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!

A Requirement, Not An Invitation: How To Engage Students


Have you ever googled “How to engage students?” out of desperation or curiosity?

I have….and what I found was a lot of quick tips and how-tos.  The problem is, I think that looking at engaging students comes from a deeper well than just trying some new techniques.  Let’s be real – – if it were about a simple technique, wouldn’t we ALL be doing it and reaping the benefits right now?

While I don’t have the silver, magic bullet for you (Sorry!), I do know what you need to do to engage your students – or engage them in a bigger way this school year.

The secret?  It’s all about you.  I know it, you wanted me to make it about the students, but it’s really not.

Here are 7-Quick-Steps for you to implement RIGHT NOW to engage students in a way that you haven’t before:

  1. Realize that engagement starts with expectation.  Treat students like they already ARE engaged…and they usually follow!
  2. Know that increasing student engagement is a habit.  Don’t give up – if you expect it and then reinforce, reinforce and reinforce, you WILL see improvement in engagement. Don’t give up!
  3. When you see low levels of engagement or general apathy to the lesson, check yourself first.  It might be that your energy isn’t very high or that you’re “phoning it in” without even knowing it!  There is POWER in “acting as if”…as if you are pumped!  As if you are ecstatic about the content!  Put your acting game face on!
  4. Engagement isn’t natural – If you are using a new engagement technique, realize that you must teach it, model it and tell students when they’re going to use it – and then practice, practice, practice before you expect it to be done.  Set kids up for success!
  5. Student engagement is built simultaneously on habitual use of engagement techniques AND keeping things interesting!  Find a balance between using techniques that students are confident in, but switching it up periodically so they don’t become stale and “phoned in”.  If you tune into your kids, you’ll know the exact point that you need to switch it up.
  6. Plan ahead for engagement.  While you might catch a break periodically with some bird-walking or “teachable moments”, 95% of your engagement should be planned for.  Ask yourself “Where do I need my kids to be super charged and into the content?”  And then work to teach them what it looks like to be engaged.
  7. Don’t assume that students know what engagement looks like and feels like.  I see that a lot of kids are struggling to engage because they don’t know what it is to be engaged!  If you’d unlock the secret for them, I bet they’d be raring to go.

Here’s what I know for sure: If you invite students to be engaged or more engaged, there’s a possibility that they won’t choose to join you!  BUT, if you structure your lessons so that they’re required to engage, you’re MUCH MORE LIKELY to see a big leap in engagement level.  It’s up to you!

Joy or Pain…Your Call

Teaching is a combination of the science and the art of the preparation and delivery.

When I’ve asked kids what makes a “super teacher” in their eyes, they typically identify teachers who really LIKE them.

They don’t call it rapport, but that’s exactly what it is.

This is what I see in their classrooms:

  • They add bits and pieces of joy regularly.  Like they’re really liberal with their use of it.  The pencil sharpening is “fun” because it’s done with purpose.
  • Teach with enthusiasm.  Like they’re REALLY happy to teach things like, ugh, GRAMMAR and, eek, SPELLING.
  • Connect with students.  Like they really like their kids.  They actually talk with them – not in a “listen so that this story can be over quickly dismissive kind of way”.

I know that you have so much to do in a day – the pressures are high – the administration is riding you that the scores are never high enough.

But in spite of all of that, I have a question that I really want you to take time to think about.  Like really, really think about: if someone were sitting in the balcony of your classroom and watching your performance, what would they see? 

Joy is contagious and a great motivator for the teacher and students!  Oh, and it has reaches far beyond just being “happy” at school…it is a BIG part of increasing those scores.

I’ve given you a list of the types of things that I see and hear in joyful classrooms.  Adopt some of these as your own…

  • “Tristan, let’s have your group share with us now…”
  • “Stephen, remember when you told us about XYZ last week? This is like that…”
  • “Good job guys! Excellent work.”
  • “Yes! We got it right!”
  • “I knew you could do it…”
  • “Let’s watch Tabitha as she shows us…”
  • “You are excellent!”
  • ”I know you’re working hard…”
  • “You’re tired, but you can do this!”
  • “Let’s not let this work get the best of us…”
  • “Thank you so much for your hard work…”
  • “I am so excited to see you…”
  • “Let’s try it this way and see if we get better results…”
  • “Turn to your partner and tell them ‘you’re great!’”

I know there are many of our readers who have perfected the art of a joyful classroom.  Visit our Facebook page right now and share your “joy tricks”.  I want to learn from YOU!

Teacher as Master or Teacher on Autopilot…What’s the Difference?

In December (which now seems like a hundred years ago!) I worked with a school district that is heavily invested in improving the quality of teaching.

They are doing a great job asking the right questions, inspecting teaching and the resulting data regularly and focusing on the effects of their teacher’s teaching on the students. It was all good.

However, I noticed something in a few classrooms that concerned me: teacher seemingly teaching on autopilot.

Here’s what it looked like:

  • The students were well behaved, albeit a bit robotic
  • The teacher was well prepared and had obvious master of the content
  • The students were following the teacher’s directions and so on

However, I had the distinct feeling that the teacher wasn’t “there” or wasn’t present during the lesson.

The teacher hit the marks and would have received check marks for evidence of good teaching practices, but the spirit of capturing the kids’ attention and truly taking interest in the content was missing. It seemed a bit like these few teachers had “been there, done that”.

The kicker? The students were performing well in the class despite a rousing endorsement of learning from the teacher!

I am realistic and practical to know that not every day of teaching is going to be a whiz bang, fireworks igniting and students weeping with joy over their newfound knowledge (though please let me know if you experience this daily, as I will personally fly to your area and take a look at it!), but we owe our students and ourselves some interest and excitement about the content…for both of these are highly contagious!

So what does interest and excitement look like? Some I believe will think that I’m referring to the teacher being “the sage on the stage”, but I know that while masterful teaching might include a bit of acting, it also includes mindfulness.

How are we mindful when we’re teaching?  Here are 4 thoughts!

  1. When students answer a question that, on the surface, is incorrect we delve deeper and ask follow up questions to determine WHY that student came to that response
  2. When students are working in small groups or independently, we do “check ins” and ask them “Tell me what you’re working on” or “How did you come to that response?”
  3. When we hear a rustling from the kids we don’t say “Shhh…!” we figure out what caused the rustling…maybe they are reacting to the content or making a connection that we can build on
  4. When a student asks a question, instead of listening to the initial (oftentimes simplistic) question, we ask them to tell us more about what they need to know, possibly unearthing the REAL question that might be at the root


Are you guilty of mindless teaching? 

Which of the 4 tips above will help pull you to into a mindful mindset?  Leave a comment!

Stop That Wedding! The Engagement Was a Farce!

If you know me, you know that I’m a hopeful romantic, I love lovey-dovey stuff and romantic comedies and against-all-odds love stories.  (Note to reader: For the men or non-romantics reading this, you can open your eyes now…)

One of my most favorite movies is Father of the Bride – not because of its deep, romantic ties or the fact that it was filmed in my hometown (true!), but because it shows the great parts of getting ready to get married and also the not-so-great parts of it, too.

In the final analysis, the couple gets married and because they have made a good choice in who they’d marry and also worked through a lot of their family, job, money issues throughout their engagement, I think they probably had a good life together.  (And they seemed to be doing well when I last checked in with them in Father of the Bride II!)

When I think of that engagement time, I think of how important it is to work out the kinks and really get down to the nitty-gritty of what you want your life together to be – in fact, I read once that engagement is all about figuring out if you’re ready to marry each other and to make a formal commitment to finding out IF marriage is the next step.

These days, within 2.333 hours of announcing engagement, we’ve practically booked the venue, briefed the wedding party, chosen the favors, forwarded the honeymoon itinerary and chosen the monogram for the first born!

My thought is HOLD UP A MINUTE! 

The REAL story of engagement is often this: woman tells man where he has to show up, what he has to wear and briefs him regularly on that weird aunt’s name so that he doesn’t forget it.  The woman is fawned over by her friends and other ladies while the man basically gets a boot camp-style briefing of the activities for the week.  He is merely a FIGURE in the whole scheme.  He is an observer and occasional interloper!

I’ve often heard of guys rolling their eyes over all of the wedding fussiness  -they’re simply trying to ENDURE it and get to the happily ever after part.

Now, I’m not trying to act like ALL guys are like this or ALL gals are like this but do you admit it is more common than not?

What I think we ought to explore is the connection between these wedding shenanigans and our teaching.  Huh?

Hear me out…

We have gotten a little glad-handy with our use of engagement techniques (much like brides with their 57 pre-wedding activities) – we have fallen for the idea that if we are using an engagement technique that kids must be engaged – or at least more engaged than if we didn’t use the technique.

We do not have a shortage of engagement ideas, technique, tricks-of-the-trade or training opportunities, so why is it that kids are still ENDURING instruction and not ENGAGING IN IT?

Really good kids are sitting in classrooms much too often just listening to the teacher do the work – or watching other kids do the work.  It has to be terribly boring.  I can tell you for sure, it’s boring to watch!

Kids are acting like they’re the bystanding groom to the teacher’s bride antics – engagement techniques are sometimes used and sometimes not, but the engagement level is still low all around. 

I don’t have to point out that students are not going to master content, receive high levels of direct teaching and academic-based feedback in these classrooms, do I?

So, how do we turn standing-by, enduring kind of classrooms or lessons into full blown engaged ones?  I have a couple of ideas…they aren’t fancy, but they will work if you work ‘em:

Enduring to Engaging Idea #1: Make sure that the content that you want to have students engage in is worthy of engagement 

Not everything is worth teaching – some things are worth just telling kids.  What’s the difference?

When I’m teaching something new, I go through the whole teach/model/practice/feedback/apply format.  It’s during the practice/feedback/apply part that I should be planning for high-levels of active engagement from students.  However, I have seen many times that teachers are having students use techniques like “think pair share” or “partner teams” for times when the content is minor or inconsequential to the mastery of the subject area.

When something is inconsequential or just minor to the big content picture, we can just say, “Ladies and gents, this means ______” or “What that refers to is like when__________” and move on.

The techniques that we use to increase engagement should be used to enhance and improve the mastery of super important, really high impact skills!  I so often hear “I would love to do more engagement activities, but they’re so time consuming!” – well, they ARE time consuming especially when you’re using them for inconsequential information.

Enduring to Engaging Idea #2: Make sure that you’re obsessed with checking-in with students during high-engagement times

There are two really big points of engagement: to give kids lots of practice on important skills in order to build mastery and to give kids lots of opportunity to show what they know, what they don’t know and what they kind of know so that the teacher can provide lots of direction, correction and re-direction.  Without engagement, we have no idea what’s going on in the kids’ heads!

What is common (and I’m guilty of these sometimes, too) is that while students are think/pair/sharing, teachers are getting set up for the next part of the lesson, are getting stuck at one group re-doing the lesson, are proctoring learning rather than engaging with kids in it and generally missing all of the good thinking and talking and interaction around the important content!

When students are talking with one another, it’s the PERFECT TIME to get in there and hear what they’re saying and commenting, redirecting, making a note to clear something up with the whole class, asking them to extend responses,  redirect their conversation or work or generally set them straight on something they have mis-learned!

Engagement is not about the kids and kids alone.  It’s around the TEACHER engaging with the KIDS and the CONTENT. 

So what is the take-away from this, in my book?  That we refine our definition of engagement from that of “using engagement techniques during teaching” to “setting up meaningful opportunities for students to work with, talk about, write about, think about the most important information that they’re required to learn”.

You’ve got everything you need to do this now…where will you start?

Come on over to www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting to talk – I’m waiting just for YOU!