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NEALS President's Update Late July 2020

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.

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