Boosting the trajectory of teachers and students into a culture of achievement.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
It all began with Katherine Jetton’s experience in the classroom as a middle school science teacher. “In order to get your students to learn, you not only need a strong hold on classroom management in your class, but you need to motivate your students to want to achieve,” says Katherine (pictured). “Classroom resources like lesson plans, books, and quiz questions come second to classroom management and positive class culture,” she says. Through a rough first month, trial and error in her first year, and figuring it out in time before her second year in the classroom, Katherine was able to create what she calls a “Culture of Achievement” in her classroom, where students are excited and engaged in their learning and want to behave. Here, Katherine describes the joy and challenge of teaching, and what she did to make it more joy than challenge for others with a system she calls JettPakk.
Victor: You mentioned your first year — how about your second year? Could you describe that, and tell us about some of the challenges you faced?
Katherine: In my second year, because of the systems that I put in place in my classroom, my students outperformed their peers on Dallas Independent School District Semester Exams by 25 percent. When a teacher fell ill and after two months, the 8th grade students were not learning, my principal tasked me with the job to come back into the 8th grade classroom, take these students from misbehaving and not learning, to passing the end of year exam.
I was able to figure out a way to unleash the power of the class and the students’ potential and get them to joyfully follow rules and work towards their goals.
This was a huge challenge for any teacher, because the students hadn’t had a teacher for two months and were on their cellphones, writing on the blackboard, and didn’t sit in assigned seats — not to mention they were historically the worst-behaving 8th grade class in the school’s history, and if the students didn’t pass the state exam the school would lose funding, the students would fail the grade, and the next year would be even more difficult. By using the techniques I created to turn around classrooms, build culture, and set up a winning Culture of Achievement, I shocked the school—I got my new class of students to pass. This was a huge win not just for me and the school, but for the students. They want to achieve, they want to do well, but they just don’t always feel motivated to do so. That’s where the teacher and JettPakk comes in. I was able to figure out a way to unleash the power of the class and the students’ potential and get them to joyfully follow rules and work towards their goals. My students learned because of this system.
I created JettPakk because I know what it’s like to be in a classroom where you feel like your students are taking over. I know what it’s like to try your hardest and still not be able to get them under control or to learn. Thankfully, I had a lot of supportive people who helped me get over the first month of teaching and I picked up stride. I know what it’s like to figure it out and was able to spend an entire summer reflecting on what went well in my classroom. I also know I can transform the worst of all classes and turn it into a classroom with a Culture of Achievement.
Victor: You felt compelled to pass it forward…
Katherine: I wanted to share what I learned with other teachers and I feel a huge sense of duty to do so. I see so many teachers who have potential of greatness but they’re leaving the classroom, because they feel like failures and they can’t get their students to learn. I get it and I’ve been there, but with a few simple changes in your classroom, you will be completely surprised how transformative your classroom experience can be. There’s no magic pill and it’s still going to take a lot of work, but JettPakk can save teachers their time, money, and sanity by helping them build a Culture of Achievement in their classroom, boosting teacher effectiveness and students academic achievement. That’s where you get JettPakk—it’s all about a tool that boosts the trajectory of “TTeachers” and “KKids”.
Victor: A lot of interesting people have come up through Teach For America, could you talk about your experience there?
Katherine: I joined Teach For America in Dallas, Texas after I graduated from the University of Virginia. Out of anything I have ever done, teaching was the hardest. It’s also what I speak about with the most pride, because I know how hard it is and with a lot of sweat equity and the help of many people, I was able to figure out how to be an effective teacher. Just caring about your students is great, but you’ve got to also find a way to get them to be successful academically. Through a bit of trial and error, I found a way to do this.
Fifty percent of first-year teachers leave after five years. Teachers quit not because lack of resources, but because of lack of support. It’s time we created resources for teachers that were effective. Quality lesson plans and quiz questions help, but the most valuable resource is setting up a culture of achievement in your class. Otherwise, your great lesson plans don’t happen or your content falls on deaf ears.
Teacher Attrition costs America $1 Billion. There’s $4.3 Billion in funding for Title 1 schools, where over 40% of students receive free and reduced price lunches.
My first year of teaching was rough. My mentor teacher would tell me about how the school was a revolving door of teachers and about how one teacher, who after a series of rough days, just walked out and never returned. While it was comforting to know other teachers experienced it and my students’ behavior wasn’t necessary personal, I wasn’t there to just be there or to care about my students—I was there to transform their lives and the only way to do this was by teaching my students how to learn, to be successful, and to work hard.
In college, I wrote a 150-page thesis and the Sociology Department read it blind and I was awarded top thesis of 2011. I also planned a wine tasting and silent auction with the help of friends, peers, and colleagues. After all expenses we raised $3,400 for the Women’s Center, whereas the previous fundraiser raised $250. I’m speaking about this, because those experiences are pretty neat and show that I’ve been successful in the past doing difficult things—but truly the hardest thing I ever did was teaching.
Victor: What makes you say that?
Katherine: I taught at a Title 1 School in Dallas, Texas. Over 90% of my students received free and reduced price lunches and over 50% learned English as a Second Language. They were on average two years behind their peers in terms of their academic achievement.
It wasn’t just multiplication or writing in complete sentences that was difficult for my students. Students in poverty are entirely different than what I expected. They weren’t like me as a kid. There’s something about living in poverty that drastically changes the culture, behaviors, and attitudes of these students. We were assigned “Teaching with Poverty in Mind” by Jensen and I recommend it to everybody in America who wants to understand what it’s like to teach in a school with students living in poverty. It’s entirely different than what you would expect.
My students were very difficult to motivate, manage, and teach and as a first year teacher I really struggled. Thankfully, I had the help of mentor teachers and Teach for America… my scores at the end of the year were as high as a master teacher.
My first year of teaching was rough though—despite having excellent training by Teach For America, attending a 1-month intensive training at University of Rice in Houston, Texas, and teaching 7th grade middle school students, teaching hadn’t “clicked” with me. You see, your students don’t care that you went to a great school, they don’t care that you did great things in the past, and they don’t care that you have a huge heart for them—at least not yet—what really matters first and foremost is that you get their respect. You must establish the classroom as your classroom. It’s an environment where I didn’t realize how territorial it is, how your students are watching your every move. Your students can smell fear and if you don’t have a great plan for them, they will come up with one for you…First and foremost, I learned I had to establish the classroom I taught in as Ms. Jetton’s classroom.
One of my lowest moments in teaching was in my first year on my birthday. My sister had sent me flowers to the school and they arrived in my fifth-period class. It was my class full of rambunctious boys, a student in a gang who was tattooed, and it was right after lunch when students are more difficult to settle down. I remember I was teaching my students about the atom and the goal was to create a model of the atom with string and beads at the end of the class period. I was trying to be a good teacher—I heard engaging students with activities they would like was important…but I didn’t have the classroom management in place for my students to do this activity. I was trying to be a good teacher, but I hadn’t gotten it yet. There were beads all over my classroom by the end of fifth period and the flowers my sister sent me just reminded me that no matter how much I cared about my students or that it was my birthday, the only way for my students to behave was for me to somehow motivate, inspire, and manage them into behaving.
That night, a bit like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane, I got a haircut and chopped off a lot of my hair. The students called me Ms. Dora because my hair was so short and they claimed I looked like Dora the Explorer. I didn’t care what they called me though, I was ruthless in my attempts to be strict, they weren’t going to take over my class. When they called me that, I went with it, told them to get out their books just like Dora the Explorer did, and got them to learn.
Throughout the year, I got better, but not without some bumps and bruises along the way. My birthday was my final straw and allowed me to be the tough love type of teacher my students needed me to be. The year came to a close and when a position in the sixth-grade science department opened up, I thought it would be best for my personality type as a teacher, so I took it.
Victor: So somewhere along the line you must have been stepping back to look at what worked, what didn’t?
During the summer in between my first and second year of teaching, I spent a lot of time reflecting on what worked in my classroom and what didn’t. I came back and spent the first week of my second year focusing on building a winning culture of achievement in my classroom. I had individual, class, and team rewards for my students and every time I taught, I explained why what we were learning tied back into their life goals—whether this be they wanted to be a soccer player, lawyer, or doctor. We talked about how this class was going to show they could work hard which soccer coaches want, lawyers needed to know how to analyze crime scene results and understand how to show evidence, doctors—well that one is a little more self explanatory, but I spent a lot of my time in the classroom explaining not only what we were learning, but how what we were learning was important in the context of working hard for the rewards that brings you in life and in showing them how what they were learning was going to help them in the long run.
We also had rules in the class. We did chants for the rules and students explained how which rule was the best for getting them to achieve their goals. We did other things the first week of class, but what I really focused on was showing the students how working hard and following the rules would allow them to achieve their short-term and long-term goals.
One other things that was helpful for me was my reflections about what students need to learn well. I reflected a lot and came up with Ms. Jetton’s Hierarchy of Needs for Student Learning.
I knew first and foremost that my students needed a safe learning environment. While I couldn’t control the overflowing sewage pipe outside of my classroom, I could be on the look out for fights.
This happened in the spring of my second year. My plan was to burn the candle bright and fast for two years and then pursue my dreams of getting back into business. I had already accepted a job in November, but having this experience in the spring of my second year really affected me. I went on to Chicago to Morningstar, Inc. to support a financial software product—it’s incredibly comprehensive and a financial advisor can sit down at the program and pretty much do anything he or she needs to do.
I thought—my goodness, how great would this be for teachers?! Teachers spend so much time and money (and sanity!) doing a million different things—I thought it would have been great to have digitized my classroom management and culture management systems in addition to saving myself time grading, communicating with parents (in English and my broken Spanish), and tracking student behavior.
After spending time at Hackathons and organizing my day around going to work and then whichever networking or Tech/Startup event after work, I decided to make the jump—I moved to Raleigh, NC with a growing tech scene and a focus on Education. I wanted to be in Raleigh, because the tech scene is bustling and unlike Chicago, this means there are more developers and designers who have free time to contribute to this endeavor.
Victor: How has it been?
Katherine: So far Raleigh has been great—CT, a leading provider of business formation and legal compliance services, gave me the opportunity to attend Triangle Start-up Weekend as a scholarship winner, where I pitched my idea and members of the Tech community came to join my team. Currently, I am speaking with venture capitalists, developers, designers, tech community members, and other Raleigh citizens to help give this bird wings. Every day is different, but I am very thankful I haven’t built out the full prototype yet. There was a Google Ventures talk in Chicago that I’ve been replaying in my mind and I realize this is the real value add of my system is not just taking care of the day to day tasks of being a teacher—but it gives teachers a framework to build a culture of achievement with winning results in their classrooms. While resources like textbooks, worksheets, and lesson plans are important, what is critical is the delivery and the classroom culture that allows the delivery of those resources to be successful. I believe the reason why America has spent so much money on educational resources without seeing test scores go up is because of this fact—like me in my first month of teaching, I thought I needed to jump into teaching to get the students to catch up on the two years they were behind…but really, America needs to focus on the delivery of learning in the classroom. This means we need to focus on building a safe learning environment, then a winning classroom culture, so that the teaching and resources we infuse into the classroom will be effective. JettPakk solves that.
Victor: You’re amidst a lot of positive change currently – what else can you say about its development?
Katherine: I moved to Raleigh, NC to start this, because the tech scene is bustling and I would be more likely to find developers who were able to jump onboard.
I’ve been here about five or six weeks and I’m about ready to build out the prototype—I’ve met the right team members, got a concept that excites me (because I know it will solve the problem correctly), and a supportive tech scene to synergize all of my efforts.
While I have tech buddies and Venture Capitalists back in Chicago that I know I will appreciate in the journey, Raleigh is the place that I know will be the launching pad for JettPakk.
I won third place at the Triangle Start-Up Weekend for Women and I had a chance to talk to members of the tech community and female entrepreneurs like myself. I also spoke to members of the CT team and learned about incorporating JettPakk to make the business legitimate and official. Incorporation is important because I want to protect the integrity of the program’s purpose—help teachers help students.
The system is a change management system for teachers to build a classroom culture of achievement with winning results. This focus is particularly different from the systems out there now, which focus on resources first. I think they are great and incredibly helpful, but it’s the cart before the horse. JettPakk will help those textbooks, teaching resources, and lesson plans be effective.
Victor: How was it working in the classroom, talking with the students, collaborating with specialists? Any lessons learned? Was it a shock going from development theory to classroom practicality? Did you make some key adjustments at that time due to student or teacher feedback?
Katherine: Culture, culture, culture!!! First and foremost, you must give your class a purpose in the students’ lives, second, set up a system of rules and expectations that the students will follow because they know they are going to get them to their goal, which automatically gets buy-in from the students, and thirdly, come up with rewards and punishments that the students respond to. Ideally, the teacher sets up a system and then the class is self-policing. The more you can get your system to run itself by enlisting the leadership of your students—the better your class will run. I definitely did not realize this in my first month of teaching!! Thank goodness, I had a lot of people who were willing to talk to me and give me advice and fortunately, after a few failed attempts, I found a system that worked for me.
Victor: Anything interesting about your own background that informed your current approach?
Agile Day at Red Hat in Raleigh, NC. As a teacher—it’s a lot like agile software development, where you build something you think will work and then with testing you have validated learning. If something isn’t working for you as a teacher, you can change it. It’s so important to remain humble as teachers and unafraid of punishment, because if you are willing to dig deep and try—you will be able to find a way to get your students to be successful. Sometimes I worry about how much people, and particularly teachers, are encouraged to keep up appearances because of certain systems in place. Now there is a balance—we as teachers need to accept we are constantly learning and that nobody is perfect. If we can keep trying and take the best practices that work, we can improve our students learning experiences.
UVA-Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of lifetime learners. I’m really fortunate I went to the University of Virginia. The students aren’t called freshman, sophomores, juniors, or seniors, because Thomas Jefferson said you could never become a senior of learning and that even if you graduate you can keep learning. I think this focus is important for students and for teachers—we can always be doing something to get better. If our students are getting 91% mastery on all of their objectives—how can we get them to learn 92% or how can we teach them more practical applications to what they are learning.
Morningstar, Inc. Product Consultant for Morningstar Office. At Morningstar, there were a couple of experiences that were really valuable to me. The first was being a product consultant for a very comprehensive portfolio accounting system. If financial advisors can buy a $5k system that let’s them be successful, surely we can create system teachers or school systems can buy for 1/100 of that, which allows them to be successful. I want to be the industrial organizational consultant for America’s teachers and I think the best way I can do this is by creating platform that sets up a workflow and system of programs for teachers. It’s what I was able to do in my classroom and I’ve seen the benefits of sharing some of these systems with the teachers I worked with at my school. I really want to help and I think this is my calling and this is the way that I can have the largest ripple for teachers and students in the educational system. I’ve got to make this happen.
Wired To Care by Dev. P If businesses hire management consultants, why can’t I be the industrial/organizational management consultant for teachers? If I can create a digitized platform then I can maximize my effect as a consultant to multiple teachers in multiple classrooms.
Victor: Alright, very interesting. Now, what’s your 60-second pitch to someone on what exactly it is, and its benefits?
Katherine: JettPakk is a change management platform that transforms classroom culture into Cultures of Achievement and winning results. JettPakk incorporates industrial/organizational psychology, Google’s method of setting and achieving goals, and management consulting. In order to become the leader of the classroom your students need you to be, JettPakk will mentor teachers via a digitized program and give students and teachers feedback loops to set goals, execute, review, reflect, and recalibrate, so that they may see how their attitudes, behaviors, and actions lead to success, adjusting where need be.
Victor: Do you have any direct or indirect competition?
Katherine: There is plenty of competition in terms of providing teachers with resources. I do not think we have direct competition, because those companies are just providing resources. Again, I think it’s really great to get teachers resources, but resources don’t get students to learn unless you have a winning culture of achievement in your classroom. Jettpakk does this in a way that other resources haven’t—or haven’t seen the benefit of. Also, if you look at Ms. Jetton’s Hierarchy of Student Learning Needs—you will see that there are companies out there that try to address Rules or Quizzes for example, but JettPakk is the missing link to make all of those resources effective.
Victor: Anything else in the works? Additional products, features, series or angles?
Katherine: I am continuously thinking of new features for the platform but before I can build those out, I need to determine a feasible budget and timeline so JettPakk can grow steadily. At the moment I am working hard to secure funding for JettPakk and am in the process of incorporating with CT to establish my business. As an entrepreneur with so many projects in the pipeline, this option allows me the ease of incorporating online when my schedule allows.
Victor: Your thoughts on education in general these days?
Katherine: Education in America as a whole makes me really sad, because I see how much better it could be. If I was able to transform my classroom, I know that I can help other teachers do the same. On an individual case-by-case basis though, I have seen some incredibly effective teachers, who are doing outstanding things for their students. We not only need to focus on ways to make teachers more effective, but to celebrate these outstanding teachers. At my school, I have one teacher in mind, who was the tough love, mama bear type of teacher, who got her students to learn. She is an incredibly lady, but with everything that was happening in education, she wanted to leave. Then I think of another teacher who loved teaching and really cared about his kids, but he just hadn’t figured out a way to be effective. He wanted to be, but he just didn’t know how. Please let me help him with his classroom. I get it teaching is hard. I was lucky and figured out how to transform my classroom, but some teachers quit before this or don’t give their students the education they need. I know that I can help teachers be more effective teachers, which means teachers, students, parents, schools, community…America wins! We have to do something about this!
Victor: Any guidance or advice to educators these days?
Katherine: If your life’s calling is to be a teacher—be a teacher. Please don’t give up if you feel like you haven’t figured out how to do it. The best way to figure it out is to figure it out. (And, please give me some time to get JettPakk together and I will show help you do this!) Our students need teachers that love their students. If you are a teacher that loves your students and you want to be an effective teacher—it’s our responsibility as a society to help you become a more effective teacher. I think my life’s calling is to do Jettpakk and be the industrial/organizational management consultant for teachers. I can help them become more effective teachers, transform their classroom culture, and become the leaders their students need them to be and the teachers they want to be.
Victor: Anything more you’d like to add or emphasize?
Katherine: If there are people out there that want to help the American educational system, JettPakk is the way to do it. If you know of a developer, designer, teacher, school leader, government official, private equity person, parents, or citizen that wants to help out with this. Any help is appreciated! We have to do this for teachers, for parents, for students, for our communities, for America. It simply must happen and I know I can use any help along the way. I’ve already had a helping hand from CT, and I want to thank them. Support for my cause at Triangle Startup Weekend has been immensely helpful. If you’ve got thoughts, much counsel makes a person wise, contact me. Let’s chat. Also, JettPakk needs funding. Software development requires capital, but instead of investing in educational resources that don’t work—invest in JettPakk. Let’s change teaching in America, let’s change education in America, and let’s get our students to learn! If you are in a position to financially contribute to education in America, contact Katherine via Twitter @katherinejetton
Victor Rivero is the Editor in Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org