June 5, 2019

Back-to-School Secrets You Need Now

My clients learned a lot last school year: accomplished goals, demonstrated mastery, passed exams, earned promotions, increased engagement. I also learned a lot by joining forces with clients to help them confidently transition into more challenging environments. I've served as a coach, consultant, private tutor, and trainer. This year has been my most exciting and productive one yet.

 Partner with Jillian Smart today.

My educators developed skills to reach more students and earn better pay. My students overcame the stress of high stakes learning environments to earn more credits and complete degrees. My adult clients achieved the personal and professional growth necessary to secure higher paying jobs and launch business ventures. My parents stayed the course in dealing with the challenges of children's learning disabilities and behavioral challenges. This post highlights one way educators, learners and their families can make the most of summer months.

 Take Your Craft Seriously - Jay Z

Education Professionals
Self-care is the back-to-school secret for education professionals. Your commitment to self-care is inextricably linked to taking your role as an administrator, counselor, educator, or support staff member seriously. What do you enjoy doing? Which activities protect your peace? How do you re-energize? Really think about your answers to these questions. Write them down.

Now, check your calendar. How many of the things from your list are on your calendar? More than half? Less than half? All? None? Is your summer schedule just as hectic as it is during the school year because you're busy pouring into other people, wearing hats that actually belong to them (e.g., chauffeur, housekeeper, babysitter)?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with helping out family or friends in need. Kudos to you for being self-less. However... you thank me for this reminder by November if you analyze your schedule for opportunities to spend time with yourself. Get to know the new you. Read books. Listen to audiobooks. Write a book. Start the side hustle you've been mulling over. Take the trip you've been planning in your head. Do something for you every single day of the summer!

Work for Magic - Jay Z

Adult Students
Establishing new habits is the back-to-school secret for adult students. Planning to be enrolled in classes during Fall Semester? On break for the summer? This is the time to establish new habits. The top two reasons students fail involve wrong people and wrong time.

Time management is a big one. Procrastination causes us to earn fewer points on assignments and exams. When we don't use our time wisely, when we set a schedule and fail to stick to it (or worse, when don't bother to plan at all), we forgo opportunities to develop deep understanding of content.

Avoiding peer pressure to engage in unproductive activities is the common approach to avoiding the wrong people. Another approach involves protecting our time and energy so as not to invest in others when we should be investing in ourselves. Some study groups may not be beneficial for you. In life, we want to give more; in study groups, we want to our gifts to be matched. Everyone must bring value to the table, or you're at the wrong table.

Inspire people from your neighborhood - Jay Z

Parents and Caregivers
Investigating last year's pitfalls is the back-to-school secret for parents and caregivers of school age children. Last year's pitfalls include un-mastered content. What are your child's weak areas? Math is too general a response. Could he divide fractions, perform long division using decimal numbers, solve capacity conversion items, translate phrases to algebraic expressions? Reading is too general a response. Did she master the concept of theme, main idea, inference, summarizing? Is she weak in fluency, vocabulary, text complexity?

This high level of understanding of your child's (or children's) learning challenges comes from spending time with performance data. Studying last year's online grade book and testing reports, flipping through newsletters and graded papers, having candid and low-stakes conversations with students.

Parental engagement is one of the most important determining factors of student success. Stack the deck in your child's favor by addressing achievement gaps over the summer. Fall semester will be easier, family relationships will improve.

Partner with Jillian Smart today.

Every day counts. Every hour counts. If you commit to adopting the recommendation for your demographic, starting the new year will be easy peasy. If you struggle with commitment and accountability, if you're not sure where to begin in implementing the back-to-school secrets, then working with a professional ensures success over the short-run. You don't have to go it alone. Visit the website to learn about how I help clients confidently transition into more challenging environments.

You're invited to keep the conversation by sharing how you plan to make the most of summer months in the comments. Guest submissions welcome as well.

May 8, 2019

5 Ways Your Preschool Curriculum is Hurting Rather Than Helping

I've worked with educators, learners and their parents to address underlying causes of low performance and packaged the experience as a curriculum supplement designed to increase engagement among preschoolers. I've done the heavy lifting for you, so you don't have to go through the trouble of reinventing the wheel.

 Partner with Jackson Education Support

We want preschoolers to remain engaged (and feel included) in class activities. This requires access to instruction and repeated exposure to letters and numbers. Singing an educational song or playing an abc game doesn't mean students are growing toward mastery of alphabetic principles. Glaring evidence comes in the form of overcompensation - students appearing to learn the material. Such students are skillful in interpreting facial expressions and picking up on cues from the environment to choose correct answers; however, they are not able to demonstrate mastery without prompting.

The route we don't want to take involves passing the student with great personality and social skills along without strong literacy skill. We don't want to wish children into special education courses and IEP programs. We also don't want to prevent intellectually advanced students from transitioning with their peers to the next classroom or to kindergarten. We want to be proactive about unexpected and uncharacteristic challenges they experience.

The curriculum supplement that I propose as a solution to this conundrum isn't the solution, simply a solution that requires minimal adjustment to the way classrooms are run. The ABC Sensory system serves as a bridge by making instruction (and assessment) more accessible to early learners. Preschool curricula that do not provide this approach require expenditure of resources to secure teams of professionals: dyslexia and auditory processing disorder specialists, early literacy interventionists. Implementing ABC Sensory is a low-cost alternative and useful for building strong home-school partnerships as well.

 Teaching Strategies - 38 Objectives
(Save this image for a condensed view of preschool learning objectives.)

ABC Sensory addresses five pain points of many preschool curricula.

Preschool Pain Point #1: Setting parameters for writing letters "correctly". Too much correction prompts learners to disengage and narrow definitions of mastery lead to low confidence. We want to combat this unintended effect embedded in many preschool curricula. ABC sensory handwriting practice sheets show letter shapes and make room for learners to form each in ways that feel natural to them. It's an appropriate modification for learners with weak fine-motor and coordination skills.

Preschool Pain Point #2: Lack of accommodations for learners with delayed language development. Curriculum modifications for special needs populations requires communication, time, and effort. Nonetheless, these learners need strategies in order to follow directions the first time during active learning experiences. Learners who do not yet speak clearly or process language slowly benefit from the ABC Sensory approach in lieu of expressing thoughts verbally. Normalizing ABC Sensory hand signals at home and school-wide addresses this pain point.

Preschool Pain Point #3: Supporting diverse groups of preschoolers with varying social emotional strengths. Adhering to limits and expectations, taking care of their own needs appropriately, forming relationships with adults and friends are all aspects of development that may be impeded by language acquisition challenges. ABC Sensory offers a solution that addresses these and more social emotional preschool learning guidelines by equipping students with tools for interactive classroom collaboration.

Preschool Pain Point #4: Placing limits on self-expression. This approach prompts young learners to shut down. It's difficult to demonstrate a positive approach to learning when the expectation is that students express themselves in ways they have yet to master. With this pain point, I'm specifically referring to students who are learning to cope with delayed and different cognitive abilities. The examples in a recent blog post further demonstration how ABC Sensory offers relief in this area.

Preschool Pain Point #5: Delayed diagnosis and intervention. Encouraging use of digital games to strengthen alphabetic knowledge takes precious time away from building strong motor skills. With ABC Sensory print games (suitable board games), we don't have to choose between learning letters or improving handwriting skill or mastering social-emotional objectives. Playing print games with adults and peers is especially helpful for nurturing the whole child.

 ABC Sensory (sample the complete system on TPT)

Why reinvent the wheel?
ABC Sensory is a system created for clients and perfected over the course of dozens of private tutoring sessions with feedback from parents and early learning experts. Hand signals for each letter of the alphabet are specially designed to improve recall and ideal for teaching the differences between features of similar letters like b, d, p, and q. Using the hand signals helps students unlearn instinctive directionality associated with other objects in the environment. Early learners, preschoolers, and special needs populations learn their ABC's with ease; they're also equipped to participate in an inclusive setting while working toward mastery.

Preorder the complete ABC Sensory system today to save program dollars and develop your staff. The system includes ABC Sensory teachers handbook, flashcards, and 200+ pages of abc learning activities especially designed to facilitate participation in inclusive preschool classrooms and meet the unique challenges learners with disabilities face. Request a quote for bulk orders.

To sample the complete ABC Sensory system, download the handwriting journal and flashcards in our Teachers Pay Teachers store. Educational Support Professionals are available to answer questions and walk you through product demonstrations. You're invited to schedule professional development training today.


You're invited to become an ABC Sensory partner 
by emailing the learning center: published@je411.com. 


April 3, 2019

Equanimity Update: Student behavior goals

Can you believe it's already April?! Here in Jackson, Mississippi, spring isn't in full swing yet. Still, it's nice to have more sunlight and warmer days. It's also exciting to bring this semester to a close. I'm eager to see my clients' hard work manifest as higher scores, better grades, improved performance, and greater confidence.

Equanimity - A heart that's ready for anything

What is equanimity anyway?

Recall, our working definition of equanimity: a noun that expresses what it means to experience life events with mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper - especially in difficult situations. Prior to writing January's blog, I studied the work of Dr. Tara Brach which highlights the restorative health benefits of learning how to sit in uncomfortable situations.

In reflecting on the concept of equanimity as it applies to professional development, I've spent a lot of time reviewing The Year of Equanimity in Education blog post.
  1. Have I purposefully stood with children or left them to their own devices?
  2. Did I recognize root causes of misbehavior or punish students who lack skills I haven't taught?
  3. Am I accepting learners as they are or judging unorthodox pleas for support?
As oppose to shining a light on the bright moments, it's more effect to unpack the cloudy ones.We want to finish this semester stronger than we began, so I challenge you to write about one situation when you missed the mark. Sit with this exercise long enough to uncover one example for each question.

Here's my truth moment.

A student experienced three melt-downs in an hour. He is a lower elementary client with severe behavior challenges; self-control often requires more effort than he can muster.

The task was to write interrogative (asking) sentences. Given his history, I anticipated the task would be a challenge. His initial resistance was expected, so I left him to his own devices. The expectation was that he'd struggle as he'd done before, write the sentences, and we'd move on. So much for expectations...

Executive Functioning Challenges

The first scaffold involved writing asking words on the whiteboard; these are words we use to begin asking sentences. Still, the student opted to start sentences using his own words even after reviewing our list of asking words a few times. Surprisingly, this support failed miserably as well.

Via questioning, I learned that the student wanted to write declarative (telling) sentences instead of asking sentences. I smiled, said I understood, and confirmed that we had to write the asking sentences to move on; this response escalated the situation to self-harm. I was flabbergasted and hurt for him.

My spirit of perseverance took over. We were going to finish writing these six (or seven) sentences. Today. So, I dug deeper.

As I'm brainstorming strategies to end the session on a high note, he's throwing writing utensils, crying loudly, and kicking on the floor. The noise and distractions made it difficult to think, so I picked him up and sat him on my knee. He fought and struggled. I wrapped my arms around him and rocked him. I'm not sure why; I'd never done this before with a client. But, it worked.

He quieted himself during this time and his breathing returned to normal. I read over a document, and we remained in this position until he asked to write the interrogative sentences. Go figure!

I was pleased that he eventually completed the task. It wasn't good enough to complete the task. Next time, we'd need to complete the task within a much shorter time period.

 Ready to demonstrate mastery

Here's how I plan to end stronger.

Days later, the potential of a similar challenge swelled under the surface as we learned to sort spelling words in ABC order. I promised to end the session if he didn't choose to stay on task. Immediately, he cried that he wanted to stay and finish his homework. (My heart melted.)

I decided to incorporated my trusty star system to keep the student mindful of his behavior. He'd earn a star for unproductive behaviors. Three stars signaled the session would end. This client also had the opportunity to get rid of stars by choosing one of a few productive behaviors I'd explained and modeled for him.

Deep down students want to learn; they also want to demonstrate mastery. During our most recent session, the same client struggled with self-control and didn't give up on the task at hand. I was so excited for him, and his huge smile showed proof he was proud too.


You're invited to clap back in a guest post, share feedback privately, and invite me to facilitate your next educator or parent training. Academic and character development training opportunities available. Schedule today: je411.com/schedule.

March 6, 2019

Early Academic Intervention: Should the Classroom Teacher Tutor?

Insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Doing more of an ineffective thing doesn't qualify as a genuine attempt at becoming more effective, right? That's not how any of this works.

I want to preface this message by showing gratitude for how hard classroom educators work. Their commitment and sacrifices are not sufficiently acknowledged nor rewarded.We shouldn't expect them to do it all alone...

I raise this question - should the classroom teacher tutor? - because tutoring sessions held by classroom teachers are failing so many students. As a nationally certified professional tutor, it's disheartening that the majority of my clients believed they couldn't learn because of how the classroom teacher unpacked learning material. All too often, learners become frustrated because the multiple representations strategy is missing in many classrooms.

As practitioners in the education community, we tend to present concepts in ways that make sense to us. This approach makes sense. Deconstructing complex ideas and re-packaging them into lessons is challenging. Figuring out multiple ways to present complex ideas to students is even more challenging and requires a level of time commitment that's scarce given the work load of classroom teachers.

 Personalize Learning

Here's what to look for...

First, we have to be willing to look around us to see that an issue exists. Then, we have to name it and look inward to see how we've contributed to the issue. Finally, we have to commit to removing the culprit: environmental influences, preconceived notions, unproductive behaviors.

  • If he's not learning in the classroom, stop expecting the classroom teacher to tutor the child. Using the same teaching strategies for tutoring sessions isn't likely to improve performance. For a few, this approach works. For most, it's a bust.
  • If she attends class regularly and is failing, stop expecting the classroom teacher to tutor the child. Showing up is half the battle; still students need to receive equitable instruction during class time. Evidence of inadequate instruction shows up early on: inability to complete homework independently; and low daily grades and quiz scores.
  • If they don't like being in class, stop expecting the classroom teacher to tutor children. We are reminded by Rita Pierson quotes that building relationships with students is mandatory. Click the image below to learn why it's important for kids to like classroom teachers and how you can facilitate this transition.

 Rita Pierson, TEDTalk

Students don't learn from teachers they don't like. Forcing a student to try to learn something from someone they don't like has the potential to strengthen character; but, it's unlikely that academic performance will improve in a timely manner. We want to look for opportunities to match learners with professionals who are best equipped to reach them... and transform performance quickly.

Next steps...

When students are struggling, investigate. Resist the blame-game and finger-pointing. Stressful times are opportunities for parents and educators to show compassion, to follow the student's lead, to seek early academic intervention from a professional experienced in identifying and addressing the root causes of poor performance.

Jackson Education Support exists to develop more independent learners by implementing personalized services and supporting engagement efforts. Both low-performing students and gifted students benefit from intensive academic intervention. Early academic intervention is always best; nonetheless, commitment to a personalized learning plan results in dramatic improvement in performance as well as noticeable increase in confidence.

Here's the secret to Jackson Education Support's 96% success rate among private tutoring and exam preparation clients of all ages.

  1. Make content accessible to students through equitable instruction.
  2. Engage students in meaningful and rigorous learning opportunities.
  3. Encourage multiple means of expression (not only teaching to the test).


If you have a student or know a student
who could benefit from academic intervention,
visit je411.com/schedule to explore support options.

February 6, 2019

Fall in Love with College Prep

It’s the season of love! February is a time for eating delicious chocolates, receiving fluffy teddy bears, and recognizing the sacrifices and successes of African Americans during Black History Month

But, during moments filled with red, white, and pink hues, the spirit of the month of February can also be channeled into a love of college preparation among high school juniors and seniors. For students with aspirations to pursue post-secondary education, whether a community college, technical school, or university, I've outlined below a few steps to take during the month of love.

 Candace Chambers

Parents of Juniors:
I. ACT/SAT Prep 
February is a good month to prepare to take the ACT or SAT, the top two college entrance exams. These tests provide colleges an overview of students' academic strengths and weaknesses. Taking the ACT or SAT during one’s junior year can give the student an idea of the areas in which they may need to improve. If your child’s school district offers the ACT or SAT on-site during the school year, I advise that they also register for an additional test during their junior year, so they can gauge their progress from the previous test or need for improvements. Students can check with their high school counselors for available testing fee waivers. 
The ACT and SAT offers tests several times during the year. Specifically for the ACT, if you were notable to meet the testing deadline for the February ACT, the next ACT offered during the 2018-2019 school year is Saturday, April 13, 2019, with a registration deadline of March 8, 2019. (If possible, take the writing section of the ACT at least once because some schools require this section for admissions.)
More information about the ACT concerning costs, additional test dates, and more can be found at actstudent.org. Information about the SAT can be found on College BoardCheck within your community for ACT and SAT workshops which are often hosted at churches or tutoring centers
II. Transcripts 
Also, during the month of February of a student’s junior year, it is good to obtain a current Grade Point Average (GPA) from the high school counselor. Students or parents should be able to request an official transcript to reflect grades from freshman and sophomore years as well as the first semester of their junior year. 
Knowing your GPA gives an idea of the gap (if any) between current performance and college entrance or scholarship goals. Working to obtain a high GPA results in more options for college admissions, scholarships, and grants when students begin to apply for college during their senior year. 
III. Extra-Curriculars 
College admission officers often value students’ participation in extra-curricular activities.  Encourage juniors to get involved in clubs and organizations at the high school and in the community. Their involvement can provide opportunities for leadership and ways for them to showcase their talents. They may also become more eligible for scholarships in areas like leadership, sports, or music.

Parents of Seniors:
I. The List 
For seniors, February is a time to take the ACT or SAT, obtain a current transcript, and participate in extra-curricular activities. This is also a time to narrow a list of colleges for admissions and scholarships. Parents can work with students to create a list of about 6 colleges which includes schools that are in-state, out-of-state... a student’s dream school or the most economical schools for your budget. Always search for cheaper alternatives in case your student does not receive the amount of financial aid expected and to avoid taking out thousands of dollars in loans. Be determined to send your child to a school that is accredited and is the best option financially!
After creating the list, place schools in a chart that includes the following categories: Admissions Requirements, Scholarships, and Tours. Check off each category upon completion. For example, under the category of Admissions Requirements, ensure that all items are submitted as stated by the college or university. Some items may include an official copy of the ACT scores, an official transcript, and immunization forms. 
II. Scholarships 
For the category of Scholarships, be sure that the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) is completed for the upcoming school year, and that scholarship applications are complete. Some schools only require one application to be eligible for all scholarships, and other schools may award scholarships from admissions items. Common scholarship requirements include a letter of recommendation, a transcript, and an essay, which your student can learn how to write here. 
It is best to begin searching at the schools of interest before searching for external scholarships. Institutional scholarships include academic, leadership, sports, music, art, foundation, and alumni. These scholarships have a smaller competition pool than state or national scholarships. Often, institutional scholarships are valid for the duration of a students' college tenure. In other words, if a student is awarded this kind of scholarship, tuition, fees, room and board may be covered for up to 4 years. I give more information about the types of scholarships in my book. 
After applying for all eligible institutional scholarships, search for local, state, and national scholarships. These scholarships can be offered through banks and credit unions, sororities and fraternities, rotary clubs, and places of employment such as Wal-Mart and Wells Fargo. Also, organizations such as Thurgood Marshall College Fund, Ron Brown Scholars Program, and United Negro College Fund offer national scholarships. Many of these also require an essay. 
III. Tours 
Lastly, arrange college tours for high school seniors. Visiting the campus provides a different perspective as students walk the grounds, meet students, and engage with professors. Most schools provide guides for campus tours or have "high school student days" for prospective students.

Soar to Success Academy

For more information about navigating the college process, visit my website at www.edwritingservices.org

For more information on obtaining scholarships and composing scholarship essays, check out my book, Write Your Way to a Successful Scholarship Essay!


A very special thanks to guest blogger, 
Candace Chambers, CEO of Educational Writing Services LLC. 
Candace is an academic coach, educator, and writer 
who's snagged over $100,000 in assistantships, grants, 
and scholarships by writing essays.