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  • 22 Nov 2022 10:01 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    SEGA Reflections

    by: Susan Cole Ross (former President NEALS)

    Three of us head out from Logan after checking 300 pounds of donations to the girls at SEGA Girls’ Secondary School**, including 42 scientific calculators sent by my friends. We meet two others in Amsterdam for lattes and chocolate croissants, which I expect will be our last for the coming 3 weeks. 


    During our 10 1/2 hour flight from Europe to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, I review the basic level ELL curriculum I will use to teach SEGA’s incoming students.  Their English fluency is limited, an obstacle to higher learning. The curriculum seems a good jumping off spot, but I most look forward to taking the girls out into the sustainable gardens and obsessing, as I do, about plants, compost, and food while pointing, pointing, pointing. Or that is my hope…

    Hope. Enroute I read Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams’ Book of Hope: A survival guide for trying times. Goodall’s gentle but stalwart commitment to the people, the places, and the animals of Tanzania inspire me. When she speaks of hope in her original, increasingly desperate search for chimpanzees, she says, “of course there was a nagging worry - did I have time? I suppose it’s a bit like climate change. We know we can slow it down -  we’re just concerned as to whether we have sufficient time to effectively turn things around.” I share her hope and her concern. I hope that I can make a difference, and I query, “will I have time in just 9 teaching days?” 

    Waking from a five hour bus jostle from Dar es Salaam, SEGA finally looms ahead on the dusty road. For the girls’ protection, we do not share the address.  The girls come from villages where early pregnancy and marriage are common, and young women work relentlessly to access water and food, to create meals and clean homes, and to care for children at an age when, by US standards, they are children themselves.  There is little time for school, often a one to three hour walk away, where the inconsistent attendance of teachers sometimes makes the walk futile. The futility of education is reflected in girls 33% attendance in secondary school in the country, lower still out in the bush. 

    After a day of training we strive to embrace cultural humility and recognize that these girls know things we will never know, and most already speak at least two languages other than English: their native language and Swahili.  Surely they are learners and likely they will be our teachers as well.  We wonder how. 

    A bit of a curveball, we learn that due to changes in the national testing protocols, the new girls will be just arriving, directly from their villages, to work with us starting Sunday.  Sega’s teachers will have no time to meet with them, to assess their English skills, to evaluate their emotional needs, etc.  Young women often bring stories and burdens to set aside when they come to school.  So our English Fluency Program leader hops into action creating a game for us to share with the girls, an opportunity to practice the language and to get to know one another.  She creates a spreadsheet for us to use during the activity, to measure our new students’ English fluency levels as we go along.  Anticipating an exercise of our students’ resilience, I find this is an exercise in our resilience as teachers, as well. 

    But all that will wait until tomorrow.  First, on Saturday, we attend SEGA‘s graduation day. It is a grand celebration of SEGA’s 14th year and 10th graduation, of the girls’ dedication to their studies and to each other, of each of their villages, of heritage, of nationalism, and of joy.  Families, in traditional dress, collect around their young graduates. The Maasai, in particular, stand so tall, proud, and intimidating, but I overcome my reluctance, step right up, and greet them, “Jambo!” Men in their warrior garb, holding their long sticks, turn and smile, “kwiheri!”

    (To be continued.)

    ** "Nurturing Minds (NM) is a US-based 501(c)(3) non-profit whose mission is to support quality education, life skills, and entrepreneurship to help girls in Tanzania become leaders in their communities. Nurturing Minds achieves its mission through its partnership with SEGA (Secondary Education for Girls’ Advancement) for the development and operation of a quality secondary boarding school, a continuing education scholarship program, and a community outreach program that brings elements of SEGA’s Life Skills program to girls in rural communities throughout Tanzania. For more information: www.nurturingmindsinafrica.org."

  • 16 Sep 2022 8:19 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    By Chris Ouellette

    NEALS VP, Director of Learning Support, Emma Willard

    Hello Folx! The year is rocking and rolling already! Joining a new community has really been a refreshing experience in terms of my own energy and output! I wanted to take some time to share about an experience I have already had this year where I was able to stretch my reach beyond typical expectations.

    As the year began, I was approached by the Head of School in order to tap into my knowledge base of learning strategies in support of a specific administrative team. The team had just rolled out a new protocol to use in some meetings, when one of the team members expressed concern about the protocol supporting their own learning needs. This is when I was asked to review the protocol, share my thoughts, and offer up some alternatives to think about. I brought my input to a meeting at the beginning of the week. Here are my thoughts on the overall experience:

    1. This was the first time that I have been asked to support adults outside of delivering professional development (whether group or 1-1). Not only was this an honor, it was a great example of the reach that Learning Specialists can have if they are valued within their school communities. 
    2. As I began to review the protocol, and started to find some legitimate frustration points, I was worried about the impact of coming into the meeting and sharing with the Head of School that their protocol should probably shift to something different. I channeled my inner Brené Brown, focused on the mantra “clear is kind”, and mustered up my courage to deliver the message. What a well-received conversation this was! 
    3. We work within such an imperfect science that things often feel a bit messy! The level of vulnerability needed to engage in this intricate world is palpable. The nature of our work, no matter how gently we deliver it to our colleagues, can often sound like “YOU’RE BAD AT TEACHING”. This naturally brings out insecurities in teachers (even if that isn’t even close to the delivered message). This moment was a chance for me to be vulnerable and courageous, and was an opportunity to model to my colleagues the ways in which I believe we should all interact.

    My challenge to you: find the spot where you need to have a courageous conversation, channel your inner “clear is kind”, and deliver that message both vulnerably and with pride! Even if it is less than successful, it is great practice going forward! Nas tells us that “if you’re afraid to take chances, you’ll never have the answers”, and I tend to agree! 



  • 5 Sep 2022 9:14 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    By Melissa Rubin

    NEALS Board Secretary, Principal at The Student First

    The summer, traditionally, has been a time to take a deep breath after an intense school year. I can imagine you all can relate. This summer was no different for me - I needed this time to rejuvenate. At the same time, knowing that I did not have as many commitments to students, I saw this as an opportunity to seek out some professional development. I found an on-line, 10 week course offered by UC-Santa Cruz that piqued my interest, Assistive Technology (AT) for Learning Differences. I have to tell you all, taking this course was the best decision I could have possibly made. Shelly Haven, the professor of the course, was not only knowledgeable, but organized, responsive and insightful. The mind-blown emoji ( ) would be an understatement in the best possible way. Shelley not only introduced me to countless new apps, but more importantly, she shifted my mindset and offered a protocol I plan to follow from now on when considering AT options for my students.  

    I thought I’d share some of my takeaways here, if nothing more than to whet your appetite for what April Pendergast (learning specialist @ Kent, and fellow student in the course) and I will be sharing in October at NEALS’ Table Talk Discussion:   

    • A picture is still worth a 1000 words. The image used to explain the difference between equality and equity can be applied to how to view AT for students with learning differences. AT can help the learning process be more equitable. (https://interactioninstitute.org/illustrating-equality-vs-equity/)

    • I have been asking the wrong question! Or at least skipping over some really important questions before asking about the “best app” for given students. First, I should be focusing on parceling out the student’s specific need and then how it should be addressed before even thinking about what app to use. Let the student’s needs dictate the most appropriate tech for the situation.

    • Just giving a student access to AT doesn’t mean that the problem is solved. Careful consideration needs to be given to ensuring that the student understands how to use the tech and assessing the effectiveness of the tech. Furthermore, just because the AT helps for a given task now doesn’t mean it will be the best tool to use in the future - frequent re-evaluation (maybe every term, for instance) is crucial.     

    • Finally, taking this course was a great reminder of what it feels like to be a student. I have to admit it was stressful, not because of the amount or level of difficulty of the work assigned but simply because I knew I was going to be evaluated on my performance in a numerical way (i.e., a grade) for the first time in 25 years. It didn’t matter that the grade would have no bearing on any of my work - I put pressure on myself to get that ‘A’. This experience reminded me of what my students must feel on the daily, and even more so as they are juggling a number of courses at a time. Therefore, as I enter the school year, I come with more empathy for my students.     

    Ultimately, I came away from the course achieving my initial goal of having more tools to help my students be more effective and efficient. More importantly though, Shelley Haven has truly revolutionized the way I consider the AT selection, implementation, and evaluation process, including the way I use my own computer. All this being said, I look forward to sharing more specifics on Wednesday, October 5th. 

  • 16 Aug 2022 8:45 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    By: Chris Ouellette

    NEALS VP, Director of Learning Support, Emma Willard 

    Hello folx! Happy August to you all! As I dive into learning profiles to begin my third week here at Emma Willard, I find myself reflecting on what I can control in order to support my shift to a new school for the 2022-2023 academic year. I have found list formats to be helpful, so here are four things to do when starting at a new school:

    1. Know your team

    As you begin your time, it is in your best interest to introduce yourself early to the team of people you will be working with. This team should include more than your direct supervisor and/or direct reports. What departments will you be connecting with regularly? What departments will you be connecting with on a less than regular basis? If it isn’t clear, ask. If you were wondering, my list is currently at: Academic Office, Dean’s Office, Business Office, College Counseling Office, Academic Tech Office, English Department, Math Department

    2. Know your students

    We know that getting to know your students is the best way to positively impact the strength and outcomes of our sessions. While you read evaluations, previous academic comments, and input from various constituents, it is important to remember that this is only a piece of the picture. Taking the time to develop a relationship with your students is how we help make the best informed decisions with regard to support (I know we all do this, and it is also a good reminder even if we aren’t at a new institution). 

    3. Know what you know, and don’t be afraid to ask

    Be confident in the knowledge you are bringing to your new community. You were hired for a reason, know that what you bring is desired there. That being said, each school has a different set of routines, habits, language, etc. You should bring your entire bag of tools, and it will help to spend some time thinking about how those tools fit into your new community. If you are curious about why something is done, ask! While we are getting to know our new communities, they are getting to know us. We come with the advantage of having fresh eyes on the system that the schools have in place, so I encourage you to question the ‘why’. 

    4. Use your previous experience, don’t get stuck in it

    It doesn’t matter if your previous job was the best experience or the worst, you definitely learned something. Give yourself time to reflect on what you learned, make a list if you have to. What was that new tool you learned about that was super helpful to your students? Did you find a new way to build relationships that strengthened your student sessions? Did you have specific interactions with colleagues that led you to do something differently as you enter your new community? Did your supervisor act in a way that left you wondering? The things you learned shape who you bring to your new community, and even if all you learned was how not to lead in the future, that’s still a pretty powerful learning outcome.

    This list is a solid starting line, and there is so much more you will need to do to acclimate to your new community. The group Atmosphere tells us that “inspiration stems from love and stress compounding," and that seems to be a great way to describe the way I am feeling as I look to inspire a new community! 

    Upcoming Events:

    -Wednesday 9/7/22 Book Discussion- “Think Again” by Adam Grant 

    led by Chris Ouellette. 

    Blurb:  “Intelligence is usually seen as the ability to think and learn, but in a rapidly changing world, there's another set of cognitive skills that might matter more: the ability to rethink and unlearn. In our daily lives, too many of us favor the comfort of conviction over the discomfort of doubt.” -Adam Grant

    Best of luck as you begin your 2022-2023 academic years!



  • 3 Apr 2022 7:28 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Dear NEALS Members and Supporters,

    It seemed like winter would never end, and yet April and spring have arrived!

    I wanted to take this opportunity to invite you to our Annual Member Conference which is being held online Thursday, April 7th, and Friday, April 8th.  Planning for this year has been challenging (due to the ebb and flow of COVID), but I am so very pleased to invite you all to events that will enhance your practice, invigorate your mind, and renew your joy in working with students and colleagues.  

    I am so excited to have Dr. Chris Thurber present on two amazing topics:

    Successful Advocacy:

    Easy Ways to Make Difficult Conversations Highly Effective

    Advocating for young people should be easy for Learning Specialists, right? You’re the invited expert, everyone wants what’s best for the child, and you’re sharing practical solutions. Yet advocacy can be surprisingly challenging for a host of reasons. Stakeholders—including Learning Specialists—may not agree on what’s possible. To bolster your efforts, this engaging workshop will introduce three specific tools to your advocacy toolbox: Radical Empathy, Appreciative Inquiry, and Motivational Interviewing. With practice, each will become a powerful asset in every future difficult conversation.

    Equanimity Essentials:

    Five Keys to Professional and Personal Thriving

    Self-care is the sine qua non of caring for others. Yet home and work responsibilities often eclipse personally restorative practices. This inspiring workshop will review the foundations of self-care before challenging participants to employ five different hacks that transform self-care wishes into self-care realities. For example, you’ll learn how to become one of the 9% of people who actually follow through on their New Year’s resolution. After all, you know how and why to take care of yourself. Now it’s time to embrace durable solutions to the perennial predicament of finding a healthy work-life balance.

    A little more about Dr. Thurber:

    Dr. Christopher Thurber is an award-winning writer and thought leader who has dedicated his professional life to improving how adults care for kids and to enhancing the experience of

    adventurous young people who are spending time away from home. A graduate of Harvard and UCLA, Dr. Thurber has served as a psychologist and instructor at Phillips Exeter Academy since 1999.

    An entrepreneur from a young age, Dr. Thurber founded Prep4School.com and Prep4Camp.com to teach young people how to prevent intense homesickness and make joyful, successful transitions to boarding school and summer camp. One of his first Prep4 videos won a Telly Award for best Non-Broadcast Instructional Video.

    His best-selling family resource, The Summer Camp Handbook, was recently translated into

    Mandarin to help launch the youth camping movement in China. And his most recent book, The Unlikely Art of Parental Pressure, was described by The Atlantic as “a tour de force” and “the rare parenting book that respects both parents and children.”

    Schools, camps, and forward-thinking organizations on five continents have invited Dr. Thurber to deliver keynotes, contribute articles, and lead workshops for all audiences. He and his wife, Simonida, are the proud parents of two boys (Danilo, b. 2002, and Sava, b. 2004). You can learn more about Chris and access premium content on DrChrisThurber.com.

    I am also excited to incorporate mindfulness into our event.  Marie Nagode, my colleague at Dedham Country Day School, will lead us in a mindful meditation break during the lunch break.  Marie teaches yoga and mindfulness to youth and adults beautifully.  I always feel better after spending time with Marie.  I welcome you to learn how wonderful Marie is! Marie will be presenting at AISNE’s Health and Wellness Conference in May, and we are so lucky to have her work with NEALS.

    There are also opportunities to network and relax.  We will even be raffling off books (thank you Dr. Thurber and Susan Cole Ross for the books)! I hope you can join us for all or part of our conference.

    I am proud that NEALS has been able to deliver such high-quality programming to its members over the past two years.  If you are not a member, I welcome you to join us.  NEALS welcomes learning specialists, special educators,  and other allied professionals.  Whether in person or online, NEALS continues to live up to its mission:

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

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

    I hope to see you online Thursday evening and Friday!


    Laura Foody

    NEALS President

  • 21 Jan 2022 7:30 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    By: Chris Ouellette

    NEALS VP,  Director of Academic Skills Center Miss Hall's

    When I was growing up, I knew that my family was special. It wasn’t that we were perfect, far from it actually. My mother and I would fight incessantly, usually over the same thing, and it wore down our more sensible parts. No matter the fight, no matter how much we were hurting, there was always love. Nothing could make you forget it, nothing that happened ever moved that dial even slightly. This is the typical memory sparked when I share with my colleagues about unconditional positive regard, and it always leads to strong discussions.

    I really enjoy discussions looking at unconditional love, best for family, versus unconditional positive regard, best for human interaction in general. Occasionally I have a counselor friend talk about unconditional positive regard in psychology, put forth by Carl Rogers within his client-centered therapy model. That model, found under the larger umbrella of humanistic psychology, has driven my educational work for years. It makes total sense to me, you put the whole person first instead of focusing solely on the dysfunction. Using the psychology lens, the therapist would accept and support their client regardless of the client’s actions. Using the teaching lens, the teacher would accept and support their student regardless of the student’s actions. 

    Over the last 20 years of my career in education, I have regularly had colleagues come up to me and ask me how I do it. Sometimes this is after seeing me working through a really difficult time with a student, and other times it is when they are having a challenging time with a student who I happen to work well with. After we talk about the situation, I usually ask how they are feeling about the student’s actions. When frustration or disappointment is expressed, my next question is almost always “did you show that to your student?”. If the answer is yes, my next follow-up question is “Why?”.

    It isn’t that I don’t believe that a student needs to know when they have made a less-than-stellar choice, they absolutely need to hear that feedback to grow from their mistakes. To me it is about setting the tone of the student-to-teacher relationship. If I show frustration or disappointment to a student because of their actions, I am signaling to that student that they need to meet certain parameters to continue the benefits of our relationship. Even if I know a student is lying directly to me, I choose not to call the student out at that moment. Instead, my choice is to wonder why the student felt the need to lie, and then to approach it later when the student may be less wound up. Oftentimes that student is lying to you because of a stressor, so choosing to call out the lie in the moment will almost certainly trigger the fight or flight response. Waiting even a day allows for the student to be more open to learning from the mistake. 

    While unconditional positive regard truly enhances my relationships with students, it can have unintended consequences with colleagues. With me, unconditional positive regard has led to a “this too shall pass” mantra. That mantra can make it seem like you are not taking a colleague’s concern seriously enough, because you are too “chill”. It is important to mitigate that potential challenge so that you are supporting your colleagues as well as the students. 

    Having this conversation earlier in the year with another teacher, my colleague referred to me as  a “gelatinous love machine, always chill and things will be ok”. I laughed at first, but definitely reflected on the comment for a couple of days. In the end, while I don’t believe I will adopt the moniker of “GLM”, I do know that I will continue signaling to the students that I regard them unconditionally.

    I will leave you today with the wise words of the group Common Market,  "Cause to me, "MC" means mentor the child"



  • 17 Dec 2021 10:38 AM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    By Laura Foody, NEALS President

    I am having a moment of Deja Vu.  Last winter, I was hunkered down for the holiday break with my immediate family.  We did not travel because we wanted to stay safe and did not want to risk the health of our loved ones. Then vaccines came, and the infection rates went down, and the weather warmed up, and things looked good in June.  Ah, those were the good old days….

    Now we face the Delta and Omicron variants, and infection rates are rising once again.  We will see some extended family this holiday season, but we are trying to keep things low-key so that all can be healthy and safe.  Winter is looking unsure once again.

    The members of the Board at NEALS are aware that burnout rates of faculty and staff at schools are on the rise.  We are working diligently to figure out how to best support our members so that NEALS events can be refreshing, stimulating, and safe.  We also want to make sure the physical and mental health of our members and colleagues are bolstered rather than knocked down during these unsure times.  

    Due to the uncertainty of rising infection rates and viral variants, the NEALS Board has decided that the annual conference will once again be held online.  As much as we want to be in person and see our beloved members, we want to make sure that all are healthy and safe.  So, we will meet online in April for our conference day.  We will be communicating ideas about how to get the most out of our online conference (have a viewing party at school or offsite?) so that we can once again use this event as an opportunity to refresh ourselves and move into a spring that we hope will have decreased infection and hospitalization rates.  

    Be on the lookout for event announcements for 2022.  We will be hosting online talks about accommodations in January and February.  And, we are working on bringing an online conference in April that will help us safely connect with one another.  Please reach out to info@nealsonlone.com if you have any suggestions and/or ideas for conference speakers and topics.  And feel free to reach out if you would like to help plan this event. We want to hear from you!

    I wish you all a well-deserved school break and a happy and healthy New Year.



  • 12 Nov 2021 10:00 AM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    By April Pendergast, Learning Specialist at Kent School

    Last year, the COVID messaging from all powers that be seemed to uniformly pump the brakes. “Be gentle on them.” “We are all struggling, go easy.” These phrases appeared ubiquitous in our private-school landscape of “rigor” and “challenge.” We dealt with rolling closures and quarantines, hyflex half-Zoom technological mayhem, and general mass hysteria. No one, to a person, in public or private schools, admin, faculty, or staff, felt like they were doing anything remotely close to the job they signed up for, and none of us felt good at what had for years become a profession that brought us joy and meaning. 

    Still, it was comforting to have something to do day after day. We had a reason to shower and dress (at least from the waist-up), students and a subject to dance around however remotely, and something to listen to other than hospital overflows and supply chain woes. In a way, I loved having more time with my family, even if it meant juggling four Zooms at once all while fixing lunch. I also loved the challenge of learning something new, knowing that the more tools I had in my toolbelt the better an educator I would be, regardless of where (or when) we came out of this. I wasn’t certain we would ever go “back to normal” or anything that looked like the profession I’d grown to love. 

    I had underestimated, therefore, how thrilling it would be to step back in the classroom this fall able to do some of the hands-on learning I used to implement as a rule. We could do think-pair-shares! We could do flexible grouping! We could work together on posters! We could lend each other pencils and not stare at a screen the whole block! What joy! 

    At the end of the second week back, as tentative and nervous questions from colleagues floated in, I was reminded of something I’d warned my fellow teachers-in-arms the week before we welcomed students back to campus: “The messaging this year is ‘back to normal,’ but these kids are going to be coming to us from a wider array of backgrounds than ever before. I get the feeling this year is going to be much harder than we anticipate.” 

    Sure enough, in my first classes, I asked how many students had spent most of the past year either fully or partly remote, and 75% of the students raised their hands. In the first weeks, advisors let me know of students who took their classes remotely while taking care of their younger siblings as their parents worked. Others hadn’t seen their family in a full year and a half for fear of getting stranded in their home country and not being able to make it back to the States. If meeting the needs of a diverse student body has always been a challenge, the coming year was bound to stretch us even further. 

    But again, my Pollyanna outlook on this challenge got a little excited. Maybe this is it, this is the time. This is the moment of opportunity for real change, where we as Learning Specialists might be less an addendum to the curriculum and more embedded in an effective and meaningful rigorous academic experience. Maybe we can help bridge the gap between what students carry into the classroom in their metaphorical backpacks (a family with substance abuse issues, crushing anxiety, or an undiagnosed slight auditory processing disorder) and the high standards we know they can achieve. I’ve spent the past few years making inroads into personal relationships with individuals on the faculty as a supportive friend; my job, when it gets down to it, is not only to provide strategies and supports to help students navigate the curricular challenges put before them, but also to help faculty and students understand each other so that each can avoid causing the other frustration. 

    I am extremely lucky to be surrounded by admin, faculty, and staff who are all inner Keatings; they all embody true citizenship and care for their fellows and students. They are all also doing amazing things in the classroom that, in the hustle and grind of our busy schedules, can too often go unsung. I’m making it my mission this year to help faculty celebrate each other and remind each other we are a community of educators, all learning from one another and pushing toward the common good. I’ll bang the drum. Here’s the oar. Let’s row!

  • 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, 



  • 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?  

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