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Back to School with NEALS

1 Sep 2023 7:21 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

Back to School with NEALS

By: Chris Ouellette, President of NEALS and Director of Learning Support at Emma Willard School

Happy September Folx! As I sit here thinking about our upcoming orientations for new faculty and the full school, I can’t help but hope for a shared and worthwhile experience. Priya Parker reminds us in The Art of Gathering that, “the first step in convening people meaningfully” is “committing to a bold, sharp purpose”. That purpose for opening meetings is to engage with the evolution of our communities as new and returning folx merge with the goal of best serving our students. Equally as important as thinking about coming together is the need to remember who you are bringing to your community, your signature presence. I wanted to share three tips that could help you reflect on your role within the start of the year using the Liberatory Design mindsets from the National Equity Project as a framework. 

-Practice Self-Awareness: We have to start by looking in the mirror if we want to be an effective partner for our colleagues. We should want to see how “our perspectives impact our practice,” so we need to examine our biases to “increase our capacity to work with humility, curiosity, and courage”. The Leadership + Design sticker on my water bottle, “be more curious than certain”, provides a mantra that can support the start of the year, should we all strive to reach it.

-Share, Don’t Sell: We are often bringing a set of knowledge and skills to the group that many of our colleagues might not have experienced on their journey to the current spot. We work in a world that requires a yes from our teachers. It is tempting to want to try “to convince them of value” with the information that we provide. The work of the learning specialist will only be strengthened through the partnership with teachers. This is also where I struggle the most.

-Build Relational Trust: This one feels obvious, and it is also good to remind ourselves of this. When we “invest in relationships with intention”, we are better able to ensure that students receive the support that they are needing within those grey area moments. During orientation and beyond, make sure to work to “invest in each other” so that you can “develop trust, share openly, and collaborate authentically”. 

Doug E. Fresh tells us that “hip-hop is supposed to uplift and create, to educate people on a larger level and to make a change”. We can’t begin to make that change happen within education if we don’t start and attend to the continuous process of building and shaping our communities from the jump. 



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