March 14, 2018

The Value in Cultivating Grit

In January, I returned from hiatus with a blog post on confidence-building strategies. The take-home points are that we (1) value mistakes and model healthy responses to failure, (2) encourage learners to focus on what they can do, and (3) maximize critically thinking opportunities.

Since we're in the thick of it, I'd be remiss if I did not also recap student strategies for less stressful testing. Testing season is an intense time for educators, learners, and parents. There're a number of ways to decrease stress and enter testing season with greater confidence. One of our guest bloggers shares four strategies...

  1. Review information daily
  2. Clarify gaps in learning
  3. Change daily habits
  4. Build endurance

There's a connection.

Confidence-building strategies and strategies for less stressful testing are linked by grit. When we cultivate grit, we learn (and teach others) to persevere over long periods of time. For instance, one confidence-building strategy is that we model healthy responses to failure. It's not likely that modeling a healthy response once is going to cut it. Dealing with failure in healthy ways requires a lot of personal growth initially.

Learner perceptions about failure can be deep-rooted. The more deeply rooted our behaviors and thoughts, the more exposure to new behaviors and thoughts we require before change happens. This is not only true of our response to failure; it's true of our response to challenge. Habits are hard to break if we aren't gritty about making the change. 

Students with low confidence and poor test performance behave and think in ways that are not self serving. We don't want to overlook environmental factors that obliterate a child's confidence in himself or leaves her ill-prepared to compete academically. We also don't want to nurture narcissism. For a moment, we want to highlight something that learners can do for themselves: cultivate grit.

Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence

Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence explores character development: grit, growth mindset, and motivation. I draw on personal and professional experiences as well as current research to share do-it-yourself confidence-building strategies with educators and parents. Cultivating Grit takes readers and listeners on a journey through an eight-part discussion with five reflection activities to be completed individually or as a group. The premise is that by helping learners increase confidence, performance improves in class and at home.

It's a journey.

Those who experience failure are erroneously viewed as lacking grit. Grit skeptics seem to think that persevering over time means that we never miss the mark, that we always get the "thing" we're passionate about... if we work hard enough. Though some focus on one goal, execute the plan, and live happily ever after, many more of us will have to work very hard at a number of our passions.

Sectors of society are afflicted with the "this is how we've always done it" approach to education and training, which is much too rigid for us to reap the benefits of all our talents. I encourage you to have a closer look at the opportunities we uncover by understanding and cultivating grit in our lives.

We've found that character development is the secret to student growth. Cultivating grit is an important piece of character education for educators and parents. Request your free download of Cultivating Grit today.

January 3, 2018

Unpack Confidence-building Strategies

I've been on hiatus, and it's great to be back in the blogosphere! Taking time away from blogging and dialing down other nonsocial business activities has allowed me to connect with people in unprecedented ways. Over the past year, I've dedicated more time than ever to building relationships. 

I launched a nonprofit, gave speeches, submitted my first federal program grant, scored grant and scholarship applications for a national competition, served as a coach, consulted with school administrators and counselors, developed an ACT prep program, and so much more. It's truly been a whirlwind of failures and successes since my last post.

Find a National Tutoring Association certified tutor.

In true edupreneur style, I record life lessons. This habit is beneficial as a contributor to the National Tutoring Association's Tutor Strategies of the Week blog. This partnership is phenomenal. The practice of summarizing teachable moments into compact, confidence-building strategies has revealed similarities among daily challenges that educators, parents, learners, and tutors overcome. 

Facing failure, remaining hopeful, and thinking critically are common barriers to success that leave us wondering should we go over it, around it, or through it?

Facing Failure
Learners pay attention to how we make mistakes. They pay attention to how we fail.
  • Do we admit our failures or try to cover them up?
  • Do we make our thoughts explicit?
  • Are we modeling the right ways to recover from mistakes, to fail forward?
​When we value mistakes and model healthy responses to failure, we nurture the same in those around us. One way I model a healthy response to failure for clients involves marking out wrong answers rather than erasing them. 

Erasing a mistake makes it easier to forget, which is often the goal. But, this approach can be counterproductive. Clients are discouraged from erasing mistakes on the whiteboard and on notebook paper. The reason: seeing the mistake encourages us to make different mistakes until we succeed.

 Jessica Lahey - The Gift of Failure

Remaining Hopeful
Shifting to a hopeful mindset (or growth mindset) following failure is challenging. This process requires grit, a concept I enjoy exploring with clients. So often we're sure the world is coming to an end due to a mistake, only to forget the details months later. 

We promote a growth mindset by encouraging learners to focus on what they can do. Help learners transition...
  • from "I don't know" to "Let's try this"; 
  • from "I can't" to "I can"; 
  • from "I'm not good at _____to "I can learn _____ with effort".
Model this. Make it a habit. Becoming gritty about adopting a growth mindset makes it easier to move from failure to failure without losing momentum. Explore more grit and growth mindset affirmations by creating your very own grit fish independently or as a group. The craft activity requires minimal prep time and is fun for all ages.

Grit Fish - A Grit and Growth mindset Craft Activity

Thinking Critically
Asking people to do something they don't know how to do is one of the quickest ways to earn an introduction to a their 'not-so-fun' alter egos. Without the proper resources, having the desire to complete a task may not be enough to get the job done. What are we to do when we don't know what we don't know? 

To help clients clear their paths during the learning process, we use a strategy called "wait time" (or "thinking time"). The goal is to match the pace of  learners. We want to wait while they think... but not too long. 

We want to check nonverbal cues like body language to discern appropriate times we should...
  • listen, 
  • wait quietly, or 
  • instruct.
​Allowing learners enough time to get uncomfortable without inciting frustration helps identify gaps in understanding. 
You're invited to explore more strategies by visiting the National Tutoring Association's website

Jackson Education Support (JE) offers fun and engaging learning experiences to learners of all ages. Specialty subjects include literacy, math, and science. We develop in-person and online solutions for educators, families, and learners globally. Read feedback and learn more by visiting

March 28, 2017

Student Strategies for Less Stressful Testing

It is almost that time of the year when Mississippi students begin state testing. Classrooms can become very intense, because teachers have administrators on their backs... and administrators have central office staff on their backs. This pressure can cause tension between teachers and students. 

Students in high schools really have it tough because state testing solidifies graduation. Consider a four tips designed to improve assessment performance.

50 Tricks to Study Better, Faster and with Less Stress

Review information daily. Daily review periods minimize test anxiety. Many students get nervous on day of test, because they don't feel adequately prepared. If learners review learning material on a daily basis, they will not have the added pressure of getting it all in at the last minute. Students who feel prepared on test day generally experience less anxiety and are better equipped to demonstrate skills mastery.

Clarify gaps in learning. Many teachers review testing standards with students. Teachers connect preexisting skills as they introduce new concepts. But, students are encouraged not to let a teacher proceed with the lesson if the lesson is unclear, if questions remain. Test takers regret having not asked questions for clarity in class when they get to the test and run across a familiar topic that they do not fully understand. Avoid this stressor and improve performance by asking questions and following up with more questions.

 Why Students Don’t Participate In Discussions And What To Do About It

Change daily habits. Many times students want to continue to stay up late, hang out with friends, or  try to remember things without writing them down.  As students enter testing periods, transition in focus is mandatory. Their focus should be on mastering the test, on exceeding expectations. Accomplishing this goal may require a few changes in daily habits. I would always tell students that those same friends will be there after testing, if they are your true friend.

Build endurance. Often, students find themselves falling asleep during testing. Sometimes, sleepiness will over power the mind and body, and students begin marking any answer choice just to finish the test. Prepare the extended testing periods now by getting a good night's sleep. By resting the body, students build up more energy that can be leveraged to practice testing endurance over the next few weeks.

My final thoughts: I understand that testing can be stressful. Let's work on ourselves to facilitate less stressful testing.

A very special thanks goes to
guest blogger, Darein C. Spann, Ed.S.
Darein is a public school teacher and
board director for the National Education Association.