Whatever It Takes (Book Review)

Struggling students have complex stories. Here's a book that gives strategies and case studies to help.

They’re hurting. Some have experienced trauma. Some have undiagnosed challenges. They each have a story. They each have a future. We call them struggling students. Academically fragile. Behavior problems. Disadvantaged.

But they are us.

They have gifts like us. They have strengths. They have unmatched potential.

They are not the problem.

The system isn’t designed for them. This is a book about changing that. Making it work for them. For us. For each student.

The book starts with a self-profile, which is mixed with undiagnosed learning challenges, struggles with the structures of education, and a reflection on the unintended messages of standardized education.

“Ferris Bueller had nothing on me.” – Dr. Bryan Pearlman, Whatever It Takes! For All Students to Succeed in School and Life

The Purpose of the Book

Whatever It Takes is based on research, yes. But this book is more than theory or research. It focuses on why specific students struggle in specific ways.

It’s about using methods and safely taking risks to ensure all students can be successful in school and life.

Dr. Pearlman offers a new approach to meeting student needs. The approach is called the “Shockers Approach,” and it addresses mass disenfranchisement in schools.

Whatever It Takes - A book that focuses on hurting students who often show up as "struggling students".
Whatever It Takes (Pin Me!)

Disenfranchisement in Schools

When students struggle, they most often check out. It’s easier to check out than to fail. It’s easier to act out than fail.

Even in gifted and talented students, this type of disenfranchisement is real.

The symptoms include:

  • easily distracted
  • calls out frequently
  • appears bored
  • poor writing output
  • difficulty sitting still
  • and many more you probably readily recognize.

These attributes are real. And they represent challenges to classroom instruction. They are symptoms of intrapersonal challenges for many students. They are the tip of the iceberg for the diverse and complex stories that make up who we all are as learners.

In Whatever It Takes, Dr. Pearlman presents 18 case studies. Each story sheds light on how these symptoms occur and where they come from.

Some of these case studies are emotional, some horrible. But each is familiar to any educator who’s been in the profession for any length of time.

However, Dr. Pearlman offers a straightforward solution that blends the best of what we know in education and psychology.

When students struggle, they most often check out. It’s easier to check out than to fail. It’s easier to act out than fail. – @mafost


Dr. Pearlman playfully incites the educational constant: acronyms. The SHOCKERS approach is the acronym for how schools can empower and engage struggling learners.

It’s a mixture of aspirational values and practical strategies.

At its core are well-researched practice macro-systems that respond to student needs. Additionally, the values in the SHOCKERS approach meet the ever-changing social and emotional needs of humans (both the whole child and the whole educator).

“A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.” – Oprah Winfrey

Behavior Challenges and Strategies

Whatever It Takes ends where it begins – with behavior.

Dr. Pearlman provides a list of challenging student behaviors as well as their functions and purposes.

He then offers dozens of strategies. First, there are practical strategies that can be effectively used to address behavior challenges.

I really like how he also provides contrast to effective behavior strategies. He does this with an overview of ineffective behavior strategies. You’ll find that both of these behavior strategies lists will provide a place for your team’s professional learning and reflection.

If you’d like to preview chapters of Dr. Pearlman’s book, Whatever It Takes, here’s the link to it on Amazon.