August 15, 2018

Cultivating Grit Testimonial: A Parent's Perspective

I am an active parent like most of us but especially when it comes to my kids’ education. From inside the home and classroom to extracurricular and community activities, I am all over it! So, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to educate myself on ways that I could be beneficial in their learning process.

My Middle Schooler and Kindergartner
Both Jeniya and Chase are generally happy, energetic, outgoing and charming individuals. They establish and maintain healthy relationships with other kids and adult figures relatively easy. 
  • Jeniya, being in her preteen phase, places a lot of emphasis on friendships and fitting in. She is a “people-pleaser” who wears her feelings on her sleeves. I find that she can be aloof at times… the happy-go-lucky type. Academically, Jeniya tends to be less enthusiastic. She loves to go to school but mainly for the social aspects. She is extremely creative and focuses on art, dance, acting and the like. 
  • Chase can be a quiet storm. He is laid back and easy to please - usually calm and goes with the flow. He is initially shy and reserved when meeting new people but “warms” up pretty quickly. Academically, he is keen and eager to learn, constantly spouting off and sharing everything he was taught in school. He also often takes the initiative at home to read books, count, review shapes and colors, etc. without being prompted. Overall, each can be described as adventurous, determined, strong-willed, respectful, persistent, thoughtful and adaptable in their own right.

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Cultivating Grit Testimonial
I was absolutely blown away while reading Cultivating Grit written by Jillian Smart. Her methods and approach are resourceful for students of all ages and grade levels, which is an added bonus for parents with single or multiple children at different phases of their academic journey as well as for educators whose primary focus is a particular grade level or subject area. This guide can be revisited and reapplied time and time again. 

Further, the overall approach conveyed in the book is adaptable and flexible; and, the strategies suggest steps that permit me to efficiently customize a plan for my kids' success in school. Also, it is helping me strengthen their minds in a way that promotes overall mental well-being when life throws us curve balls. The reflection activities are extremely helpful in applying the concepts. From learning how to say motivational things and exploring character strengths linked to living a positive lifestyle. I received thorough “training” and practice that is shaping my mindset as a parent, thereby allowing me to translate and refine the same skill set in my children.

 Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence

Initially, I was overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and sorrow when I started reading Cultivating Grit. I could see how my current approach to parenting and subsequent actions were self-sabotaging and inefficient at times. The book opened my eyes to the role that I play as caregiver and role model in my children’s lives. Jillian Smart gives a structured and disciplined yet encouraging approach for us parents and our students. 

Each stakeholder has to be accountable for our roles in the process in order to see favorable results. As I progressed through the book, I began to feel a greater sense of empowerment and relief. I noticed my very own level of confidence and determination increase with each section and reflection that I completed. I no longer feel insecure or self-defeated; I have started to use the tools that I learned from the book and execute a plan that suits our lifestyle and personalities. This is why I feel compelled to share my experience with other parents.

Benefits for Cultivating Grit Readers
The layout and organization of Cultivating Grit is impeccable. This book is a very quick and easy read with its workbook-style format and clear and concise concepts. I read the entire text including engaging in all reflections (except the Grit Fish activity) in about two hours. However, if you are short on time, the various sections and reflections allow parents to stop or take breaks as needed. After which, you can simply and seamlessly resume the lessons where you left off. 

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I would recommend this book to any parent that wants to delve deeper into the psyche of your child in order to assess and understand how they are motivated academically. Whether you have noticed your child struggling academically or if you want to take a proactive approach before issues arise, you can benefit from reading the text and engaging in the exercises within Cultivating Grit. The ideal reader should also be willing and open to receiving the strategies offered in addition to actively and consistently implementing them. This requires us to maintain a healthy level of self-confidence and self-awareness as well as strive for excellence in our lives in the same manner that one would want the student to perform.

One of my favorite aspects of the book are the motivational quotes. I found that they really correlated with the concepts and set the tone for each section and reflection exercise. The quote “I’m going to do it. That’s it. Period.” resonated with me the most. As detailed in the book, I agree that two of the greatest obstacles to increasing confidence and cultivating grit is training your mind and changing your perspective to focus on positive and practical acts that aid in attaining your goals and ambitions. I’ve learned that I have to create objectives and commit to them whether it seems like a slam dunk, whether you can foresee challenges, or whether I’m in the dark forging new pathways.  I started preparing by being determined, all the while thinking and truly believing, “I’m going to do it. That’s it. Period.”

 Jillian Smart Amazon Author Page

Jillian Smart, M.Ed. has outlined an approach to increasing confidence that surely delivers on its promise! Instead of describing the theory of encouraging, supporting, motivating and instilling confidence, Cultivating Grit is a comprehensive guide for not only understanding these vital notions but it also provides a proven framework to create and implement a successful action plan for my kids based on their individual needs. This was time and effort well spent for me and you won’t be disappointed either.


Sharee J. Smith is a dedicated working mom of two children. 
Jeniya is a sixth grader and Chase is a kindergartner.

August 11, 2018

IEP Teams and Families: 3 Best Practices for Student Success

As an educator and special needs mom, I have a unique perspective on the importance of collaboration between parents and teachers of students with IEPs. Students with special needs are more likely to experience success when there is a strong partnership between school and home.

 Life with a Side of the Unexpected

Following are three best practices for collaboration between families and IEP team members to ensure student success.


The goal is for parents to be informed of challenges or successes children experience at school. There may be a need to reconvene as an IEP team if something needs to be changed and a parent has the right to request a meeting at any time. By starting off with positive, personal communication, it will likely be much easier to collaborate in the future.
  • Families: Request a check-in protocol to maintain open lines of communication. This could take many forms and the needs of the individual child dictate how often this should occur. Teachers may complete a daily checklist or a weekly communication email. This should be established at the beginning of each school year and documented in writing in the IEP.
  • Educators: It is a good idea for teachers with IEP students to be proactive and build relationships with parents early (even before the actual school year starts). After reading the student’s IEP, contact the parent and ask for input. Ask questions like: “What are some of your child’s outside interests?” or “Tell me how he feels about school.”   


Educators need to know when to simply listen to parents and when to problem solve. Parents rely on communication from teachers to keep apprised of how children are performing in school. Case managers are the special education “expert” within the school. They are the member of the IEP team responsible for collecting data and managing goals. This person should always be included in any communication with other teachers. They are the liaison for all of the teachers and should be the IEP student's best advocate.  
  • Families: It’s important to remember that no decision should be ever be made without input from all members of the IEP team, including you as the parents. In other words, the school team should never hand you a ready made IEP and ask you to sign it. IEP meetings should be collaborative meetings where the team crafts the document together.
  • Educators: Sometimes it is necessary for parents to simply have a discussion with teachers in order to feel reassured that their child is being successful. In these cases, save your suggestions, comments and attempts to solve any problem and be an active listener instead. 
 Back to School Tips for Parents of Children with IEP's


The school regularly collects and analyzes data. It is common practice for teachers to meet and discuss how that data will inform their instruction. There may come a time where you do not agree with the school’s summary of your child.
  • Families: It is essential to communicate with the team and share any outside data you may have from experts in the field. You know your child best and it is important for you to paint a picture of the "whole child" to ensure school programming is tailored to meet his/her needs.  
  • EducatorsWhen you have data to share with parents, remember to communicate sensitively. Parents of children with special needs are inundated with constant reminders of their child’s limitations. Be mindful of sharing in a way that highlights growth and includes the child’s strengths.  
Communication, utilizing a team approach and considering the whole child are best practices for both school staff and parents to successfully collaborate. A strong partnership between parents and educators contributes greatly to student success, especially for students with IEPs.  


Laurie McLean has more than 20 years of experience in public education as a certified reading specialist, supervisor of curriculum, and administrator. Laurie is also the mother of a 13-year old son on the autism spectrum. Learn more about Laurie's work by visiting her blog:

July 4, 2018

Where Passion Meets Perseverance

Whereas it’s true that what happens at home dictates what happens in the classroom, there’s tremendous value in what educators bring to the table. Research tells us that quality teaching can completely offset the devastating effects poverty has on student performance. In my experience, this begins with understanding positive psychology. Though it helps, you don't have to be a trained psychologist to leverage principles of positive psychology. Here's what I've learned so far...

Positive psychology explores a number of character strengths, one of which is grit. Grit is the place in our being where passion meets perseverance. Empowering learners to persevere in the direction of discovering their passions is complex. Several mantras guide my path. This post discusses a few mantras that remind me of what it means to cultivate grit and nurture grit in learners of all ages.

Do the difficult things while they are easy 
and do the great things while they are small.  
- Lao Tzu

It's not uncommon to try on several pairs of shoes before finding the perfect pair. Assuming your once organized closet is a wreck from trying on every pair with no success, what's next? The department stores at the indoor mall have nothing. The outlet mall has nothing. The event is in two days. You can't go barefoot. Now, you're wishing you'd made better use of lunch breaks during the past month! Imagine being in a frenzy about more than one outfit for an out of town conference. Do you think it's easier to find the perfect pair of shoes for one outfit at a time?... or three or five? Feeling frantic, yet?

Now, let's apply this thought process to education and learning. When the window of opportunity to do that easy, small thing passes us by, we can't get it back. Making the most of the opportunity that's in front of us right now is all that matters until our time is up, until the school day is over, until the tutoring session is over, until the exam is behind us. Though learning is about perseverance and the journey. Making a mental note of the rest stops along the way encourages learners to remain energized for just a little while longer. Helping learners distinguish between go-time and rest-time positively influences internal motivation to persevere.

Consistency breeds trust. 
- Vincent Molina

It was around 4 years ago when Vincent shared this nugget with me during a coaching session. The conversation was about consistently delivering value. In the moment, we were talking about breeding trust with clients and potential clients. I wrote this quote on a sticky note that I've only recently trashed this year - because it's embedded in my brain. It was a reminder to keep going, to keep moving forward. A few days ago, different meaning came from these same words.

Amazon Author Profile (Jillian Smart)

Let's consider the example about finding the perfect shoes for an outfit. The struggle is real. It's common for men and women. I'd argue that kids even get frustrated about which pair of shoes to wear. This not only happens when we're preparing to travel, for some, frustration over what to wear - or what not to wear - strikes daily before school or work. At least two people have this challenge mastered: Steve Jobs and my mom. Steve Jobs consistently wore the same thing to work everyday. My mom consistently prepares her clothes for the week on Sunday nights. It's a no-brainer for her. Mission accomplished. What's next?

But, what's happening here? Yes, they preserve mental fortitude by giving themselves one less decision to make in their work day. In making this decision regularly, they also build trust in themselves. They choose not to go with whatever the day brings, they trust that the decision will serve them in circumstances they have yet to experience. Though a simple act on the surface, each small act of self-trust helps us flow with the process. We're making time to listen to ourselves and figure out what we really want, how we really want to live, what our passions are...

In everything, say thank you. 
- Maya Angelou

Gratitude. When we're rushing to find that one pair of shoes, how often do we say thank you? When educating or parenting children, how often do we say thank you? In my last blog post, I talked briefly about showing gratitude. Giselle Chapman is a motivational speaker who tells us to start with gratitude. Over the course of a few of her phenomenal workshops, I gained a deeper understanding about how coming from a place of gratitude improves our ability to perform. The feel-good hormones like dopamine, serotonin, and endorphines flood the brain and help us get things done!

To embrace the complicated and unending process of discovering passion and persevering to bring ideas to fruition, we need to make the habit of starting from a place of gratitude. There are other - less enjoyable - ways around this. But why choose the hard way when we can have fun cultivating grit?!


About Jackson Education Support: Specialty areas include character development, literacy, math, and science. All ages welcome. We develop in-person and online solutions for educators, families, and learners globally. Read feedback, join the community, and learn more by visiting je411.comYou're also invited to connect with us on social media!

May 9, 2018

The BIG 12: #BizChampion Takeaways

The traditional essay has an introduction, conclusion, and 3 body paragraphs. My favorite pastor on planet earth offers a 3-point sermon. It's common for presenters to offer 3 supporting details when making an argument. Ever wonder why?

As an educator, I usually follow this pattern as well because of a secret weapon known as chunking. In short, many learners retain vast amounts of information by grouping related information. Instead of recalling a long list of facts, the brain is better able to process categories of information.

In the spirit of college readiness, let's consider discussions about collegiate sports as an example. When distinguishing between players or schools, sportscasters and sports fans often communicate in terms of conferences. The conferences (e.g., PAC-12, BIG-12, SEC) are chunks of information. When we're first learning the names of schools across conferences, it's easier to chunk schools into larger conferences based on location. This also makes for smoother discussions. The Big 12 Conference is an example of one of the collegiate sports conferences; the name serves as motivation for this month's blog title. (I'm #OleMissAlum, so I'm partial to the SEC; however, 'The SEC #BizChampion Takeaways' doesn't have the same jenesequa, so I digress.)

Chunking Collegiate Sports Conferences (image credit in link)

I'm breaking the mold by offering the big 12 takeaways from the #BizChampion celebration in Reno, NV. National champions across various industries came together during the last days of April. Notably, a few sports gurus were in attendance. Each of the 102 winners of the 2018 American Small Business Championship networked with SCORE Mentors and guest experts during a two-day, jam-packed, high-paced, fun-filled event. The schedule of events began at 8am and ended at 8pm on both days.

Sessions topics included positive psychology, team synergy, marketing strategy, HR issues, preventative legal measures for entrepreneurs, and more. To top all this off, table discussions during meal times centered on even more opportunities for business and personal growth. We shared experiences: what's worked, hasn't worked, next steps, and unresolved challenges.

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1. Celebrate Successes
I've moved away from really celebrating client successes. It's common to say congratulations, but I'm not sure this counts as a celebration. With guidance from Tonya Ludwig, owner of 621Gifts, clients are in for a real treat during Back-to-School season. By celebrating small successes, we create a winning culture. Success begets success.

2. Listen More
One speaker mentioned that we're only as successful as the questions that we ask. (Forgive me for not noting the speaker's name and exact words.) In private, I prepared questions to ask; however, deeper conversations in person revealed even more valuable questions worth asking.

3. Give Often
Joseph Amato's story about becoming a business owner at age 16 is beyond inspiring. Though the point isn't to give with an expectation of receiving something in return, Joseph earned 50% of a small tanning business as a result of giving. Business strategy suggestions that he offered to a tanning salon owner turned an even greater profit than originally anticipated. Unbelievable.

4. Marketing Strategy
Have you considered mobile ads as part of your marketing strategy? The thought crossed my mind a number of times, but it wasn't until Reiva's evidence-based arguments that I became convinced to make a move. Somewhere between 95 and 97% of Americans own a cell phone, so chances are... my ideal client, your ideal client owns a cell phone and could be viewing our competition's ads right now.

5. Show Gratitude
Giselle Chapman's spiel about starting each day, each activity from a place of gratitude reminded me of the frequent gratitude journal entries made when I was first introduced to this practice years ago. This strategy works, so why was I creating less space in my life to keep it up? Giselle advised that we journal for five minutes, and I'm gaining momentum.

6. Sell Everywhere
Currently, only my books are available for sale on Amazon. I'm looking forward to offering TeachersPayTeachers activities for educators and parents by selling on Amazon as well. Making our products and services available on multiple platforms is a great way to deliver value to a larger audience.

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7. Copyright
Taking the time to copyright each project becomes overwhelming when there're so many irons in the fire. It was a relief to learn from Rocket Lawyer Founder Charley Moore that, whereas it's still a good idea to copyright original works, there's no requirement to do so since including the copyright designation is sufficient to protect our intellectual property.

8. Keep Looking
There is more than one way to skin a cat. If you think product costs are too high, keep looking for connections to get them down. Many small business owners take an innovative approach that allows them to offer lower prices. There's constant growth across industries, so we want to remain vigilant.

9. Online Presence
If everything Reiva Lesonsky shared is true, then my website is never going to be done... And, that's okay. Securing website ranking is like trying to hit a moving target. When we think our sites are optimized, consumer behavior changes the status quo so we adjust. Accepting that our websites are a work in progress is key to continuing to make progress.

10. Own It
Giselle also spoke on how stress in nearly unavoidable and that we're responsible for being intentional about coping with stress in healthy ways. Breathing exercises are a staple in my life, so I seek opportunities to introduce clients to this strategy. I'm excited to implement gratitude emails and explore more strategies for increasing the happy in my life and in my clients' lives.

11. Celebrate Others
There's pleasure in watching others win when you're confident that their wins don't take away from yours. This isn't an entirely original thought; it's a hodgepodge of advice obtained from mentors, both real and imagined. The #bizchampions are currently in competition. Still, we're celebrating one another and it feels great to see others doing great things, accomplishing more in their businesses.

12. Keep Growing
An introverted educator seems like an oxymoron, as does an introverted entrepreneur ( introverted author, not so much). The research for my most recent book, Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence, provided the foundation for entering the American Small Business Championship. Attending the conference provided an invaluable opportunity test my own theories presented in the book. We must continue to walk in our passions. Check out Cultivating Grit if you haven't found your passion or you're feeling stuck.

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Maybe you aren't a small business owner? Maybe you have zero desire to become an entrepreneur? These BIG 12 takeaways are intended to help readers establish a more balanced work-life dynamic.
If my BIG 12 is helpful for you, share this post with others in your network to encourage them as well.


About Jackson Education Support: Specialty areas include character development, literacy, math, and science. All ages welcome. We develop in-person and online solutions for educators, families, and learners globally. Read feedback, join the community, and learn more by visiting
You're also invited to connect with us on social media!

April 4, 2018

#JEsupport is a #BizChampion

I have really BIG news to share this month. At the end of 2017, I set a new blog schedule. Since my commitments to clients, health, and home life kept me from blogging as much I would've liked last year, I decided to write less often this year.

Interestingly in December, I was moved to write my second book, Cultivating Grit: An approach to increasing confidence. This project required quite a bit of writing (editing and revision) to complete. Still, I re-affirmed the agreement with myself to post blogs bi-monthly (instead of keeping the monthly schedule from before going on hiatus). I expected to smash the goal of writing only six blog posts in 2018. Well, so much for that plan...

Well, so much for that plan...

This isn't the rant of an unappreciative soul. It's exactly the opposite. I've been nearly bursting at the seams lately. Until a few days ago, I was unable to share this amazing news.

Jackson Education Support has been named a 2018 American Small Business Champion by SCORE, the nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors, with the support of Sam’s Club. We are so proud of this national recognition for our dedication to the success of our small business. Thank you for supporting the education firm and blog over the years and for helping us to achieve this distinction. This would not have been possible without YOU!

SCORE is rewarding us with a trip to a networking and training symposium, publicity and business mentoring. This summer, a judging panel of small business experts will select three Grand Champions from the group of 102 Small Business Champions, to be announced September 13 at the SCORE Awards Gala.

 I'm a #bizchampion!

Jackson Education Support (JE) exists to support the development of more independent learners of all ages. This mission is accomplished by implementing personalized in-person and online solutions for individuals and organizations. Our approach is unique because we leverage character development to affect cognitive development. We infuse social emotional learning objectives and subject area learning objectives in order to increase confidence and improve performance. What's more is that our 96% success rate evidences program effectiveness.

I launched JE in 2012. That's nearly six years of invaluable professional and personal growth. Still, supporting the learning goals of clients and team members doesn't feel like work. An opportunity for growth accompanies each new challenge. Actually, the fun is in the challenge.

A Word from SCORE CEO & Sam's Club VP

"SCORE congratulates and celebrates these 102 American Small Business Champions, who represent some of the best small businesses in America,” said SCORE CEO Ken Yancey. “We are proud to reward these passionate and hardworking entrepreneurs...”

"Supporting entrepreneurs has been a part of who we are for nearly 35 years," said Tracey D. Brown, Senior Vice President of Operations and Chief Experience Officer at Sam's Club. "...The 102 winners celebrated through the American Small Business Championship are excellent examples of how innovation, persistence and knowing your customers can help an entrepreneur overcome obstacles and we congratulate them on their accomplishments.”

This would not have been possible without YOU!

A Special Thank You for the JE Community

I would like to thank YOU for your continued support. We appreciate the opportunity to build relationships and broaden our impact on academic and character development outcomes. Jackson Education Support is committed to enriching our local and global community, and we look forward to many successful years ahead.
Specialty areas include character development, literacy, math, and science. We develop in-person and online solutions for educators, families, and learners globally. Read feedback and learn more by visiting You're also invited to connect with us on social media!

To learn more about The American Small Business Championship
and to view the complete list of Champions, visit

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.