Have you lost your way?

One of the things that makes me laugh out loud is when folks say, “Oh I would love to be a teacher, all that vacation and fun with the kids sounds so wonderful!”  (Don’t you just want to gag and roll your eyes at the same time?  I do!)


Now I tend to think that teaching is hard, FUN work, but sometimes I feel like I’m the only one who thinks of it as fun.  I wonder if sometimes we’ve lost our way.  Or lost our oomph.

I worry about educators who are going through the motions, who, as they say, “teach the same year 33 times” – no innovation, no reflection, no adjustment…no joy or oomph.  I don’t think that because you’ve lost your way you can’t find your way back, but sometimes getting back on track and remembering our purpose takes some work.  The work is not just spent on what I’m FEELING, but what I’m PRODUCING.  In other words – my success as a teacher starts with my attitude but ends with my performance.

When I work to coach educators who have lost their way in their school or on their team or in their office, I oftentimes start with the FACTS so that we don’t get mired in the emotion of it all (though that is an important part and next step to re-committing to one’s purpose).

I wanted to share with you the questions (they’re pretty technical, but so is teaching) that I usually start with.  Once I’ve identified the baseline data with a client, oftentimes they realize that the problem they THOUGHT they had wasn’t really the problem or the problem that they thought they had wasn’t actually as severe as they originally thought. 

So, whether you think you’ve lost your way or whether you’re raring to go, you can use these guiding questions to help you reflect on the results of your passion or purpose!  Check ‘em out:

  1. What grade level has the most clearly defined and executed model?  How do you know that they are faithful to their model?
  2. What grade level has the farthest to grow in defining and executing a plan of action for Tiers I, II, III?  Why have they not progressed in the past in following a plan?
  3. What grade levels are on their way, but need support in further refining their model?
  4. Does your support staff know their role in providing instruction for students or support for the classroom teachers or specialists?
  5. How do you currently match materials with the needs of students?
  6. What is your success rate with “exiting” students from intervention?  Is it a life sentence once they are intervention candidates?
  7. What work needs to be done with the classroom teachers so that they can maximize their Tier I instruction, therefore reducing the number of students receiving additional instructional support?
  8. What materials are you having the most success with?  What aspects of the model are you having the most success with?  Are there stakeholders who are not currently participating in differentiating instruction, but could be tapped to provide small group instruction?
  9. What is your expectation, from a leadership perspective, about the growth of the students receiving Tier II and III instruction?  How do you know that they need to be exited?

Did one particular question stick with you? 

Come over to my facebook page (www.facebook.com/jacksonconsulting) and post the question on the wall and see what others think about it!

We must put an end to this…and I mean it!

We’re better than this.  We are more professional than this.  We are more skilled than this.

What is “this”?

It is a conversation that goes something like…

Oh my.  Just WAIT until you get my kids next year…good luck!”

“We have that really wild group of 4th graders coming through…wait until you get ’em next year.  Yowza!’

“These parents are a trip!  I’m glad I get to send them to you next year.”

THIS is the “this” that we must stop immediately.  Why?

Because here’s what we’re doing when we talk like that:

  • We are pre-establishing our expectations to “this won’t work”
  • We are admitting “I couldn’t make this work”
  • We are saying “There’s no hope for these kids”
  • We are setting the kids up to a “You won’t make it” future

I don’t know about you, but I have a sneaking suspicion that you are about as competitive or
driven as I am – I want to be great, I want my students to be great and part of how  judge my
performance is by my ability to work with ANY kind of students with ANY kind of parent.

I usually find that it’s the same people who “always have the low kids” or “always get the rude parents”…and I don’t believe it for one second!   I’ve seen teachers take the “same kids” and the “same parents” and they work WONDERS!  And the kids are happy!  And the parents are kind and engaged!  What was the difference?  The teacher.


So, I hope that you’ll join me in keeping “teaching” family business within the family.  What does this mean?

  • Spread the good stuff about teaching and keep the venting to 1-2 colleagues who can help you get out of a funk by some good problem-solving.
  • Check your attitude and see what your response is when you hear the Negative Nelly’s griping about next year’s students – do you engage?  Do you smile and move on?
  • When you get a new class of kids, do you check the cum files to see about their “past” or do you give them a fresh start?  Everyone deserves a fresh start.
  • Do you anticipate the troublesome kids and prepare a plan BEFORE they arrive so that you can AVOID troubles?

If I’m talkin’ your language…click the “like” button at the top of the post, or leave your two cents below! 

Ummm, you left your keys outside

Have you ever headed out to the car in a rush and can’t find your keys? You search all around and retrace your steps and you are about to call a friend to give you a ride when you take that one last look outside and you find that you left your keys dangling in the lock on the outside of the door?

Well I have.  And it’s usually when I’m trying to do 1 million things at once!

(Side note: Some of you are from rural areas and thinking, “What is she talking about? I don’t even lock my door at night!  If that’s you, just go with me here…I’m a California girl where we set the alarm when we’re home during the DAY!)

We work so hard to protect our homes from flood, from fire, from mold, from asbestos, from intruders, from earthquakes…but when we leave the keys dangling in the lock outdoors, we undo all of our security work and put ourselves at risk…all with one careless move!

I find that I have the “keys dangling in the lock on the outside of the door” talk with many educators that I work with, but instead of talking about intruders like I might at home, I find myself saying things like this:

  • “What do you mean you stopped doing your interventions two weeks early because of state testing?”
  • “Huh?  You allowed a presenter to come to your school and tell the teachers that SBRR is a thing of the past?”
  • “You’re kidding me, you haven’t followed through on monitoring the pacing plan and two teachers are two units apart?”    
  • “I must be hearing things…did you say that you haven’t had a leadership meeting in three months because things ‘got hectic’?”

Let me be clear here.  The people we work with are not dumb, they’re not ignorant, they’re not frivolous or silly in their pursuits, BUT they do tend to leave the keys to the kingdom dangling in the lock and allow intrusion into areas that they should be protecting like their own homes (see bullets above!).  Let me explain.

Most of our clients come to us because they have a problem to solve: low literacy and reading scores.  So, the nature of our clients literacy work is this: something isn’t working right and they need help figuring out how to fix it.  (We’re kind of like personal trainers…you want help to become more fit but then sometimes you fight the trainer because you don’t want to do the work.)  This is a common occurrence and we know how to deal with it and keep everyone on track!

What I find that successful schools have in common is this: they stay the course no matter what – they do not leave the keys dangling outside allowing someone or something to take control of them within their knowledge.

What I find that less-successful schools have in common is this: they are easily side-tracked and tend to veer off track if something sounds like a better idea.

So, if you are an educator who works in a less-successful school or classroom, you have to ask yourself – are we leaving the keys dangling in the lock and allowing any ol’ fool to come in here and tell us what to do or how we need to change our plan?  Are we falling for “flash” over substance when it comes to curricular materials or techniques?  Are we doing the “knee jerk” dance, flip flopping everywhere when something pops up as interesting?

If any of the above things sound familiar, then you’ve probably left the keys to the kingdom outside.

How do we become less knee-jerk-ish (new word, I quite like it!) and more stay-the-course-ish (new word, I like IT too!)?

Here are 4 simple steps to getting back on track by bringing the keys into a safe place:

STEP 1:  When you are working with a consultant or attending a training/conference, when there is new information presented, ask yourself,

  • “What is the research base?”  or
  • “If I were to implement this technique would it cause me to get off course with the task at hand?”  or
  • “Do I need to file this idea under ‘great idea, just not now’?”

STEP 2: When you are looking at the data and it’s not looking like you want it to and you’re tempted to dump everything and start over, ask yourself,

  • “Have I honestly worked all aspects of the current plan I have in place?” and
  • “Have I given the current plan enough time to have effect?” and
  • “Am I jumping to another idea because I’m frustrated, bored or tired?”

STEP 3:  Slow down. Oftentimes we allow outside intruders to enter our school when we’re so busy we don’t even know they’ve snuck in.  Aim to work more methodically and not fall prey to all of the fires that need to be put out – sometimes they go out on their own.

STEP 4:  Give yourself a timeline when you implement anything.  I find that when we say, “We are going to work with this plan for 2.5 months before we make any alterations, this tends to get rid of the falling-for-the-flash, knee-jerk, abandon-the-plan behaviors that derail success.  This is such a simple but powerful step AND a cool side effect?  When we know we have to buckle down, we tend to not even look at other ideas.  And that’s a good thing!

So, here’s the question of the blog: Are your keys dangling outside just waiting for some ugly and awful intruder to infiltrate your school?


An iPad is the Holy Grail…and other lies I tell myself

So, it’s Sunday night and I have another one of my recurring thoughts: How is THIS week going to be different with my diet and exercise? 

Can you relate? 

I mean I haven’t been doing too badly…I’ve cut Diet Coke (except for the five I drank on Friday night, but it was Friday night and so it doesn’t count because Friday is different than other days in so many ways, but I digress…a lot) and I’ve tried to not eat after 7pm and I’ve walked twice in the past week (I know, breaking records all over the place for commitment). 

These little changes that do add up, but still NOT the golden ticket.

So late this afternoon while I’m packing for my trip tomorrow and sipping my Diet Coke…um, water…I have a brilliant thought.  And here it is:

I need an iPad. 

An iPad?  To do what?


If I had an iPad, I would download my mp3s that I listen to for my business coaching.

Then I would take said iPad to the gym that I joined in a fancy shmancy part of town (you know, the gym I joined because it’s in a safer part of town so that when I’m coming home late from the airport and I want to put in a workout at midnight after an 18 hour day I could be safe…yeah THAT gym – the one I’ve not visited in a month). 

I would hook up my iPad with said mp3s into the elliptical (my favorite thing, if anything in the gym could be characterized as “favorite”). 

I would listen to my coaching recordings and take notes on the little bitty post-it note app.  All whilst (I like saying that word as often as possible) I was working out and sweating up a storm.

Tell me this doesn’t sound like a GREAT idea!

Here’s the problem – it’s not about the iPad.  It’s not about the elliptical.  It’s not about the fancy gym in the good part of town.  It’s not about the 18 hour days.  It’s about me.  And my commitment.  Or lack thereof.

So all of my shenanigans have brought me to remember this one quote that I have on my office bulletin board: A YEAR FROM NOW WILL YOU WISH YOU HAD STARTED TODAY.

Oh my, I love that! And I hate it at the same time…it’s too true for me!

So, here I am on Sunday night now, getting ready for the week after a fun dinner with friends and some good TV catching-up to do (my not-so-guilt pleasure after lots of hard work).  And I don’t want tomorrow to be yet another start to the week where I say, “Tomorrow’s a new day.  You are going to work out 19 times this week,” and then do nothing and crab at myself in my head.

Because that’s what I do – I over-commit and then get down on myself when I don’t follow through.

When I’m trying to break a habit or start a new one, I try to stay positive by doing a few little things:

  1. Focus on what IS possible, not what is not possible
  2. Cast a wide net and give myself a big vision for the future, but figure out one small, do-able change I can make to get closer to my goal
  3. Talk nicely to myself
  4. Change my morning routine a bit to accommodate the change – get started off on the right foot
  5. Get away from the “I’m so bad I ate a cookie” or “I was so ‘good’ because I didn’t eat a cookie” mentality – after all, I think I’m a pretty good chick most of the time, so this isn’t about ‘bad’ and ‘good’ anyway  – a missed workout or one-too-many cookies doesn’t make me a bad person – or at least I hope it doesn’t because I’m in deep trouble…

You might be thinking…wait a minute – isn’t this a literacy blog?  Where does she start talking about books and stuff?

Well, I might skip the book talking (you can read my past and future blogs with lots of that stuff in it) in this article, but what I DO want you to think about is this: What do you need to do to improve the health of your literacy work? 

If you’re a leader…what small habits can you get rid of or add to your life to become a more effective instructional leader?

If you’re a coach…is there anything in your role that’s standing in the way of you being a more excellent coach?  If so, what step can you make to remove that block?

If you’re a teacher…is there an area that your data is showing that you need to make some improvement?  Do you need to ask for help or start a conversation with a colleague to help you build something into your instruction to deal with that data?

My goal this week is to get three, yes only three but I’m trying to be realistic, workouts in this week while I’m on the road.

Where will you start?

Gaining and Maintaining Attention: The Never-ending Teacher Task!

If you read my blog regularly, you know that I have a true passion for the art of engaging students in instruction – there’s always room to grow for any of us! I demonstrated lessons in middle school and high school recently and was reminded how even the “older” students need constant reminders of their responsibility in the learning. I had a colleague of mine observe me teaching and jot down the particular phrases that I consistently use as I work to increase the engagement and intensity of any lesson and here are a few:

Cue words to ask for attention

  • “As you put your attention on me…”
  • “All eyes up front…”
  • “Here we go…”
  • “We are all ready to move on…”
  • “Alright, and we’re off!”
  • “Thanks for turning your attention to me…”
  • “Tell your partner to turn to me…”

Start only when you have attention

  • “I am waiting for your attention…”
  • “I’ll wait for you…”
  • “We are losing our passing period…”
  • “I’ll just wait until you’re ready…”
  • “This is your time you’re wasting now…”

Which do you think you’ll try this week?