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  • 1 Sep 2021 11:17 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    Happy September to you! Each year I find myself surprised at how fast we get to this point in the summer. Every educator I spoke with was looking forward to a mega-recharge this summer as most of us had been going steadily since March 2020 (summer 2020 found the need for intense Covid planning). I am hoping that your recharge process happened, and your energy is re-focusing towards your students! 

    I wanted to start by giving a shout-out to Dave Conley and Dr. Chris Thurber for their Summer Seminar Series workshop with the Status Café on 8/18! 

     “In the well crafted 90 minute workshop that David and Christopher presented, I came away having participated in a dynamic conversation and had activities to use in my classroom that provide examples and active engagement. Thank you NEALS for inviting educators into this experience and for continuing to create opportunities for us to grow as humans and educators!”

    ~Jennifer Pytleski, Performing Arts Chair and Theatre Director at Darrow School in New Lebanon, NY.


    We are diving back into a year with an inkling of a more typical school year in terms of schedule. While it is important to continue with pandemic support, other items on school agendas will start to come back into focus. Two of the items on Miss Hall’s agenda are looking at the way we use meetings, and more importantly, really examining our assessment policies. In the 2008 Edutopia article titled Why is Assessment Important?, they connect the questions of “Are we teaching what we think we’re teaching” and “Are students learning what they are supposed to be learning”. While this article and interview are a worthwhile read, I can’t help but get stuck on the phrase “supposed to be learning”.  Joe Feldman, author of 2018’s Grading for Equity (which I highly recommend checking out), encourages us to rethink our “inherited” grading strategies which he has found “perpetuate disparities that have been going on for years by race, income, education, background, language” (Harvard EdCast, 2019).  

    It would be difficult to say that assessment is not valuable. Assessment allows us to see what students know, allows us to help prescribe for the students’ futures, and allows us to get a sense of whether we are teaching effectively or not. Assessment will not be going away during my lifetime, nor should it. The more important questions that we need to wrestle with are “Why do we assess?” and “How do we assess?” our students. The most poignant question I have given my colleagues to navigate is “should you give a student a summative assessment when you know that the student isn’t ready?”. The most common reason when someone answers yes, is that my colleague has mapped out their curriculum, and that when they get to the end of the lesson, the students need to take an assessment to demonstrate (read: prove) what they have learned. My response is invariably some iteration of “that seems to indicate that you feel all students learn at the same pace”. No educator has ever responded to that question with “of course all students learn at the same pace!”. All of this leads into my hopes for my colleagues, both near and far. Here are my challenges for your assessment strategies this year. 


    1.Use Formative Assessments

    This is the bread and butter of how an educator knows where their students are at. Frequent, low-stakes, and informal assessments are the best way to get a sense of your students’ knowledge. Entry and exit slips give you a real time sense of where they are at. Check the oil using a dipstick, try having the student write a letter to a friend about a concept. Try having informal interviews with your students, casual conversations can help identify any misconceptions that they may have. 


    2. Do it Differently

    Please allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding using different mediums. If you like to give traditional tests on paper, try to think about a student giving their answers orally or having them write their answers on the board. If a student needs to write an essay, couldn’t they also deliver that work in presentation format? Try changing the setting in which you give your students an assessment, can you go outside or to a different part of the building? 


    3. Post-test Conferences

    Try to have a post-test conference with a student if you are unsure of an answer that they have given. The first thought tends to be: grade the question as is, giving partial credit for an answer. I would actually encourage you to meet with the student before the grade is assigned so that the student can clear up any confusion in their answer. 


    4. Allow for Retakes

    I really encourage you to allow for retakes of an assessment whenever it is possible. Using the growth mindset “not yet” allows us to support students arriving at the material at their own pace. I can’t honestly remember the last time I missed the mark on something for my boss where they didn’t ask me to redo it, so why can’t we view our students in the same light? 


    Boom! There are four challenges that I believe will help us get closer to getting this thing called assessment correct! Where do you see the most opportunity in these challenges? How many can you act on? 


    Thanks for listening, 


    Cheers,

    Chris



  • 19 Jun 2021 12:10 PM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    By Melissa Rubin, Principal at The Student First

    Normally, at around this time each year, I get excited about potential professional development opportunities - and I enjoy sharing them with you all. I love taking advantage of the “downtime” that summer provides to further develop my skills so that I can find new ways to better support my students. Usually I jump at the chance to do webinars, or even week-long conferences, especially if the setting is nice (like the Cape or VT). The key word here though is “usually”. And we can all agree that this year has been anything but. 


    The month of May is always a big push - the students are tired, we’re tired and there is a lot of work to get done before the end of the school year. But this May? Good gosh! All I kept saying was “the struggle is REAL”. And it was!!! 


    So, as I think about how I want to spend the next couple of months, the idea of PD is not at the forefront of my mind. I feel conflicted though because I don’t want to lose out on this opportunity of time to learn. As a compromise, here is how I am going to approach the next few weeks…


    First and foremost, it’s time for some self-care. A social worker once shared a great philosophy that I need to internalize more - “self-care is not selfish”. I need to allow myself to recover and replenish my own energy so that I can be ready to help the kids come September. In keeping with this, I will be participating in NEALS’  Wellness Workshop on June 29th, entitled Self-Care for You


    Finally, I am behind on my YA reading. Usually (there’s that word again), I can get through a few books that my students are assigned during the school year… that definitely did not happen this year. So, why not take advantage of this time to catch up on reading?! I love doing it, I can do it anywhere (especially in the sun!), and it would benefit my students as I could then better help them with reading comprehension, and even analytical writing if I’ve actually read the text. So, I am going to read this summer! A lot! Given that I work with a number of middle and high school students these days - all of them reluctant readers, I’m going to focus on finding appealing titles for them, and making sure they read and understand them.


    I started this week, and I’ve already read 3! And it was so much fun!  I’ve been behind on my graphic novels so I wanted to address this gap in knowledge first. I was finally able to read Class Act, by Jerry Craft, the sequel to New Kid, and loved it - maybe even more than New Kid. The way Craft addresses microaggressions, colorism, and socio-economic differences in a private middle school setting is truly genius. Everyone - young and old - should read both these books and talk about them. As a side note, one of my AP lang students was asked to compare New Kid to Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me - what an awesome assignment! It’s amazing how two, seemingly disparate books can address the same themes - and talking about which style is most effective, was a great conversation. 


    I also read Terri Libenson’s first two books, Invisible Emmie  and Positively Izzy. Again, I really enjoyed them - in large part because of the quirky and realistic characters Libenson develops. I can imagine a number of my students relating to these characters. Great for middle school girls in particular. 


    Now I need to transition to rereading The Handmaid’s Tale (a summer reading assignment for a few of my students). I’m curious now that I’ve caught up on the Hulu series whether my perspective/reading of the book will change. 


    I wonder, what are you planning this summer? Any books high on your priority list to read? Any interest in getting together to talk about books?  



  • 31 Mar 2021 12:18 PM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    As we near the final stretch of the 2020-2021 school year, I have begun to look back at the notes from my 1-1 sessions with students. I try to write down the questions they pose about education, because oftentimes this anecdotal evidence turns into great data or lends itself well to professional development. I spent some time thinking about the best way to present this information, and I came to the conclusion that a student Wishlist would work perfectly for our institution. 


    I Wish (for 2020-2021)


    I wish that my teacher knew how hard my other class was” 

    No matter the size of your student class load, it is important for us to realize that some classes still present more challenging work (content, # of assignments, tough late policies). Before we feel that a student didn’t do anything because they didn’t do our assignment, check in to see what work they may have had for their other course/s. 

    Potential Discussions: Late policies, extensions without scaffolding, shifts in necessary structure from 9th-12th


    I wish that my teacher would explain concepts further in class

    Flipping the classroom to support both independent discovery and virtual learning is a solid idea. There are also some students who do benefit from an auxiliary teacher explanation, as a video can’t answer their questions completely as they come up. This can lead to extra frustration and confusion in the classroom. If we are presenting a challenging concept with a flipped classroom approach, we should think about also having a small in-class lesson to support those learners who need a little more than the video, while still allowing for students who understand the concept to shine as well.

    Potential Discussion: Scaffolding independent learning opportunities


    I wish that my teacher was available when I was doing my homework

    I am just putting this one here because I think it is important to think about. I personally feel that it is unreasonable to ask a teacher to be on from 8:00a-11p. That being said, some of us have students learning virtually in different time zones. If late night is not an option for us, we need to set extra time slots during the day for students to ask questions...Remember: Some students need to set concrete appointments with us instead of just having an open block of time available.

    Potential Discussion: Use of time


    I wish my teacher would be clear with what they want

    We have many students who are developing their abstract thinking abilities in order to fully engage with the amazing material we are presenting to them. Many of our students, in particular younger students, often benefit from concrete expectations. If we want students to produce a specific number of items/problems/facts for full credit, we should ask for exactly what we want.  

    Potential Discussions: Scaffolding shifts from 9th-12th


    I wish my teacher would give us examples of assignments” 

    At MHS, we made a very clear decision to push our students from the Spring (connection over content) last year to our current school year where content has increased. I imagine that this year has brought so many new and innovative assignments for students. When we provide examples, solid student work should always be our go-to. Is the assignment we are delivering brand new? Excellent! High-five for innovation! This also means that we now need to complete the assignment to provide an example (or find a colleague to help).

    With the significantly reduced amount of time students have to get adjusted, providing sample work can be an easy way to counteract that reduced time.

    Potential Discussions: Supports in the classroom


    Thanks for listening to the wishes of some of our students. What have your students been wishing for this year? Check out the NEALS Discussion Board to give your input! 


    *Check Out the Events page on the website and make sure you mark the dates for our:

    Annual Conference Deconstructed in April

    Cheers,

    Chris



  • 17 Mar 2021 2:35 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Dear NEALS Members and Supporters,

    I am spending some of my Spring Break time reflecting upon this past year and how much our world has changed.  I have adapted so much of my life to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.  My desire to adapt my practices as a learning specialist (even beyond the current global crisis) so that I can better serve my students and colleagues has become an unwavering  commitment.   NEALS has been and will continue to be a great resource to help me adapt and improve my work.

    Adapting and Adjusting our Practices is the theme of this year’s annual conference. With this in mind, our first adaptation has been to deconstruct our annual conference into smaller virtual events throughout the month of April.  Our month of learning will kick off with a session led by Dr. David Stein, a neuropsychologist who has adapted his assessments so that they are contactless but still in person.  We will also hear from Dr. Leslie Laud about incorporating Self Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD)  into our work with students. NEALS Board Members are also planning some social hours and discussions.  Keep an eye on our Events page for upcoming programming. 

    NEALS’s mission is:

    Promoting​ ​professional development​ ​for​ ​learning​ ​specialists​ 

    Creating community through​ ​collaboration,​ ​support,​ ​and​ ​advocacy

    We are striving to live up to our mission even during these challenging times.  I want to thank all of you for your continued support of NEALS.  We would not be able to continue our programming without our members and supporters!  


    I wish you all a joyful and healthy Spring!


    Regards,

    Laura 


  • 26 Feb 2021 1:22 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Dear NEALS members, 

    My, how we miss seeing each other in person! But we are so looking forward to seeing you this April for our month-long NEALS Conference (Deconstructed) on Zoom. We are excited to have neuropsychologist Dr. David Stein as keynote speaker. With a presentation on “Contact Free Testing” of students, he will kick off our professional development theme of adapting and adjusting our practices on Wednesday afternoon, April 7th.

    Please join the discussion online with your suggestions for topics for April’s month of sessions and for our successful Summer Seminar Series.  Be sure to “subscribe” to receive email updates as fellow members weigh in.

    Starting February, 2021 with gratitude: we are so grateful for what NEALS does for teachers of students with learning challenges. Without our learning specialists, well-equipped with excellent professional development, students with learning disabilities would struggle even more with the recent shifts to online learning. For this and more, we are particularly grateful to the NEALS Board as they juggle new responsibilities at work and envision new horizons for our precious and prescient organization. Laura steers us soundly at the helm, Chris creates new connections for us as Vice President, Melissa organizes us all and our documentation as Secretary, and Bethany manages our financial responsibilities as Treasurer. They and our other directors are eager to expand the Board; so please reach out if you’re interested in serving on the Board with us.  It’s a joy-filled service whether planning our programs, supporting our members with services and communications, or ensuring the sustainability of this valuable organization.

    Personally, I have been bowled over by your support of the Cole Fund for Educational Equity, providing NEALS memberships and benefits to underserved and undervalued schools. This fund means so much to me and to the NEALS Board. On behalf of our most vulnerable students, the Cole Fund brings voices to the table that we need to hear, while it shares our extraordinary network and resources with teachers and schools that would otherwise have no access. We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of like-minded individuals offering Cole Fund donations in excess of $20,000. We have surpassed our initial goal of including teachers from one school with finite resources and hope to reach out to a second school as the endowment grows.  

    Finally, I am so grateful to Eden Dunckel and those of you who have read Sliding Home: Two Teachers Head for the Mountains to Teach Our Kids for a Yearor contacted me with your kind words about my family’s adventure in learning. I hope it has been a source of support and inspiration for teachers and families schooling kids at home. 


    Sincerely yours,

    Suz

    Susan Cole Ross, past president (2011-2020)


  • 30 Jan 2021 3:53 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

     By April Pendergast, Learning Specialist at Kent School

    Greetings, all. As I write this, I’m staring ahead at re-entry into school life from the holidays. The complexities of day-to-day activities have compounded this year, and even as the vaccine rolls out among our compatriots, it’s difficult to see a road ahead that leads back to “life as we knew it.” It’s hard to handle, and I’m in my 40s. I have compassion for the student population also dealing with this Brave New World.


    It’s natural in times like these to seek comfort, and comfort usually connotes falling into old, familiar routines: family dinners, snuggly PJs and fluffy slippers, a warm cup of herbal tea in front of a glowing fire at night. But what happens when those familiar routines are not “good for us?” What if we have heart disease and the family dinners are full of cream sauces, carbs, and red meats? What if that cup of herbal tea turns into a cup of wine and the fire to a TV aglow with anxiety-producing images deep into the night? 


    As learning specialists, we work with a population of students whose comfortable routines, by and large, do not serve them. We all know how difficult it is in a “normal” year to help students change these routines, and with the extra pressures of this global emergency, the rungs on the ladder to success for these students may seem even further apart (or caked in slippery mud and about to break). Is lasting behavioral change possible during this time? After all, we know we need to attend to Maslow before we attend to Bloom. 


    I would argue that holding my place as an instrument of behavioral change for students is essential during this time, and that doing so may help attend to both the student’s SEL and academic needs; holding the process of identifying steps in the student’s behavioral chain and ways they can mitigate triggers and actions to manipulate consequences is in fact acknowledging Maslow’s levels of needs *so that* they can begin to work with Bloom’s levels of engagement and understanding. 


    Helpful in putting the necessity of working with students to develop healthier academic habits and routines as they emerge from the pandemic is the metaphor of the “elephant” and the “rider,” introduced by University of Virginia professor Jonathan Haidt and popularized by Dan Heath in Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. Research in psychology and neurodiversity shows that the problems faced by our less successful students are, by and large, not a result of a deficit of knowledge, but a deficit of behavior (“I know what to do, I just can’t do it”). Enter the idea of the “elephant:” our limbic system or “id” reacting emotionally to fight/fly/freeze in response to stimuli, and our “rider:” our vastly smaller frontal lobe attempting to steer and regulate the giant elephant on the path to goals set for us by ourselves or others.


    The elephant, the “doer,” is stronger; it follows a set of entrenched familiar routines seeking comfort and affirmation (even when these routines are unhelpful or unhealthy, their very familiarity is what provides comfort and affirmation). This can frustrate the rider, the “knower” (and those trying to aid the rider by setting well-meaning, if ineffective, goals) if the rider’s relationship with the elephant is acrimonious. Attempting to force the elephant through “willpower” alone doesn’t respect the elephant’s strengths and needs, and it will ultimately undermine our ability to reach the goal. In this way, the elephant educationally represents Maslow’s levels and the the rider represents Bloom’s; in order for the rider to get to where he needs to go, the elephant must be well-cared-for. 


    Thus, of course, effective change is slow and incremental. We teachers might not see the outcome of this slow and effective change in the year we row through academic life with the student, and in an atmosphere of assessment and outcomes, a pressured rider may rush a reluctant elephant… and one can only imagine where that leads. More importantly, effective change is compassionate. An effective rider knows their elephant well and sees where the elephant might scare on the path ahead; they coax the elephant around these challenges by setting an alternate course. My Catholic mother-in-law calls this strategy “avoiding occasions of sin.” For my students, I would call this avoiding triggers and practicing alternate actions. 


    Because we also know that effective behavioral change happens at the point of performance, and a learning specialist’s schedule is typically bounded by the structure of the school and/or boarding day, an effective specialist can utilize their time with the student-rider not only to set goals, but to analyze their behavior chain and troubleshoot the path to the goal in a way that is respectful and compassionate to their elephant. Availability for checking in at the point of performance may or may not be possible, but setting aside time at the beginning of each meeting for post-mortem analysis might begin to set a habit of mind for this type of metacognitive awareness. I am lucky to work with incredibly supportive and dedicated colleagues in the Academic Resource Center and English Department at Kent School, and I am looking forward to testing this protocol in the coming months. 


    If it’s helpful, please feel free to use this visual in your practice. Peace and prosperity to you all. 

     1 The connection here is opaque but valid and a subject for another blog post.

     2 Research shows that teacher attitude, the belief that the student can learn, is the most salient factor in determining student success, but again that’s a subject for another blog post. 

  • 30 Nov 2020 5:32 PM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    By Chris Ouellette

    Director of the Academic Skills Center at Miss Hall’s School

    Have you ever learned a mnemonic that you don’t think will ever leave your mind? I will tell you what mine is, 30 days hath September, April, June, and November... I find it a bit ironic that today’s offering on time management lands on the final day of November in 2020. As I found myself preparing to lead a workshop for my faculty on supporting the development of time management skills in their students, I laughed out loud at my own sense of time (or lack thereof) throughout this pandemic. Initially, working from home last spring was an amazing break (in an awful time) from the grind of everyday boarding school life. As we entered our first term this year in the virtual world, I started to find that days and weeks began to blur in my memory. When we began our second term in person; it was easier to find my anchor, easier to separate each day and experience. Not only did this help me be better for my students, I was also able to attain much better productivity. If this was occurring this easily for me (and I would imagine some of you), then how much more impactful is this for our students? So, with the surging pandemic in mind, and my school’s return to a virtual environment, the development of time management skills becomes even more necessary. 

    When you put your hand on a hot stove, a second can feel like an hour. When you put your hand on a loved one seldom seen, an hour can feel like a second. While this quote can be explored slightly differently through the eloquent words of LL Cool J in the 1999 film Deep Blue Sea, the idea that time is relative is necessary. How we perceive time (how much we have, how long something takes) will impact our level of success with time management. 

    The One-Minute Challenge

    is a fun and quick way to see just how differently we all perceive time. The premise is simple: have your students or colleagues sit down when they feel one minute has passed. Have each member of your group stand up in front of their chair and close their eyes. Instruct them to sit down when they feel one minute has passed (open your eyes, remain quiet). Set your timer for 1:30 and say “go”. Throughout my time running this activity, I have only had two humans sit down at exactly one minute. Even those who think they can count to 60 often find that they miss the mark. Now apply this to what you are doing! What happens when you think something will take you 30 minutes and you only set aside 30 minutes? What happens when you feel like you are going to take a 10 minute break and then you look over at the clock and one hour has gone by? The more accurately you can perceive time, the better you are able to manage your own time.

    $86,400

    is a great way to look at our priorities a little more deeply. Another simple premise here: each of you $86,400, you must spend it all in one day, you cannot bank/invest it, and if you don’t spend it, you lose it. Watching people decide what to spend their money on is quite amusing. I want to shout out my ~30 fresh-humans the other day as everyone chose to donate large sums of money or pay their families’ bills (we can talk about how far $86,400 goes another time). The fun part comes when you start talking about the real point of this activity. You have 86,400 seconds in each day. What you choose to spend your time on is vital to your success. If you don’t use your time well, you don’t get it back. It is important to help your group to start to think about their priorities, and remember to tell them that rest is an important thing to spend time on. 

    Races to the Aces

    helps us to look more deeply at our schedule. Yet another simple premise: each human turns over their deck of cards and races to find the four aces. Build up this competition so that humans really want to win. What they won’t know ahead of time is that some decks are shuffled randomly, while other decks have the aces strategically placed close to the bottom. “That’s not fair!” “They cheated!” “That’s BS Ouellette!” You should be smiling as you ask them to think of each deck of cards as their schedules. If your schedule is organized and ready to go, then you win the race (or at least have a better chance at winning). 

    If we can help our students develop; a clearer perception of time, the ability to prioritize, and the ability to create a schedule to follow, then we will help them become better at managing their time. It would be foolish to not reinforce that each area discussed will take much practice, and even the most organized human has moments where time management is a losing battle. We need to regularly help our students reflect on and track how long assignments take to complete, strengthening their perception of time. We also need to help our students prioritize (you may have noticed that some students need help seeing that one less assignment can be more rewarding than finishing the next level, episode, or chapter) their work and restorative activities so that they can find a better life balance. Lastly, while some humans can seemingly fly by the seat of their pants, I promise that it becomes exhausting! We need to work with our students so that they can eventually build schedules for themselves that are both structured and flexible, so that they don’t become overwhelming. 


    In the interest of my own time management, I will leave you with a quote from J Cole, “they say time is money, but really it’s not. If we ever go broke, time is all we got.” Let’s keep working to help our students make the best of the time they have got! 



    Cheers,


    Chris



  • 29 Oct 2020 1:18 PM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    By Chris Ouellette

    Director of the Academic Skills Center at Miss Hall’s School

    Happy final Tuesday in October to you all! I hope that you have been able to find that groove you were looking for! As we enter our Covid inspired Term 2, we are starting to ideate on professional development. What are our needs? How much is in our budget? Can we safely bring in an outside guest to deliver a PD offering? 

    As we entered this past summer, it was clear that the majority of us would be working through the summer in order to build the best programmatic offering during this wonky time. One of the pieces of our summer work centered on offering PD to our colleagues. Several of us were given a pretty straightforward task: Create effective offerings that would help our teaching colleagues prepare for the year while also allowing for asynchronous attendance. Our ultimate result:

    Miss Hall’s PD Summer Seminar Series

    Our premise was simple: our school is filled with experienced teachers who had participated in PD courses outside of MHS or had expertise in certain areas. If we could tap into these humans, not only would we empower their voices, we could also provide our PD program at a significantly reduced cost to the school. We were able to target three areas of focus; Technology, Assessment, and Curriculum. Once we targeted areas to focus in on, we began to tap people who could potentially lead one hour webinars for our colleagues. All together we offered nine structured webinars and also offered up three practice and play sessions over a two week time period. I am really proud of my colleagues for their offerings:

    -Zoom: Reconceiving Zoom as a learning and collaboration space

    -Wayfinding: “No you don’t need to create 2 lessons for each class”

    -Student Agency + Classroom Culture

    -Powerschool 102

    -Maximizing Learning Outcomes w/ 5 week terms!?!

    -Creating Videos with Loom:Enhancing student learning” 

    -Assessment: “Through the eyes of our PD courses”

    I also had the honor of presenting two offerings to my colleagues:

    -Assessment: Using Formative assessment to guide student learning “And you can still give summative assessments

    -Student Support: Supporting different learning needs in the hybrid model

    After we had presented the webinars, all recordings were uploaded to our faculty resource page on our Powerschool LMS. This allowed for easy curation of all of the offerings for colleagues to peruse at will. 

    So what have I learned? Here’s my top five:

    Asynchronous for the Win!

    Adults really enjoy having the ability to attend something asynchronously on their own time during the summer. While we had many in-person attendees, the timing required flexibility that was achieved through the asynchronous opportunity.

    Expertise in your Halls!

    There are so many diverse minds and experiences amongst your faculty. Work hard to find out where they have expertise, and tap into it! Almost everyone we spoke with was excited to help out! 

    Reimagine Summer PD

    Most of us are used to one-two weeks of full day meetings and professional development right before school starts. This does not have to be the case, and our colleagues really appreciated dropping to 3 days of all school PD with the addition of our seminar series. 

    Provide ease of Access

    We added in timestamps so that asynchronous viewers would not have to listen to every moment. This allowed for a choose-your-own-adventure style of PD. A little fun goes a long way!

    It won’t be Perfect

    We learned so much upon reflection that will help us implement this style of PD in a more efficient and effective way in the future. We ran into speedbumps, they required mea culpas, and we now know how to make it better. Be humble and listen to the feedback that comes in.


    Thanks for sharing your time with me, I will leave you with a quote from the late science-fiction author Robert Heinlein, “When one teaches, two learn”.


    Cheers,


    Chris



  • 29 Sep 2020 4:34 PM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    By Chris Ouellette

    Director of the Academic Skills Center at Miss Hall’s School

    Hello there you wonderful humans! Happy end of September to you all! Most of us are bringing the 1st month of classes or more to a close. Whether you have had students back in person since day one, or you are just now slowly starting to see students return to campus, please know how important your work has been to the school communities we serve. We are providing virtual sessions at all times of the day to accommodate time zone changes for our students. I have not spoken with a Learning Specialist this year who hasn’t seen 1-1 sessions from 7:00am EST to 10:00pm EST.   One thing is clear, this shift to a hybrid style of learning and teaching has brought a whirlwind of mixed results. 

    Some of the students who work with us regularly are thriving with reduced course loads or reduced length of their school days. The shift to virtual calendars has helped our students who are the most organizationally challenged. On the other hand, some of our Rockstar students are finding that the increased amount of independent work expected is proving to be quite taxing to plan for. Our students already face difficulties with long term project planning during regularly scheduled programming, and now we are seeing that struggle amplified across students both in and outside of our learning support systems. There is a silver lining to the challenges with independent work being highlighted now; our schools can place a larger focus on building these skills throughout a student’s program. If we can increase support designed to strengthen these skills in all of our students now, they will be better prepared for the world post high-school, whatever that may bring them!

    I know that I am not the only Learning Specialist out there who is exhausted already. Since the school year always brings less personal time, I have found myself in need of work/life separation even more so this year. One thing that has got me through is a steady supply of music. I wanted to share my most recent playlist with you all:

    • LoFi Hip Hop (chill, melodic, Jazz/Hip-hop instrumentals, multitude of varieties here, check out “Beats to relax/study to” or “Brazil songs”) 

    • ”Sing About It” The Wood Brothers (also shared in my last post)

    • ”When Doves Cry” Prince 

    • ”Invisible Seas” Panacea

    • ”Just Thinkin” Slightly Stoopid ft Chali 2na

    • ”RITMO” Black Eyed Peas, J Balvin

    • ”Own Light (what hearts are for)” Brother Ali

    • “Danger Zone” Kenny Loggins

    •  DJ 9thWonder has been running the “Fass-Auntie Lounge” on Instagram and has been spinning records live

    • “River Takes the Town” The Wood Brothers

    • “Pressure Drop” Toots & The Maytals


    If music doesn’t get you through, allow me to share one of my favorite motivational quotes from the movie Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming” -Dory the fish. So, as you enter the month of October, if you find yourself drifting at sea, please reach out to someone at NEALS so we can throw you that much needed life-preserver. 


    Cheers,

    Chris


    Title inspired by: “I heard a bird sing in the dark of December. A magical thing. And sweet to remember. We are nearer to Spring than we were in September. I heard a bird sing in the dark of December.” -Oliver Herford


  • 13 Aug 2020 7:14 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Deal NEALS Members and Supporters,

    My intention in this letter was to introduce myself and talk about all the great plans that NEALS has in store for the 2020-21 school year, but life has other plans right now.  As we near the beginning of the school year, my head is spinning with ideas about how to best support my students whether we are in-person (masked and 6 feet apart), or remote and meeting via Zoom, or a combination of the two.  These are strange times!  I just started teaching at Dedham Country Day School last year; I was warmly welcomed and became an active part of the community.  This year’s changes to schedule and program delivery make me feel like I am starting a new job all over again.

    In my personal life, I am getting ready to send my son to college for his Freshman year.  As of now, he will be on campus and attending classes in a hybrid model. My daughter is a rising high school Junior and will be attending school in person two days a week and the remainder of her school time will be a combination of asynchronous and synchronous online learning.  I mourn for their lost experiences in this pandemic, but I celebrate their resilience and “can do” attitude.  After all, this is the new normal.

    The new normal means that we need to shift our thinking quickly- and be prepared to change how we teach in a moment’s notice.  I am reviewing all of my curriculum and materials and trying to figure out if handouts would be better presented in a Google Doc format or as a Slide presentation.  I am seeking videos and other online tools that can reinforce concepts.  I am also trying to figure out how to better reach the students who crumbled last March and were incapacitated with reading ansynchornous class instructions let alone actually trying to complete the assignment.  I keep thinking back to presentations on executive functions presented at prior NEALS conferences and realizing that my students and I are all in the same boat;  anxiety and stress are trying to turn off our thinking  brains and yet we are frequently trying to “do school” like we normally do.  All of our old tricks and strategies need to be reviewed and analyzed to figure out if they will work in the new normal.  This is hard work!

    The new normal has also led to some silver linings on some very dark clouds- NEALS has begun to use technology to help us better connect.  We are now hosting member meetings online and they have been great!  As much as I love our annual conferences, I have enjoyed connecting online with so many of you during these past months. And there is a bonus of no commute or hotel needed to get to these meetings!  NEALS will continue to deliver online programming this year and I hope to “see” you at our future online offerings.  Our next event on August 19th addresses best practices in “the new normal” and I know I am looking forward to hearing from others about what new tips and tricks I can incorporate into my teaching this year.  

    The mission statement of NEALS is:

    • Promoting​ ​professional development​ ​for​ ​learning​ ​specialists​
    • Creating community through​ ​collaboration,​ ​support,​ ​and​ ​advocacy

    I am proud of the work NEALS has done during the pandemic to ensure that learning specialists feel supported.  We will continue to provide professional development and community building  events this year, just in a new way.  I hope you will join us on this “new normal” adventure.


    Warmly,

    Laura





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