totally disengaged in Period 2, kind of engaged in Period 3 and totally on-fire engaged in Period 4. The only thing that changes? The teacher! I have seen tons of examples where teachers have taken “boring” content and made it interesting and others have taken exciting content and made it sleep-inducing.

Also, we have to give students the skills to tackle that kind of text – oftentimes they gravitate to novels because they have the most practice in successfully reading and gaining meaning from them! We help our clients create continuity in doing this – making sure that the skills that we use to tackle expository text in science are similar to the skills we apply to the P.E. manual. I don’t ever underestimate continuity of practice across classrooms! It’s such a powerful teaching tool!

6) What is the most requested topic you get asked to talk about?

Using reading program successfully. I often say our most powerful work comes after the publisher leaves and the boxes are opened and everyone looks around and goes, “NOW what?!?!?!?” We get lots of calls from superintendents and curriculum directors who say, “You know, we were told that if we bought these materials that our kids would learn to read and learn to read better. It’s not happening and we’re in program improvement…help!”

We help folks get super focused and super organized. We help them build confidence…one purposeful step at a time. In fact much of our time is spent telling them, “No. Not now,” because they’re trying to do too many things and they’re driving themselves absolutely crazy.

7) Tell us about a few of your most successful workshops- and feedback from teachers.

We just finished up Year I with a large school K-12 school district outside of Salt Lake City and the data is looking really good – we can actually measure the success of the staff by the increase in the student scores…that’s heaven for us! We get giddy when we can see the effect of the teacher work in the student outcomes – that’s what we’re always looking for.

Two of our clients just received National Title I Awards – and a bunch have made AYP for the first time ever! We have schools who have made serious, exponential growth in reading on their state tests with sub-populations that have historically been very low performing…so we are very proud and excited for the folks we partner with – – they are walking the walk.

As far as feedback? We get lots of feedback every week complimenting us on getting in the trenches with the teachers and not just being “talking heads” – we are real. We also get lots of feedback that starts with “At first I didn’t like that you were telling me to….but I appreciate you sticking in there with me.” That’s very rewarding.

8) Are there ways for folks to connect with you online?

Yes! We just launches our “Free Resources” tab on our website (www.jackson-consulting.com) – there you’ll find tons of free video, audio and downloadables that we’d like everyone to take and use. We even have a 7-day free video series that you can sign up for there…no strings attached! There you’ll also find the links to Twitter and Facebook where I’m interacting daily with educators about the good, the bad and the ugly in education – it’s really fun to be about to connect that way and it’s bringing about some very interesting conversations and big a-has for all of us.

Most of all, while we are tough cookies when we come and work with folks, I want those who work with us online and in-person to know that we value teachers who are serious about doing the work of teaching. We don’t always have to agree, but if the bottom line for all of us bringing the highest quality of instruction that has the biggest impact on the students every day into the classroom, then we’re going to be alright!



Question…what do YOU think?  Leave a comment below…am I off track? 

On the right track?  Lost my mind????