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

    President’s Update

    August 2020


    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





  • 26 Jul 2020 10:28 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Summer Seminar with Dr. Robert Brooks, July 22, 2020

    by 

    Susan Cole Ross


    Laura Foody makes stepping down from the presidency relatively easy. Though I have loved serving in this role for the past nine years, I know NEALS is in more than capable hands. Laura shares the vision of our predecessors of what NEALS is and can become for teachers and students. She exudes the energy, creativity, intelligence, and dexterity to make our vision into a reality especially at this time, because she has such a vast capacity for maximizing the potential of our interactive website. Already, Laura has expanded member usage and networking enormously, streamlined our processes, and energized NEALS. In so doing, she has only begun to improve the academic lives of ten thousand vulnerable students each year. I hope you will join me in sprinkling Laura with congratulations as she becomes the sixth President of NEALS.   


    Today we are thankful to so many of you for your donations to the Cole Fund for Educational Equity. In one month we have raised enough in gifts and pledges to ensure that henceforth the teachers from one under-resourced city school will be joining us and adding their voices as members of NEALS. If you’d like to help us endow memberships for another school, please write the The Cole Fund in the comment box when you donate to NEALS (https://nealsonline.org/Donate).  We also thank the Wilson Language Program (https://www.wilsonlanguage.com) for their generous sponsorship of the summer seminar series.  And we are so grateful to Educators Ally (https://educatorsally.com), for their highly personalized approach in helping learning specialists and schools find each other, and for sponsoring our intimate and illuminating seminar with Dr. Robert Brooks (https://www.drrobertbrooks.com) on July 22nd. 


    The Board was so pleased to introduce Bob to our membership. Teaching at Harvard Medical School and previously serving as Director of the Department of Psychology at McLean Hospital, Bob is the authority on student psychology and the calm voice in a storm. We never needed him more. Among his many awards and distinctions, Bob received “Hall of Fame” awards from both CH.A.D.D. (Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders) and the Connecticut Association for Children with Learning Disabilities for his work with children and adolescents with special needs; the Distinguished Leadership Award from Learning Disabilities Worldwide in recognition of his contributions and commitment to the field of learning disabilities, and the Outstanding Educator Award for Mental Health Education from the New England Educational Institute, Pittsfield, MA. He most recently received the 2018 Mental Health Humanitarian Award from William James College, Newton, MA, for his work as a clinician, educator, and author. I attribute my own son’s success as a Porsche race car fabricator in part to inspiration received from Bob at an early NEALS conference - to help my son find his “islands of competence in a sea of inadequacy.”  It was gratifying to witness another generation of learning specialists energized and inspired by our friend Bob Brooks.


    During his talk, Bob addressed the value of positive mindsets, resiliency, and a charismatic adult in the lives of students, as well as how to make students feel welcome to address their need for belonging. In research he conducted, adults shared the importance of having teachers who smiled and said hello using their names at the beginning of each school day when they were students.  He shared studies and resources from Gabriele Oettingen, from Edward Deci’s model of intrinsic motivation, and from so much other fascinating and compelling research, such as how the way in which teacher’s greeted students at the door increased student engagement by 20% and decreased disruptive behavior by 9%. In many specific ways, Bob addressed students’ need for self-determination and how to discover and use their islands of competence to make them feel more dignified, as one principal put it. 


    During the question and answer period one member wrote, “His work is SO MUCH at the foundation of my work… This is a great discussion!”  Meanwhile, Dr. Brooks provided a more personal discussion of empowering students to own their education, emphasizing the importance of self-determination, project-based learning, and a sense of belonging. In doing so, he offered suggestions for how to help anxious students return to school. Furthermore, he addressed how to stimulate intrinsic motivation in our students versus tuning out and avoidance, and the power of personal persistent feedback versus the power of grades, and for this coming year especially, the importance of connection over content. In response to the seminar one member wrote, “Dr. Brooks and NEALS organizers, thank you so much for setting up this amazing presentation. I got many ideas to bring back to my school community.”  On behalf of the Board, I want to thank Dr. Brooks as well for such a rich and productive presentation and an enriching opportunity for NEALS members to share. 


    It is indeed an honor to relinquish the role of President on such a high note. It is hard to put into words how grateful I am to our Board, who have served NEALS diligently and intelligently and become dear friends in the process. In particular, I want to thank Melissa Rubin who has taken every phone call, text, and Google doc and made our work so much better for the learning specialists we serve. We share a joy in that service that will provide a positive impact on myriads of students long after we are gone.


    Slides from Dr. Brooks's presentation are available on the Resources page for a limited time.

    The video of the seminar with Dr. Brooks is available to NEALS members on the Member Resources Page.



  • 1 Jul 2020 11:00 AM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    July Update

    by

    Susan Cole Ross

    We were so pleased to have Murielle St Paul join us to kick off the Summer Seminar Series on June 23rd.

    A bit more about Murielle:

    During her decades of service as an independent school STEM teacher, learning specialist, and dean, Murielle has conducted qualitative and quantitative research on “Students of Color in Independent Schools,” along with “Students of Color with Learning Differences in Independent Schools.”

    For the seminar, Murielle offered NEALS members her characteristically thoughtful and inventively inclusive perspective.  Jump starting our discussion, she shared one student’s experience with learning support at an independent school.  Her case study, questions for our breakout sessions discussions, and resulting recommendations will soon be available  on our members’ resources page: https://nealsonline.org/NEALS-Member-Resources

    Following the presentation and discussion one member wrote:

    Thank you for running today’s Zoom! I think there were some great conversations and comments.

    Members will have a chance to reconnect and to discuss these and other issues further on Wednesday, July 8 at 4:00 PM when we will meet for a relaxed social hour.

    Our seminar closed with the joy of honoring Liz Radday with the 2020 Barbara Kenefick  Award for Service. 

    Liz has always made NEALS look good. A Fulbright scholar with her EdD in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum from UPenn, Liz is no slouch. She has raised the bar over her eight years of service, improving our knowledge base, fine-tuning and expressing our policies with an eye to legalities and future needs, and always cleaning up my writing with good humor. Being dyslexic, I especially appreciate her affectionate teases about my malaprops and misspellings. I can well imagine how she makes every student feel appreciated in all of their quirkiness and intelligence. 

    Liz’s gifts to NEALS have been many. She served on the 2016 strategic planning committee, attending every meeting and workshop, and there were many. Liz edited the members’ survey to ensure that NEALS’ plans and policies grew directly out of member desires and expectations. Liz wrote our quite extensive and critical bylaws that will serve to guide and sustain NEALS for generations. In 2016 and 2020, Liz has overseen a comprehensive re-organization of NEALS’ board of directors not once, but twice. 

    She did all this while raising two thoughtful and exuberant girls, serving as Director of Learning Support at Marvelwood School for 10 years, and then becoming a leading innovator in educational programming as Research and Support Specialist for Skills21 at EdAdvance... 

    and raising the mother of seeing-eye dogs!

    The Board of Directors is delighted and so honored to present NEALS’ 2020 Barbara Kenefick award for service to our Liz Radday. 

    We are grateful to Wilson Language Systems and Educators Ally Placement Agency for sponsoring our summer seminars.   Our next in the series which will be on July 22 at 1:00 PM.  Dr. Robert Brooks will speak to us about Nurturing Resilience, Positive Mindsets, and Islands of Competence.  As ever, our summer series is free to members (though you must preregister) so please encourage your colleagues, especially school counselors, to join NEALS. 

    Have a peaceful and safe summer!

  • 9 Jun 2020 6:59 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    NEALS Summer Seminar Series

    by

    Melissa Rubin, Principal at The Student First

    Congrats to everyone! For better or worse, we survived the school year. That feels good to say - more so this year than any others. But I have to say, I’ve always loved June. Aside from being my birth month, June has always represented potential for me, especially in regards to professional development (PD). We now have more time to dedicate to reading, listening and participating in conferences and webinars which will help us support our students even better in the new academic year. With this in mind, I wanted to highlight some exciting events NEALS will be offering in the next few weeks, as well as some other PD opportunities. 

    As a kickoff to NEALS’ virtual summer seminar series, Murielle St Paul, Associate Director of Academic Support at Milton Academy, and NEALS’ outgoing President, Susan Cole Ross, are planning a Zoom presentation and discussion for Wednesday, June 24 @ 1:00 PM to discuss learning specialists’ role in supporting students from non traditional backgrounds at our schools.  This conversation is overdue, and we are honored to have Murielle’s wisdom and ongoing research on the topic.  Further information will be on our discussion board, and we welcome your questions to target our discussion to your students’ needs. Email us at nelearningspecialists@gmail.com

    Last week, Susan Cole Ross, NEALS’ President-elect, Laura Foody, and I had the pleasure of talking with Dr. Robert Brooks. As you may remember, pre-COVID 19, Dr. Brooks was slotted as our keynote speaker for NEALS’ Annual Conference. Since we weren’t able to gather to hear him, Dr. Brooks has graciously agreed to join a Zoom conference call on Wednesday, July 22nd @ 1pm, for a discussion about resilience, positive mindsets, and building off of students’ strengths, or as he terms them, “islands of competence.”  In preparation for the discussion, Dr. Brooks has provided the following resources to serve as a foundation:  

    I encourage you to review them, and PLEASE  submit any questions or topics you would like Dr. Brooks to address to nelearningspecialists@gmail.com. We will give him your questions ahead of time to ensure that the meeting is rich and targeted for those attending.

               

    On Wednesday August 19th at 1:00 PM, we plan to discuss Best Practices in “The New Normal”. These conversations will be held as a whole group, as well as in departmental breakout sessions and/or elementary/middle/secondary school breakout sessions. Of course, we remain open to suggestions for specific topics and speakers, so please let us know (nelearningspecialists@gmail.com)!

    Other organizations are offering PD events as well. Architects for Learning (AFL) is continuing to offer their free “Virtual Teacher’s Lounge” at least once each week. Here is the link to sign up for the Teacher's Lounge: http://www.architectsforlearning.com/teachers-lounge/. Topics have ranged from “supporting sentence-level writing in online instruction” to reading comprehension. June 12th, the topic will be “Deep Dive into Executive Functions” (https://zoom.us/j/504645880 meeting ID 504-645-880 if you are logging in with the app). Each week, AFL sends an email to registered users indicating the next week’s time and topic.  I highly recommend attending these Zoom calls as they are informative but informal.

    The Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) is hosting a summer virtual conference (SAIS Summer Virtual Conference Info) at the end of the month as well. Key topics include “addressing learning loss” and “building hybrid courses”.  

    The Landmark College Institute for Research and Training, in conjunction with the Learning Disabilities Association, is offering a course, “Student Engagement, Self-Regulation and Motivation” (course info) beginning the end of June. It will “examine a range of strategies and systems to support, actualize, and sustain engagement in diverse learners.” 

    These are the “big hitters” for me. However, if you learn of any others, please share with us on our Discussion Board! Also, if you do end up “attending” a conference, a webinar, or any other PD event, please share your takeaways. We would love to post the information on our site so other NEALS members can benefit as well.

    Finally, please understand that, as enthusiastic I am about these PD opportunities, I’m realistic too. We need some downtime. We need to take advantage of this time to recover and rejuvenate as I have a feeling we have a long road ahead. Self care is not selfish! I just wanted to share some options we have to help us get ready :) 


    Reminder: 

    Join GoodReads and check out NEALS’ list there of suggested reading. We have included books related to anxiety, executive functioning, and assessment thus far. 



  • 7 Apr 2020 10:03 AM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Commitment Through Uncertainty

    by Chris Ouellette of Miss Halls School

    When I signed up for this blog post a few short weeks ago, my intention was to write about onboarding a brand new member to your team and school (Hannah is pretty awesome, I am sure you will hear about/from her soon). Similar to many of you, as the reports started to come in and the emails/meetings started to increase, I realized that we were in a very different time. We have been given a call to move to distance learning in an attempt to stop the spread of a contagious disease, and have been asked as educators and students to do something that we may have never done before. Schools are still working out action plans, so no matter the point you are at, there is work to be done. We can only predict that this change will last for some time. While we can think about our students, their needs and potential struggles/successes, until we get rolling, we just won’t know. I have to admit that I do not have control over much currently, but one of the things that I can control is to think about what I can commit to during these times. I am fortunate to work at a school that has set forth the following commitments for distance learning and the end of the semester:

    1. We remain dedicated to our mission and to helping students develop our core competencies of Vision, Voice, Interpersonal Efficacy, and Gumption.  

    2. We commit to prioritizing engagement and connection over content.

    3. We commit to creating clear and reasonable goals and expectations for the final eight weeks of class; these goals and expectations are not and cannot be the same as they would be for face-to-face learning. 

    4. We commit to asking ourselves and our departmental colleagues “What is really important for this class in this curriculum?”  We will distill our coursework down to these most essential concepts and skills. 

    5. We understand that distance learning cannot replicate the time of face-to-face interaction and homework time. We will commit to a maximum estimated number of work minutes per week, keeping in mind the grade level of the students and in agreement with our colleagues in all academic departments.

    6. We commit to assess student learning in creative and equitable ways; especially in the context of distance learning, when students' home lives differ greatly, we need to rethink traditional, graded content-based tests and quizzes. 

    7. We understand that learning styles differ, and some students will have more difficulty than others learning in a distance model. We commit to modifying our expectations to best accommodate and support these, and all, students.  

    8. We commit to ensuring that asynchronous learning is a possibility/option for every lesson and assessment. We understand that not all students can be expected to be present for live instruction.  

    9. We commit to communicating clearly with individual students about their progress in the interest of supporting students equitably.  If a grade falls below a midterm grade, we commit to bringing in a student’s personal team and making this as successful of an experience as possible.  

    Whether you borrow from these, or you have your own entirely unique set of commitments, one thing is clear to me: setting these commitments, as an individual or as an entire institution will drive the educational experience of our students going forward. There are two things we should all be able to commit to; 1) We can commit to being there for our students, and 2) We can commit to being there for our colleagues. If we all commit to those two simple tenets, I believe we can find the strength to get through these challenging and uncertain times.


    Here’s a song that has helped me stay positive: “Sing About It”- The Wood Brothers


    Thanks for your time and energy, make sure to take care of yourselves in this time as well!


    Cheers,

    Chris



  • 9 Mar 2020 9:44 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Dear Members,

    NEALS is committed to supporting and protecting our teachers and their students and schools. Therefore, the NEALS Board has decided to postpone our April conference until the fall. We are grateful to Dr. Brooks and New Hampton School for joining us in this precautionary decision and helping us to plan the conference for the fall. 

    With a reported 30% transmission rate, doubling every seven days, and affecting all of our regions, the likelihood of spreading the Covid-19 virus at a conference is concerning, especially given how many attendees may be traveling in March.

    We apologize for any inconvenience or disappointment caused by this decision, but the Board believes it is in the best interest of our members. If you need to cancel your hotel reservation, please call the hotel at 603-286-3400. 


    Sincerely,

    Board of Directors, Northeast Association of Learning Specialists ~ nealsonline.org

  • 17 Feb 2020 6:46 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Beyond Skill Building

    by Vaunie Graulty, Miss Hall’s School (retired learning specialist)

    As learning specialists, we offer students the chance to develop skills and strategies that will lead them to academic success. In our sessions, we teach our students to structure their time by using planners. We teach note taking and study techniques. We teach tools for becoming better readers. We teach active listening and participation. The list goes on and on. But that isn’t all we do, not by a long shot! Skilled learning specialists are also shaping the personal growth of their students. And when they succeed, we celebrate with them.


    Some students, and even their teachers, may see us merely as homework helpers, but I bet you, like me, hope and expect that our work goes much deeper and its impact is much longer term. We don’t do for our students; we guide them to do for themselves. “Give a fish, and a person will be hungry tomorrow; teach him to catch a fish they’ll be richer all their life.” Give a rod not a fish. Put the student in charge of their learning. 


    Besides test scores, how can we measure impact? Try asking the student! It’s been amazing to me how much a quiet student has to say on paper. I am a big believer in “powerful questions.” These can be used in two ways: 1. To coach students to self-reflect and ultimately self-coach. 2. To evaluate their own growth: cognitive, personal and academic. 


    I was first introduced to “powerful questions” by Jodi Sleeper Triplett when I took her course on AD/HD coaching. Over the years, however, I’ve discovered her techniques work for every student regardless of whether they have AD/HD.


    The student begins each session with a self-reflection. It will take time for students to believe in themselves enough to answer questions positively, but they WILL, with time and practice. They will also become self-starters, comfortable with the opening routine. Try asking students to WRITE their answers; for some this is easier. Self-reflecting in a Learning Journal develops voice, strengthens self-awareness and builds confidence. 

    • What is your plan for today?

    • What are your personal strengths? How do they show up at school and outside of school?

    • Which of your traits will help you to do this task* really well? (*paper, study prep, presentation etc.)

    • A “gremlin” stands in the way of progress or forward movement. He is an obstacle that impedes success. We all have gremlins. What are yours? 

    • Sometimes we feed our gremlins by encouraging them with negative self-talk or inaction. Talk about how you do that. 

    • What is the smallest step you can take to get started with your assignment?

    • What have you accomplished this week that has made you feel really good?

    • What are you concerned about regarding school?

    • Talk about a situation in which you experienced disappointment or failure and explain what you learned from it.

    • What do you know about your learning style? What kind of study techniques work for you? What does not work? Have you ever had any testing or psycho-educational evaluation? What did you learn about yourself from that?

    • If you could wave a magic wand and make a change in your student self, what would it be?

    • What motivates you? Talk about both internal and external motivators.

    • What acknowledgement would you like to give yourself today?

    • Teachers want you to do well; they are really in a partnership with you. What are your responsibilities as a student? Theirs as a teacher? How do you contribute to the relationship?

    • How are you your own best friend?


    In my experience, students like to look back through their journals now and then. By the end of the school year, they are proud of how much they write, and they learn from re-reading their entries.  Students finish the year better able to talk with their teachers about how they learn. They can partner with the teacher. Students also discover the power of talking themselves through a challenge by asking energizing and affirming questions like the ones above. Self- coaching is the goal. Of course, this is a life skill! 

  • 12 Feb 2020 6:50 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Dear Members,

    Did you know that you can have Discussion Board postings emailed to you (so you don't have to login just to check the board)?  To get postings emailed to you, please do the following:

    Login to nealsonline.org.

    Click on Resources  on the right hand side of the menu bar:


    Click on NEALS Discussion to get to the Discussion Board.  

    Then click on Subscribe to Forum:

    That's it!  And I hope everyone starts using this resource to communicate and support other members. These steps also work for subscribing to our Job Postings Board.

    I'm looking forward to seeing you at the Conference in April.  Remember to register!!!!!

    Warmest Regards,


    Laura Foody

    Vice President

  • 31 Jan 2020 5:17 PM | Anonymous


    Happy Third Decade, NEALS!                                                                   January 30, 2020


    We are pleased by your continued involvement in NEALS, thanks to our Board members who collaborate so well to make so many services available to over 130 members and, by extension, to over 7000 students with learning difficulties.  We enjoy greater camaraderie and networking thanks to their voluntary efforts. With newly improved communications, website, and governance, NEALS has taken great strides forward in our mission of promoting​ ​professional development​ ​for​ ​learning​ ​specialists​ ​creating community through​ ​collaboration,​ ​support,​ ​and​ ​advocacy!


    We are so grateful to Jen McMahon and New Hampton School for hosting our 21st annual conference this spring! We look forward to speaking with Dr. Robert Brooks on April 6th. Ever a good friend to NEALS, his intimate knowledge of processing issues, mindsets, motivation, and resilience is sure to enhance our services and the language we use in advocating for struggling students.  


    Kudos and thanks are due to Janet Davis of Clarkson Davis who, with decades of nonprofit management and consulting experience throughout the United States, has donated her time and expertise to help our Board build and improve an effective, sustainable organizational plan and programs on the front lines of change in services to students with disabilities. 


    With her expert guidance and building on last year’s momentous efforts, the Board has worked this year:

    • To reorganize our Board governance to increase our reach, depth of services, and sustainability

    • To keep you involved and informed via our interactive website, newsletters, and member’s forum,

    • To keep our services free to members by seeking new nonprofit funding sources

    • To enhance members’ benefits, privacy, and security, and 

    • To maintain our integrity as a Gold Star Level nonprofit on Guidestar.


    From the day when you sign up for NEALS, you receive 12 months of continuous access to members’ invitations, newsletters, and access to our password protected resources and discussion group on NEALS’ website. The invaluable archives of two decades of resources and discussions remain fully available to current members from the website as well. Please consult with your fellow learning specialists now by visiting your discussion forum (Sign in using your password - or sign up for a new one, click on Discussion, and enjoy rich discussions available to your email inbox.)


    Sincerely,

        Susan

  • 3 Dec 2019 6:46 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Investigating Fee-Free Academic Support

    by Chris Ouelette

    Director of Academic Skills Center

    Miss Hall's School

    Welcome back to another installment of the NEALS blog. As I sit here on our return day from the November vacation, I return to a puzzle that has perplexed me since I began working in boarding schools: How can a school be inclusive of all students’ needs if the institution charges an extra fee for entrance into the academic support program?

            As I began to dive into the research on this paradigm, I found Academic Support fees ranging from $1,100 to $9,995 per year. Some schools allowed financial aid to fund Academic Support while others did not. Some schools made entrance into the program mandatory for admittance, while others relied on voluntary entry into the program based on team conversations with families. Schools also employed many different models for the academic support provided. Making sense of this data, my brain yearned to yell: “JUST GET RID OF THE FEES!!!” What I have found, is that the solution can’t be to simply eliminate the fee; there is so much ground work to lay first. As I find myself at an institution that both wants to/and can eliminate the fee for academic support, I wanted to share with you where we are with the process.

            The thing that makes this an achievable goal is having a Leadership Team that is all in on the desire to be as inclusive as we can be for the students. With that key piece secured before I arrived at my current institution, I finally felt like I could see the beginnings of my professional desire: a fee-free academic support program.  The first step that I could tackle as we moved from year one to year two was reducing the number of service levels offered from four to two. This was done in order to make scheduling of students more uniform, allowing for more equity of resources among students. It is important to note that the notion of equity in academic support is subjective; obviously some students need more support than others. The results have been positive thus far, support times have become more uniform, and we have been able to deliver services in a ratio of 1:1. The second step this year was to increase the connection between the three learning centers on campus. Connecting with the Math Center and Writing Lab at the start of the year helped to strengthen the links between the three centers on campus. While we have only been able to actualize two steps this year, I wanted to share the next steps in this journey.

            Eliminating a fee-for-service model requires the alignment of multiple moving pieces; moving away from a deficit-based language, collaboration and support of teachers, and eventual curricular redefinition:

            -Academic support programs are often thought of as a place for struggling learners to access the support they need. This can give the impression that only struggling learners need help, which feeds into the ideas of smartness/normalcy that need to go away. Allison Isbell, Co-Principal at Elizabeth Irwin High School, reminds us that “great learners ask great questions, great learners come here, and great students ask for help”. Changing our shared language is essential to supporting a fee-free program.

            -One of the best parts of shifting programmatic focus is reminding classroom teachers of all the supports that they can provide in their classrooms. It is important to help shift the mindset that only the academic support staff can address executive function weakness, as all teachers can help students improve in those areas. While there will always be students who benefit from sustained work with a learning specialist, classroom teachers are more than capable of providing support in organization of notes, and subject specific study habits. Oftentimes, the classroom teacher is better able to provide more narrowed study habit support as they know what material will be on their test. Empowering teachers to provide such resources in the classroom allows the learning support staff more time to provide specialized scaffolding for students.

            -Curricular redefinition is where we get to think of all the things that we would like to be able to do if we weren’t in direct support from 8:30-4:30 every day. Can your learning specialists provide support to a whole class? Can they run workshops for classrooms? Will your learning specialists provide professional development for the teaching faculty? Do you provide opportunities for students across the whole day (academic and study hall)? Is it possible that you reach every student in your school?

            I need to acknowledge that some schools just can’t move this way yet, almost always for financial reasons (as the institution relies on the income from the program). This does not mean that you should give up on this dream. I would encourage you to continue to revisit the idea with your leadership team. Push the idea of inclusivity for all our learners. While you will run into the same frustrations that I did when I started selling this idea, odds are, you will eventually succeed as our world evolves.

    Thanks for gifting me your time and thoughts, I am always honored to receive them. As always, I will sign off with one of the quotes from our Hip-Hop Quote of the Day board:

    “Living life is a choice. Making a difference in someone else’s isn’t.” ~Kid Cudi   

    Cheers,

    Chris

    couelette@nealsonine.org
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