Keep it simple, students.

In a world that is fast paced and full of information and expectations, it is easy to become overwhelmed and find ways to avoid the task at hand or distract ourselves.  It’s no wonder so many of our students (and we, as adults) feel a sense of dread or anxiety as all of these to-do items and tasks swirl around in our minds.

Fortunately, after our mid 20’s, we are at least more equipped to manage and tackle these obstacles.  Neurologically speaking, our brains have developed enough to have the capacity for drawing on past experiences (plus there has been more time for learning opportunities) and to make connections we simply were not able to in our adolescent years.

In the spirit of simplification, I thought I would share a few tips for sorting through the “swirl” so it becomes easier to jump in and manage day to day.

Brain dump. Get ALL of the thoughts, tasks, emotions and ideas OUT.  Write, type, draw – just get them all out of the swirl.

Grab one.  Envision grabbing one of those many ideas swirling around and jump right in.  Maybe it’s the most important one; maybe it’s not.  What matters is that SOMETHING gets done.

Find ONE simple way to manage ALL expectations and tasks.  Most of our students (and parents) find that a functional assignment notebook or planner is the go-to tool for this (even those who at first resist, perhaps because they don’t want to take the time or write that much).  Once we find a way to SEE everything in one place and have the security that all is accounted for, it becomes easier to lay out plans and jump right in.

Be SPECIFIC, concrete, realistic and visual.  That’s quite a list, but give it a try.  Instead of “I need to get better at _______”… make it “In order to improve _____, I need to _______.”

Ask simple questions.  What is this about? What will it take? When can I get this done? What can be postponed? What will be my reward?

Create go-to plans and strategy lists (study plans, organization plans, asking for help plans) to make managing tasks across multiple areas become MUCH easier to carry out. Knowing there are options, and that we have plans, can significantly reduce anxiety and avoidance.

Make a list.  Simple, right?
Again – any way, shape or form will do…

  • write it out
  • print one
  • find an app
  • create a doc or chart online
  • use categories (do now, do soon, back burner, email/call, ideas, shopping list, etc.)
  • color code if you prefer
  • write these on mini sticky notes, and toss as you complete
  • write on scraps of paper and move them physically to reorganize or categorize, and toss as you go
  • don’t forget to list small rewards to keep motivated in between

Enlist help.  Yes. It’s ok to ask for help.  It may not be easy to delegate or ask for what we need, but this is a necessary skill.

Use other tools or charts to break down larger tasks.  List basic steps, then ask and record what it will take to complete each one; check off as you go.  Write out an organization and management plan for each class  (ex:  To find answers keys, I go here ____.  If I need help, I can go here _________.  Three people I can ask for help are ______, _______, ________.  To find the homework, I go here ________. Passwords and websites for this class =  __________).

Make an if-then list:  If I need __________, I can __________.  (If I am stuck in math, I can… go in early, ask my dad, text my tutor, search online for ideas or images/videos to help; If I am feeling stressed about a test, I can try deep breathing, make a study guide, use scratch paper to dump formulas and reminders at the start of the test, do online searches to print/save extra visuals; If I don’t know whether I am making the right parenting choices, I can draw out a plan or flow, enlist help, organize concerns and search solutions online to get started).

Make Your Plans MEANINGFUL

Make Your Plans MEANINGFUL

Don’t JUST plan…make your plans MEANINGFUL.

Looking ahead into the new year allows us to create plans for a fresh start.

What will be different this time? How will we make those plans work? What if we need to create plans for someone else (ie. our children)?

The bottom line is these plans must have MEANING.  The tough part is making the connection between where we are at and where we want to be.

So many students, all quite capable, share that they truly believe they can get an A in a class, or improve scores in writing, or perform better across the board.  When it’s time to take action and steps towards these goals, it isn’t enough to simply break down and lay out the plan (of course, this is a key component – the more specific and realistic, the better).  Hoping for the best isn’t going to work either.  What needs to happen is that they make a true projection and connection with what it would be like should the outcome be achieved (or perhaps not be achieved).

Over the years, I have observed that those who find the most success in executing their plans are those who 1) think ahead and anticipate what the outcomes might be and HOW they will get there (what it will take), and 2) consider the cost-benefit of their choices so they can connect with what the outcome would really mean for them.

A few points to consider as you lay out your own plans:

State the desired outcome, then ask WHAT WILL IT TAKE to do this?  Then ask again, AND WHAT WILL THAT TAKE?  Be as specific and realistic as possible. Next, lay out the costs and benefits of both taking and not taking necessary steps.  Then, make notes about what you want to remember as you move along. See our examples below to help get you started!

Example ONE: 

I want to keep up on the laundry.  It will take starting a load every morning.  That will take setting a reminder or two in my phone so I do not forget to get it started, swap it out and make this a habit.  This will take less than a minute!  It will also take my asking for help from the kids to put their own clothes away, and THAT will take consistency on my part to be sure they know WHAT is expected and that they do not earn free time until certain tasks are done.  THIS will take patience on my part and attention to my tone and how I approach assigning tasks and making my “demands” of them.  The costs of NOT doing this are a LOT of added stress, not being able to find clean clothes, we are more likely to be late, and I will probably yell at the kids (and myself) because we are losing time looking for clothes.  The BENEFITS of keeping up are that I will be less stressed – having laundry set and ready makes me feel accomplished.  I will feel more relaxed and ready to start each day on a good note.  It allows me to stay calm as we go through the morning rush, and I have more time to attend to other details (lunches, teeth brushing, backpack checks, etc.).  I need to remember that music or chatting on the phone helps the laundry go by more quickly. I also need to remember that even though the pile looks overwhelming, if I start chipping away, I am usually surprised at how little time and effort it takes to fold or put away a load of clothes.  If I find ways to go through the motions more enjoyably, it’s easier to keep up, and the benefit is a tremendous amount of stress relief.

Example TWO: 
I want to get an A in math this semester.  This will take doing ALL of the homework.  THAT will take writing down the assignments in my planner DURING class and CHECKING it when I get home.  It will also take asking questions AS SOON AS I do not fully understand. This will take marking them in my notebook and making time to go in early if needed.  THIS will take setting extra alarms and making a note in my assignment notebook so I do not forget.  It will also take better study habits for quizzes and tests.  This will take time (set aside time by writing it in assignment notebook) and making a study guide for formulas, rules, examples and steps.  This will take time as well. I need to use my assignment notebook (set alarms to remind me to check it) and lay out the time to prepare.  The costs of NOT focusing on the planning and time management or taking extra time to improve study habits are that I will NOT be able to earn an A and most likely will end up with a C again.  This will make me feel stressed, badly about myself, like I want to quit, and generally crabby.  The BENEFIT of doing these few things consistently is that my grade will quickly come up or stay at an A which will make me incredibly happy and proud. It will motivate me to keep up with these habits and decrease my stress levels considerably.  It will also make me more likely to increase my GPA so I can get into more colleges of my choice.  It will feel AWESOME, and I need to remember that I know the math, but am sabotaging my efforts when I don’t take a little extra time here and there.  I also need to remember that it never takes as long as I think it will to do these steps.

As always, we have some fabulous visual tools to help support and guide you in your efforts.  Check out those products at the link above, and let us know if you have any thoughts or questions.

Happy planning!

Communication as a Cornerstone

Communication as a Cornerstone

Communication in education is one of the most important factors in a student’s progress and development. Specifically the following relationships are key: Student-teacher, student-parent AND parent-teacher. Be sure to define what the communication will look like, identify goals and decide who is responsible for initiating.  Much depends on the student’s grade level and specific needs, of course. Regardless, you may find it helpful to incorporate some of the following suggestions to increase ease of communication and boost chances for student success.

    • Keep communication clear and concrete. What is the focus? What is the goal/purpose? What specific questions do you have or direction would you like?
    • Write out a plan (before, during and after any conversations)
    • If-then’s are a great way to establish a clear process (ex: IF there is a question about a grade, THEN parents will _______, student will ______ and teacher will _________)
    • Don’t hesitate to set up appointments at times other than the allocated parent-teacher conference days, and encourage students to regularly meet with teachers as well (not just for help, but for ideas, direction and feedback)
    • Students often hesitate to approach teachers because they don’t want to bother them, aren’t sure what to say or are nervous; writing out plans and preparing can help a great deal (encourage them to bring a sticky note with or use a basic form to make notes of questions and responses during the meeting)
    • Allow students to initiate the discussion about their progress (this takes guidance and direction, but often works well and allows students a chance to identify for themselves what areas they want to focus on and generate ideas for doing so)

When students are included in the communication process, they often feel more engaged, valued and even accountable. Students thrive in environments where the expectations are made clear, they have the opportunity to question, clarify, adjust and plan, and when parents support and facilitate as the students learn to communicate important information about their work, progress and needs.  Learning strategies for communicating and developing self advocacy skills at a young age are essential, as they will need these skills on an ongoing basis both in and out of school throughout life.  As a general rule, clear communication serves as a cornerstone and is fundamental to student success.
*Be sure to follow us on social media for great FREE tools and tips (such as our Grade Analysis self check-in form and our Teacher Tips and Feedback Form)

Don’t Wait

Don’t Wait


Our Monday Motivator/Mantra this week happens to start with a negative, but is intended to elicit positive actions.

  • Don’t wait for grades to come out to find out how you are doing.
  • Don’t wait for the teacher to reach out to you (students OR parents).
  • Don’t wait until six months into the year before you take action and adjust your processes to each new teacher and class expectation.
  • Don’t wait to ask for help if you feel you need it.
  • Don’t wait for parent-teacher conferences to find out how your student is doing or to ask important questions or voice key concerns.
  • Don’t just hope for the best. Find out what it will take, and work on ways to make it happen.

The new year is well underway, and as I review the list above, I realize this could go on and on.  Also, I intended to spin each of these into a “DO”; HOWEVER, I do not believe that would allow each of us to think about what we are “waiting on” and then generate ideas and solutions so that we can TAKE ACTION, move forward and accelerate progress and results.

This week’s advice is simple.  Make the most of your time and resources during this important time of year. As you head into (or have just wrapped up) parent-teacher conferences, and as you review grades and feedback from the first quarter of the year, check out the fantastic resources we are posting all week long.   Be sure to check our Facebook and social media posts Tuesday for our FREE DOWNLOAD (a printable tool you can actually use)!

When Bad Grades Happen to Good People

When Bad Grades Happen to Good People

Bad grades. Bad grades. Whatchya gonna do? Whatchya gonna do when they come for you?… you get the drift.

Apologies for planting that theme song in your heads for the day. In all seriousness. I use the term “bad” to kick off our post today; however, what I REALLY mean is when grades received are NOT AS EXPECTED or DO NOT MATCH THE GOAL SET BY THE STUDENT.

This is the time of year when progress reports come out, enough grades are posted to give us an idea of how the year is progressing, conferences are around the corner AND the end of some 1st quarters are near.

My initial piece of advice is DO NOT CHECK GRADES. I repeat: DO NOT CHECK GRADES.

“What?” You might ask. “But you are the queen insisting on of self awareness, assessment and regulation, Lisa!”
Yes. Yes. I am. HOWEVER, that said, one of the major pitfalls I see when working with individuals is that even when (and if) they DO check their grades, that is ALL they do.

This is where things go wrong. Typically, when students skim through their grades and see either great grades or the opposite, they are led to believe either that they are doing fantastically or are not smart enough or good at that class.  Often, things are not always as they appear.

What actually needs to happen is an ANALYSIS of grades. A grade may appear superb, when really there is only one 5 point quiz or a few HW assignments posted or entered. This gives no indication as to how the student is truly performing on all assessed tasks and areas in the course. On the contrary, if a student sees a D or and F, they often assume they have failed everything. In reality, this grade could be present for a multitude of reasons… perhaps an assignment hasn’t been entered, but the placeholder grade is a “0” until the teacher enters it. Perhaps there is make up work to be turned in. It is possible that the student did fabulously on all of the work, but failed a quiz… or the reverse?

“So, what CAN we DO?”

This is where I come in. Throughout the past 13 years of working with hundreds of students and families, I have observed that students find the most success when they look at the underlying tasks and assignments (the specific composition of the grade).  THEN, as they look for patterns, trends, explanations, etc., they can use this information to brainstorm solutions and make note of items to follow up or seek teacher guidance with. Once they have found new and successful strategies, these can used to create specific class and study plans for each and every class (more on this process in a future blog).

*** Download our GRADE ANALYSIS tool here – be sure to check out the STUDENT SAMPLE for direction and guidance.

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