URGENT: The Dr.’s Prescription for your “It would be nice if”- Syndrome

We’re suffering.  From something that’s totally treatable.  But we have to act fast.

What ails us?

It’s the “It would be nice if”- syndrome.

Here’s what it sounds like:

  • It would be nice if I had more prep time
  • It would be nice if the grade level before us would actually teach the kids what they need to know for my grade level
  • It would be nice if the kids would actually do their homework
  • It would be nice if I could have more aide time
  • It would be nice if we didn’t have to have all those walk-throughs during my teaching

Here’s the problem with the “It would be nice if”- syndrome:

  • It’s built around talking – not action!  And successful schools are all about the doing, not just the chatting.
  • It’s focusing on a dream world!  I hate to break it to you, but we work with kids.  Kids do not exist in a dream world…they pull us right into reality.  Everyday.
  • It takes the focus on what matters most: the quality of the interaction between the teacher and the students!
  • It kills our momentum!  We lose ground when we waste our time talking about things that might not happen – plus we give away our instructional power when we base our students’ success on external sources.

So….you might be wondering what the heck you DO about the “It would be nice if”- syndrome!  Well, Dr. Jackson, (I’m not really a doctor, but I play one in this blog) has just the prescription for YOU!

Prescription One: Realize right now that the return on your teaching begins with the PREP.  If you have a highly prepped lesson, you have less behavioral interruptions, more engagement and have more time during the lesson to listen to your students and see what their learning.

Prescription Two: When you are in teacher meetings/team meetings, focus the work on TASKS, not just discussions.  If you find that your team is all talk/no action, throw in one of these statements: “Ok guys…let’s talk about what we’re going to DO after this conversation” or “Alrighty – let’s focus on what we have control of so that we can get started right away!”.  Focusing on an action immediately pulls you out of the all talk/no action problem.  Sometimes we’re just in a bad habit of doing way more talking than we do acting and we just need someone to help us get pulled out of it!  Let that person be YOU!

Prescription Three: Analyze your time spent at work.  How much time is spent talking about the heart of instruction?  How much time is spent actually crafting lessons and not just prepping materials?  How much reflective conversation do you have with your coaches or your colleagues about your teaching?  These types of questions drive your time and conversations directly back to that interaction between teacher and student – – -and that’s what really matters!

If you suffer from the “It would be nice if”- syndrome, then it’s your responsibility to take steps to recover!  Here’s the cool thing: It’s actually pretty simple to recover.  You start by doing. 

Yep, that’s it!

Win Your Time Back! Five Simple Steps Make Every Classroom More Efficient

I love a good list – I put silly things on the list just so I can cross them off.  For example, instead of putting “laundry” on the list, I’ll put “Do 3 loads of laundry” and then a separate bullet will be “Fold laundry”.  I get to cross off TWO things that way!

While I might be a little neurotic about my lists, I do know that when I’m out and about working with educators, the one thing that they always talk about and don’t have enough of is TIME.  So, I’m intrigued with this idea of working more efficiently – – and how we can actually create time by doing so.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with teachers who have their system DOWN PAT.  The kids have the system down pat.  And they don’t run around during their break like a chicken with their heads cut off and have a mental breakdown when the copy machine breaks down.  Why?  Because they are in control.

In control-ness means efficiency.  Or is efficiency in control-ness?

If you’re like so many time-strapped educators, I encourage you to stop the “I don’t have enough time” talk and figure out WHERE you can CREATE TIME!  Here are 5 spots to get started:

Step 1: Take 1 minute at the top of each day to get organized

Have a list on the board of everything that the kids need to have out on their desks in one minute.  One teacher I know draws a diagram of what she wants the desks to look like (composition book on the upper left corner, colored pencils on the bottom right, homework in the middle, science book under the homework) and then scans desks before she even starts teaching to make sure they have everything.  The one minute you spend getting organized means you save yourself the frustration and time in the long run!

Step 2: Use a timer
Figure out exactly where you’re losing time – is it transitions?  Is it morning/beginning of period routine?  Is it handing out papers?  Is it during partner work?  Then, challenge the students to beat their time.  Say to your students: “Folks, we’re losing 5 minutes an hour during transitions because we’re taking our precious time and talking with our friends too much.  Let’s see if we can make this transition under 30 seconds.  Go!”. Anything’s better if it’s a challenge!

Step 3: Pre-establish partners at the end of the day
There is always lost time and DRAMA around partners!  I don’t enter into that and I certainly don’t give the kids the opportunity to choose their partners because they’re going to switch them all of the time anyway.  So, at the end of the day I say, “Tomorrow guys and gals, we are going to switch partners.  I’m going to take 1 minute right now to tell you who your partner is so that you’re ready to roll tomorrow morning.  If you choose to be crabby about your partner, then you will stay with me during your recess/passing period because we don’t have time for that foolishness and we’re better than that!”  Then in the morning or next period, they are already SET!

Step 4: Have an exit strategy!
We do ourselves a disservice when we start the top of the day with the “this is everything I have to get through”  mentality.  No doubt there is a TON of “stuff” that we have to teach, but we have to prioritize the content so that we aren’t just getting through it while students watch.  Watching does not equal learning!                                                                                                                       

Here’s what I suggest: Go through your content for the next day and highlight in green what MUST be taught.  Highlight in yellow what SHOULD be taught and highlight in pink what can be dropped off if needed.  While we’ll be focused on teaching everything, we have to have an exit strategy if needed!

Step 5: Avoid giving directions until you have all eyes on you

The BEST classroom management skill that I can give anyone is “don’t give directions until you have all eyes on you!”.  Why?  Then you don’t have to go around and keep repeating yourself a zillion times to those students who didn’t listen in the beginning!  Try it!  It works like a CHARM!

Becoming more efficient is about taking CONTROL.  And I find that the most in-control educators are most satisfied…they don’t feel “done to” – they feel powerful!  And I hope the same for you!

If you’re interested in finding time-saving techniques and free tools – click on the “Free Resources” tab at www.jackson-consulting.com – – I’m waiting for you there!

Y’all…We Did It


We’ve got reason to celebrate!!!!!!!

If you know me, you know I don’t operate in a perfect world – in fact I actually prefer to get down and dirty with our clients and deal with what IS, not what ISN’T!

Sometimes it’s hard to have perspective on what makes schools successful…especially when the scores aren’t popping and bursting forth as fast as we’d all like them to.

But every once in awhile I get a surprise…and this one actually made me tear up a bit, I was absolutely thrilled and proud!

I was working with a client a week ago and while I was there, their scores on their state standardized test were released.  Some were good and some were not so great and some were, well, A SURPRISE!

My principal client got her scores and immediately saw a high number (higher than they’ve performed ever before) and thought, “Oh dang, these must be from another school…” – they were too high to be from HER school after all!

Then she looked closer. 

Nope.  They were from HER SCHOOL! 

(Warning, here’s the part where I teared up)

So during our break that day she gathered her staff and whispered to them at the lunch table: “Y’all…we did it.”  Yep, four simple words that summed it up: Y’all. We. Did. It.

What did they do?

  • They followed their teacher’s manuals everyday
  • They worked together to make some significant and small change to their management
  • They taught more content because they used their time more efficiently
  • They stayed the course on the grade level material even when it got tough
  • They didn’t freak out when observers came in
  • They incorporated advice and ideas from their principal, coach and supporters
  • They ditched practices that didn’t get results and replaced them with those that did
  • They were open
  • They put their heads down and worked hard

And here’s the awesome thing: while they were putting their heads down and getting it done, the students learned. Their confidence grew.  They were open.  And they did it.

Now let me say this: THEY ARE NOT PERFECT.  There is room to grow, decisions yet to be made, adjustments to the current system to drive the scores even higher.

The even awesomer (not a word I know, but SO fitting!) thing: In spite of the fact that they aren’t perfect, they STILL GOT IT DONE.

What are the encouragements in it all?

  1. You don’t have to be “perfect” to get results…so don’t wait on perfection
  2. Even the most stubborn students (and teachers!) can change the course
  3. You CAN teach old dogs new tricks (ha!)
  4. Anything is possible

“If your determination is fixed, I do not counsel you to despair. Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but perseverance.”
Samuel Johnson


Nuggets from the trenches…


So part of what we do when we go into schools is demo in classrooms – it really helps to SHOW teachers what certain techniques look like with THEIR KIDS.  Always a really fun and powerful practice…plus allows me to keep up my teaching chops!

When I go into classrooms, I don’t do a ton of prepping of the kids – – I think some of the most important “prep” (for management, engagement, explicit teaching, etc.) is done in front of the observers.  Kind of a “real life, real kids” commitment that we have in the field.

So awhile back I was demonstrating a reading block in front of about 15 adults – teachers, principal, the reading coach and some interventionists.  I had prepped them on what I wanted them to notice, what I wanted them to calculate, what I wanted them to reflect on as they observed the lesson.

Then I went into the classroom and got started with the kids (along with the 15 adults that filed in…it’s always quite a thing…take 1 minute, though, and the kids are back to normal and ignoring all the adults in tiny chairs in this case, sitting in the back of the room).

I talked to them about how I had heard that they were the best class in the school and how they were so great at following directions the first time and that I expected that everyone did the work…I taught them my signal for unison response…it’s all going really well!

It’s at this point that I’ll take a little jaunt to give you some back story…I had gone to Nordstrom the weekend before the demo and bought these GORGEOUS gray and black plaid wide-legged pants.  I was wearing high heeled boots and a black turtleneck with big hoop earrings…I just KNEW I looked fly! Keep this in mind…

One of the rules that I taught the kids is that once we got rolling on the lesson and moving and grooving through our content, we wouldn’t need to ask to get a drink or go to the bathroom – NO!  They were too busy for foolishness like that! 

So this cute little guy (this was a 1st grade classroom) kept raising his hand during the lesson and I would give him a silent signal that we were working with our partners and doing all that good stuff so he should put his hand down. 

His hand would go up…and stay up…

And I was modeling some classroom management techniques so I thought I would be really smart and say something like, “You know, Jonathan, I’m going to ask you to put your hand down because right now we’re not sharing out to the whole class, you’re brainstorming with your partner”…you know, real top-notch stuff like that…

His hand would go up after a second…and stay up…and now we’re like 20 minutes into the lesson and everything’s going really well and the teachers are nodding their heads like, “Yes!  Look at her go!” and they’re writing stuff down furiously and even a couple of kids said, “This is fun!” and I was driving the kids hard and they were doing it and lightbulbs were turning on…

And the hand went up…and stayed up.

So I said this: “You know Jonathan, I’ve asked you to put your hand down and work with your partner right now, but you’re having trouble following my direction.  What can I help you with quickly?”

And he says, “Miss Jackson?  Why are you wearing man’s pants?”

And that, Ladies and Gents, is teaching gold.

Confessions of a Reading Consultant

WARNING:  For those of you who hold me in high regard and think I walk on water, this post is probably not one you want to read.

So you’d think that I would be prepared with an appropriate, WOW-em kind of answer when I’m asked: “So what is YOUR favorite book?”

I mean after all, I’m a reading consultant…it’s only a natural question!  The question isn’t so much a problem as the answer.  I mean, is People magazine really what people want to hear from their reading consultant?

So here’s the real answer.  Please don’t judge.

My favorite book is usually whatever I’m reading at the time.

When I was a kid, I loved I-Spy kind of books and I adored Beverly Cleary and remember laughing out loud about Fudgie and his antics. It was a great day in school, in my opinion, when the Weekly Reader arrived – I remember getting the newsprint on my fingers and feeling very grown up because I was reading a “newspaper”.

I remember that at Dr. Snare’s office (yes, that was the name of my dentist) they had Highlights magazine and I would wait until the very end to read “Amos and Andy”. Looking back at it, I can’t figure out why I was so enamored by that column!

I mean….JUDY BLUME.   She changed me!  I remember feeling so grown up when I read her first adolescent book – I think it was called Tiger Eyes.

I remember those SRA colored/level booklets that came in a kit – every classroom at my school had them. More than the reading, you got to correct your own and if you got a certain number correct, you got to go to the next color. The fact that you get to correct your own work – I really like that.  I still kind of do.

But now let’s get serious: I think my favorite novel of all time is The Great Gatsby – I had a great literature teacher in high school that brought that book alive for me and I still reread it every once in awhile and “get it” even more as an adult.

So as a responsible reading consultant, what do I read now? I read anything and everything that the greats in our field publish, but I also sneak in most everything that Oprah suggests, Eat, Pray, Love, The Kiterunner, anything by Jennifer Weiner.  Alex Kava’s mysteries, true-crime novels and biographies and I love reading magazines – something about “finishing” an article gives me great pleasure. I’m OBVIOUSLY not a reading snob!

There’s nothing like reading Confessions of a Shopaholic or People magazine on the plane and having someone say, “Oh, and what do you do for a living?”…and sheepishly have to admit I’m a reading consultant!


I am looking for a great beach read…I need suggestions!  Leave ’em below!