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  • 2 Feb 2023 8:23 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    How to Help Your Child with Homework

    By Sarah Bramble, M.S. 

    Grades 5 and 6 Learning Specialist

    Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart


    (Adapted from a letter to parents at Stone Ridge, an all-girls independent school in Bethesda, Maryland.)


    Parents often ask how they can best support their children with homework. Should I step back completely? Should I let her be completely independent? Should I ask if she would like assistance? Should I just check in occasionally? As with most questions relating to our children, the answer is: it depends. 

    From a brain-science perspective, the middle-school years are an opportune time for children to acquire and hone good study skills and homework habits. 

    Homework is assigned as a natural extension of the educational program, as well as to promote self-discipline, responsibility, and decision-making. Homework is a formative assessment tool, designed to reinforce what has been taught in class, to prepare students for upcoming lessons, and to help students develop good study habits, time management, and organizational skills. It should be completed individually and without parental involvement or oversight, unless otherwise noted.

    Ideally and aspirationally, students will have–or move toward–full autonomy in the realm of homework. However, for students who are new to a school or are still developing their time management or organizational skills, a bit of parental guidance may be needed temporarily to help scaffold the sort of executive function toolbox needed for effective homework completion. So, aside from completing homework for children, which sends the message that the child is incapable of doing the work, what might a parent do if he or she sees that their child is struggling either with a specific assignment or with homework completion in general? 

    First, consider all the pieces our children are beginning to juggle as middle schoolers. Often students have a different teacher for each content area. Their days are full, and many have a full roster of activities after school. We ask our children to plan ahead for assignments, projects, and assessments, more of which are long-term assignments as they progress through the grade levels. They must master these new skills alongside navigating big social, emotional, and physical changes. No wonder it’s challenging! 

    Also, remember that helping a Grade 5 student is very different from helping a Grade 8 student. Whereas a 10-year-old may enjoy organizing and be fairly conscientious about doing homework, she is still developing the necessary skills to be successful and may need guidance. A 13-year-old, on the other hand, may crave independence and want to decide which school supplies she prefers and where she likes to study. You’ll be in a good position if you spend some time standing on the sidelines and observing. Avoid rushing to help at the first (or second) sign of distress. Our kids are resilient, and most have the means to traverse road bumps on their own when given that space.

    If you (and your child) feel that some help is needed, carefully limit your assistance to the organization of time, processes, materials, and space. 

    • Start with modeling. Think out loud as you’re breaking down your own tasks. You might make a list and then think out loud about how you will divide them up and in what order you’ll do so. As your child hears your mental processes, she’ll likely begin applying them to her tasks. Additionally, walk through your approach to multistep tasks. This will demonstrate how to chunk tasks to make them more manageable.

    • Establish routines. For example, imagine your child is expected to spend between one and two hours (depending on grade level) on homework each night, including weekends. One option is to dedicate a time frame to homework completion and stick to it as much as possible. That might mean she works from 4 to 5 pm, and again from 5:30 to 6:00, with a break in between. Many homework assignments are given over several days, so a set amount of time working toward homework will help a student manage her time. If your child has finished early, she might check to see if she can begin to prepare for upcoming tests or review the work done that day. The only way to develop habits is to practice them. In addition, having a set and quiet place equipped with school supplies and dedicated to homework is ideal. For one family, this place might mean sitting at the dining room table; for another this might mean working in the bedroom.

    • Know your child. Some students like to have a little snack break right after school before starting their homework. Some students like to start with the easier homework and check it off the list before tackling the more complex homework; others like to start with the more challenging assignments while they’re fresh and save the easier ones for last. Talk to your child about her preferences, and let her know you’re on her team. If her strategy isn’t working, let her know it’s OK (and beneficial) to change it!

    • Take the first step with your child. If you notice your child chronically procrastinating or avoiding homework, it could be a sign that she doesn't know where to begin. Start with the planner. Take a look at what assignments are due and when, and ask if there are any upcoming tests or projects. Help your child prioritize. Will some tasks take longer than others? Would it be useful to estimate how long each assignment will take? Would it be helpful to make a list of materials needed for each task? You can then look together and decide what to do first and what materials are required in order to begin. If your child seems to be struggling with homework concepts or directives, have her contact her teacher. If she has an exceptionally hectic evening or finds herself not feeling well, find out if she can request a homework extension. 

    • Remember the goal. Ultimately, we want our kids to take the reins in managing their out-of-school work. Some kids acquire these skills quickly, and others require a bit of support. Helping kids hone their learning habits–assuming the child is receptive– is very different from doing the work for a child. As your child learns to organize her time, space, processes, and materials for herself, gradually strip away the scaffolding as she becomes more independent and let her fly on her own. There may be a bit of floundering, and that is OK. Resist the urge to help with content, fix mistakes or edit homework for your daughter; teachers’ ability to see where kids are struggling will inform their instructional decisions.

    • Keep in touch: If you find that your child is resistant to homework routines or is consistently struggling to finish in a timely manner, reach out to her advisor, teacher, or learning specialist. Work together to figure out the stumbling blocks and to create a productive way to move forward.

    Working in partnership we can help our children (as stated in Criterion 1 of Goal V at Stone Ridge): “grow in courage and confidence, discover new abilities, cultivate strengths, learn from making mistakes . . . and exercise resilience in meeting challenges.”  Supporting our Middle School students requires us to balance providing guidance with allowing them growth and independence.

    Upcoming NEALS Table Talk Discussion: Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman 3/7/23 7:00-8:15p 

    Led by Chris Ouellette, Vice President of NEALS and Director of Student Support at Emma Willard School

    "Many schools are currently/have made changes after reading and engaging with the book Grading for Equity by Joe Feldman. Whether your school has made a major change to grading policies, or it is offering up Professional Learning Groups (like the group I am leading at Emma Willard), or if you are just genuinely curious about all of the hype, this NEALS Table Talk Discussion is for you! Even though the majority of us do not assign grades, as Learning Specialists we regularly see the direct impact that grading policies can have on our students. It will be important for us to use our lenses to help support any of our institutions who are thinking about diving into and adopting policies presented by Feldman". 

    ***This session will be recorded



  • 14 Dec 2022 9:18 AM | Chris Ouellette (Administrator)

    Teaching at SEGA in Tanzania

    by: Susan Cole Ross (former President NEALS)


    Five days in, teaching is the easy part. I have three 13-year-old girls with extremely limited language in English. Their Swahili is beautiful and so is their handwriting. Two of them are excellent artists, drawing intricate calligraphy, swirls, blossoms, and paisleys. We use an ESL curriculum that layers vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, and social-emotional adjustment to their new school.  Away from home for the first time, the girls introduce themselves to each other in English, tell about their family members, learn  to sing and play “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and “If You’re Happy and You Know It” while learning body parts, theirs and butterflies’.

    More girls giggle through yoga, my afternoon activity, and several are particularly drawn to it, perhaps experienced. They’re excited to learn, hungry for books, and devoted to classroom time. Their devotion is quickly directed toward their teachers, and I am touched and honored.  It’s daunting knowing I will have to say goodbye next Friday. It may take them by surprise. We have no shared vocabulary to explain the passage of time, the extreme distance. It’s not easy to get here, but I know I will want to return.

    I meet with the new English teacher: young, kind, and unwittingly debonair. He seems new to teaching but eager to learn as he shadows me in many of my classes. I pull out the Lindamood Bell materials I have brought halfway across the world for him, and he is expressively grateful as it’s hard to come by such resources. I show him pertinent pages in “Solving Language Difficulties” and encourage him to use it with the students who pronounce the silent e, mistake l for r, or don’t understand the syllables that make up English words. 

    A dozen guard dogs and Maasai warriors keep watch over us and the girls by night. We are safe from snakes and thieves in the middle of this beautiful but barren countryside. When the rains come, I am told, life will return to the gardens. I plan a lesson on composting, a critical skill the girls can take home to their villages. 


    Each day we rise by seven for a delicious breakfast: always including avocado toast with honey and scrambled eggs with onions, peppers, and carrots. We collect our girls at a central location and take them, in our case, to the Banda, an outdoor meeting place. They read and write English flashing bright eyes and warm smiles, but they’re reluctant to speak much English. After classes, they rattle Swahili to one another with lyrical fluency.

    Our curriculum is based on the Total Physical Response Approach to English language learning. We start with introducing oneself, first reading in unison, and then conversing in pairs with only keywords as reminders. Daily lessons progress to cover family members, clothing, colors, numbers, plurals, nouns and verbs, body parts, and activities using the present progressive.  We enjoy a book about African animals following our safari to the Mikumi National Park in the Tanzanian savanna.  Many of the girls have never seen Tanzania’s famous zebra, lions, and elephants. During breaks they sing “Make New Friends,” dance the Macarena and the Hokey Pokey for body parts, play “Madame Suz Says,” and “Pick, Pick, Pick Bananas” (for verbs).


    We end with studying and making coffee filter butterflies which the girls use to adorn their hair, shirts, and wrists. They create a musical performance for the rest of the girls based on friendship because they have named themselves, aptly, The Friends.

    And now I reread their favorite book as I eagerly await the letters their teachers tell me they have sent 7466 miles to my home.


  • 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! 


    Cheers,

    Chris



  • 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 systems 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!


    Cheers, 


    Chris



  • 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!


    Regards,

    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"


    Cheers,

    Chris




  • 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.


    Regards,

    Laura


  • 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!


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