January 23, 2016

SMARTening up your targets

New Year’s Resolutions... those fantastic goals for the coming 12 months. We all set them: to lose weight, take up running, get a new qualification, travel more, join a gym, etc., etc... We force ourselves to enjoy these challenges for the first two weeks of January, start to slip in the middle of January, and the gyms are again empty by February. The diet clubs lose members, and we avoid going for a run in favor of watching TV.

These vague targets are soon forgotten, but with some tweaking you can transform vague targets into SMART targets making them useful, far easier to reach, and a great way to improve learning.

S.M.A.R.T. Targets

Let’s say you decide to Help your child with homework. What does this actually mean?

Helping with homework sounds great. But, is it sitting with a child each evening and gently guiding them? Or, buying them books to help them learn? Is a tutor a better plan? Are they struggling with a subject you know nothing about? Or, is time management an issue? Are they constantly losing worksheets?

  1. Help children become more organised.
  2. Improve maths skills.
  3. Reduce the amount of screen time.

Help is a great word, but it needs to be defined further. This could mean a number of things. I could hand them a sheet of paper, so they don’t have to get up. I could read their work before submitting for a grade and offer feedback...  Make sure there is a way to measure when you’ve reached the specific goal.

  1. Watch a maximum of 2 hours TV per night.
  2. Set a goal to achieve 80% on a Year 4 Maths test.
  3. Create study area with folders for each subject.

We’d love to be helping every night and achieve A's by the end of the year in all subjects. But, that just puts too much pressure on you and your child. You’re going to be helping them stay organised? Plan to work on this one or two nights a week when it doesn't clash with your work schedule. Plan to boost performance by two letter grades per year. (If children achieve more, that’s fantastic!) Avoid setting unobtainable goals.

  1. Review papers and organise them together two days a week.
  2. Improve Maths grade from a D grade to a B grade.
  3. Set aside homework time each evening.
Do they actually need homework help, or is a different issue to blame? As a professional charged with the responsibility of helping struggling students, I normally sort out learners' problems in one move: limit screen time. Between social media, games consoles and their favourite programmes, often the issue with too much homework relates to an issue with too little free time.

  1. Reduce screen time.
  2. Set aside a specific homework times for them to do homework.
  3. Improve handwriting so students can read their own notes.
When are you going to start helping? How long is it expected to last? By when should grades improve? If you need to set aside daily homework time, are there other obligations to consider?

 SMARTenging your target

It seems like a small change, but rather than Help with Homework, your improved target could be...
  1. Download a workbook and two textbooks to work through together for an hour each night to improve their D grade in math to a B grade by the end-of-year exam.
  2. Reduce screen time outside of schoolwork to a maximum of two hours each weekday evening by removing their phone and tablet from the bedroom and turning off the television.
  3. Set up a filing system to help organise class docs and plan for the week ahead on Tuesday and Friday evenings.

Can you see how the targets now are more specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timed?

Try redefining one of your targets. I don’t need to be more organised. I need to timetable two hours per night, Sunday through Thursday, to mark student work and plan the next day’s lessons. How can you SMARTen up your targets?


A very special thanks for this contribution goes to guest blogger,
Ruth McDonald, B.Sc., M.Sc., pgDTLLS.
Ruth is an educator with 
Sailing Through School.
Her role is to improve learning for children and adults outside the classroom.

January 5, 2016

Plan For a Successful Year

This time of year, New Year's resolutions are a common topic of conversation. Many resolve to make better decisions. Commonly, resolutions involve establishing healthier lifestyles, finishing a few good books, spending more (or less) time with family and friends, completing an education or training program, or saving for the future. As we learn, we should do things differently... right? This cross-cultural colloquialism rings true to education approaches and, more importantly, to learning. Who can argue with Dr. Angelou?

Today's post is intended to encourage and inspire readers to reclaim your time in 2016.  Emphasis is on identifying and resolving ineffective parental engagement, instructional, and learning strategies by taking a closer look at your success plan.

Generally, successful people have schedules. These tools make the best use of time and prioritize chaos. With my parents and kids (not my biological parents and kids, but my clients) I've experienced a common phenomenon: though many have adopted some sort of schedule to balance curriculars, extracurriculars, and family time... schedule disruptions are a challenge. I struggle with this as well!

 I need more time.

In light of Murphy's Law - if anything can go wrong, it will - keeping lists of tasks, events, meetings, people, and research topics is essential. Getting organized helps us respond to scheduling challenges more effectively; they work hand-in-hand.  Setting a schedule and adopting an organization structure help families recover from the emergencies and tempting opportunities that hijack our lives.

Organization that works: Schedule time to review your schedule and growing lists of tasks, events, etc. During the process, consider questions like these...
  1. Is this event scheduled next quarter or next year?
  2. What's keeping me from connecting with Mr. X?
  3. How can I adjust to make progress on research topics?
Plan: First, update the schedule of events after reaching out to schools, teachers, parent organizations, social and athletic club sponsors, or educational service organizations. You may have missed that too-good-to-miss event, but nothing's stopping you from making next year's program.

Connect: Start making calls and drafting emails. Plan these activities outside of peak times when people are more likely to respond or make themselves available. For instance, it's best to connect with classroom teachers during the 2nd and 6th weeks of a 9-week period; they are more likely to have student data that you can leverage before it's too late in the term. Waiting until the week before midterms and final exams to access information on your child's performance has one primary challenge: teachers are more stressed. This isn't an infallible solution, but it's a good way to build a partnership. If you've tried these and experienced little success, show up. Consider other avenues leading to the same result. The take-home point here is to avoid derailment by remaining persistent and taking action early on.

Research: This is the first task to lose rank in the list of priorities. Parents forgo researching summer programs only to learn that enrollment for the-program-of-the-summer has a waiting list by the middle of Spring semester. Educators who forgo researching professional development opportunities early on become frustrated as deadlines pass and waiting lists grow. It's easy, in our fast-paced society, to favor immediate gratification over investing time and effort into researching effective and expedient ways to accomplish goals. To avoid this trap, schedule time to review your schedule... Yes, schedule time to review your schedule. Maintaining electronic schedules makes for easy implementation of these suggestions, because you have an editable record of what you've done, notes on how things went, and plans for the future. Use this data to make better decisions.

Jackson Education Support helps learners and families tweak organization structures and schedules related to improving academic performance, increasing confidence, and moving into more challenging environments. Personalized learning plans are developed to get clients on track - and revised to keep them on track - toward achieving short- and long-term goals. Learning plans involve varying degrees of parental involvement based on client need and family dynamic.

If you'd like to work with an educational support professional to make better decisions this year, schedule a free consult here.