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  • 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!



  • 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. 


    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.)



  • 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   



  • 3 Dec 2019 6:43 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    NEALS News

    December 2019

    Save the Date!!!

    Our annual conference will be on Monday, April 6th, 2020.  Be on the lookout for details in January.  

    Regional Meetings Update

    Regional Meetings for Maine and Western Massachusetts are happening this month.  Please log in to www.nealsonline.org to view events and to rsvp.  

    Would you like to host a regional get together (hosts get to help choose dates, times, and locations)?  Please contact us at info@nealsonline.org if you are interested or would like to learn more.  It would be wonderful to have more frequent get togethers so that we can better connect with each other!

    Giving Tuesday

    NEALS plays a very important role in promoting the professional development and support of learning specialists in the Northeast.  In order to enhance our services without increasing membership fees, we have been seeking grants.  Part of the grant review process is to show potential benefactors that our membership is committed to NEALS. 

    As the calendar year comes to a close, please consider donating to NEALS.  Your donation of any amount will help us in our vision to be the premier professional development resource empowering learning specialists in supporting all learners.  Your participation in the fund drive will help us secure grant funds that will benefit the services we provide to our members. 

    Thank you for your support!

  • 16 Sep 2019 9:00 AM | Anonymous

    What I Need, What I Want, and What I Should do This Year

    by Bill Flynn

    Director of the Academic Guidance Center

    Hebron Academy

    Each year our students come back positive, energized, nervous, ambitious, uncomfortable, and each and every other stirring emotion a teenager can have when they start a new year. For the students enrolled in our Hebron Academy Academic Guidance Center, the beginning of the year is the most opportune time to engage students in a conversation about how they can create a productive and successful year. This is why our department focuses much of our attention on goal setting and planning to begin the year. What separates the beginning of the year goal setting from other goal setting activities we do throughout the year is that much of our initial goal setting is based on how the student (and in our case the staff as well) can dictate the year, and not on what the previous year has dictated.

    The very first activity we do with our students is to help them see the upcoming year in three categories. We want to know what each student needs to do this year; what they want to do this year; and what they should do this year. These are three important optics through which each student needs to see himself or herself in order to be impactful throughout the school year. Each category pertains to a significant point of view, and all three should share equal value in the student’s overall academic development and success. 


    The first category is the “Needs” category. This category focuses strictly on the external forces that push on the student. By this we mean forces such as classroom and teacher expectations, as well as other important elements in a student’s life, such as parents, health and wellness support, athletic coaches, and college counseling, to name a few. All of these elements have needs and demands and how a student responds to them are important for the student’s success. Students need to think about what others need them to do to be successful. Because this is usually laid out by others, what goes in this column tends to be very concrete and ridgid. 

    The second category is our “Wants” column. This category that focuses on the internal expectations a student has for themselves and are most related to how they want their year to go. This includes academics, but it also tends to include social expectations, athletic, health and wellness, self confidence, and personal benchmarks they want to achieve during the school year. It is important to give voice, life, and planning to what students feel is important. This category allows them the opportunity to see that their vision of the upcoming year does not always need to follow how others see it unfolding.

    The final category, the “Should” column, is the most teachable column and is also the most difficult for students to build a clear idea of what they can be with through self management, positive self talk, and better academic awareness. For this category, we ask students to think about how they performed when they were at their best in the classroom, as well as how they could have been more engaged when they were not at their best. This discussion with their academic coach can be insightful, and it allows the student to be open and honest about what they know about themselves, which helps our academic coaches to really build a clear idea of what kind of student they were before the year started and how our students can make themselves aware of what little things they can do to become a better student. 

    Each category: the Needs, the Wants, and the Shoulds is looked at as equal in all areas of our goal setting process. Each category has overlap with the others and gives the student a clear idea of what they can accomplish this year. More importantly, to our academic coaches, it creates a foundation for the work we will do with our students throughout the year. We keep these goals and refer to them throughout the year as they tend to be broad and far reaching. As part of the curriculum in our program, we repeat this process of Needs, Wants, and Shoulds at the beginning of each week to give our students a plan moving forward in order to stay on track throughout the term. We make sure the initial goals are regularly interwoven into these activities so that the student maintains a level of consistency and focus throughout the year. This is an essential part of our program, and we have had a lot of positive feedback from our students doing this activity week to week in setting the table for their short term success.


    The last stage of our activity is to let our students project out their year and identify three moments where they will “triumph”. These moments can come from anywhere in their lives such as an athletic achievement, academic achievement, or a social/emotional triumph they are going to have. It has always been fascinating to see what students come up with during this discussion. For our seniors, it could be getting into college, graduating, etc. These are special and we have made a point of celebrating them with our students. For others, we have seen more personal moments that are just as meaningful, such as calling home when they get an “A” on a geometry test, making a basket in a varsity basketball game, hugging a parent at graduation, and picking themselves up when something goes wrong. For myself and the other academic coaches in our department, this part of the process is inspiring because this reveals how complex and resilient the students we work with are and how lucky we are to work with them. It is not always easy, but when we have an opportunity to celebrate with our students, it gives us as much joy and satisfaction as it gives our students and it helps us all keep moving forward in a positive frame of mind. 

    For a blank template of Hebron Academy Academic Guidance Center Needs, Wants, Should activity, CLICK HERE

  • 22 Aug 2019 12:01 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    Dear Learning Specialists and Supporters,

    I hope your summer was restful and rejuvenating, and that you are as eager as I am to reconnect with the teachers and students who need your skilled support so much. 

    You would be so pleased with the 2019-20 NEALS Board of Directors and with their dynamic, passionate, and enthusiastic commitment to our work at the Board Retreat this past July!  I would like to share their goals and excitement with a brief update in this letter. 

    Janet Clarkson Davis, a devoted friend and supporter of NEALS, worked with the Board on the following important topics: Board responsibilities, structure and organization, fundraising and philanthropy. Janet drew from her vast experience consulting for, among others, non profit addiction recovery and literacy organizations and led us through a “what if” discussion, encouraging Board members to envision the best future for NEALS, one that will be responsive to members as well as financially and organizationally secure. 

    After the retreat, one Board member put our joy and excitement into words: 

    “The retreat was really successful from my POV. Janet is amaaaazing! I am, as always, grateful and excited to be part of NEALS...the new Board structure sounds great... Some big topics and questions! Well done!”

    We are very excited about the direction NEALS is taking as we work through minor growing pains and implement our goals and strategies. NEALS is experiencing a strategic increase in members and services, bringing our organization to a new level of professionalism and sustainability.  This was evidenced at NEALS’ 20th anniversary celebration and conference this spring. 

    As a member, please carefully read over the 190724 minutes posted in the Board minutes folder and our new NEALS organizational chart. We hope you will see where you might join in our efforts to promote ​professional development​ ​for​ ​learning​ ​specialists​ ​creating community through​ ​collaboration,​ ​support,​ ​and​ ​advocacy.

    1) Please let us know how you might serve NEALS’ members (finding speakers, adding to NEALS’ Resources page or Good Reads account, etc.) and reach out to a Board member with your thoughts. 

    2) Please attend your fall regional meeting and share your latest quandaries and collective expertise. For example, Eastern Mass will have a regional meeting on Friday November 8th in the morning at Chapel Hill-Chauncy Hall School.  Thank you Ashley Balaconis for organizing!

    Your intelligence, interest, and commitment to NEALS is so appreciated by us all!



    Susan Cole Ross

    President, Northeast Association of Learning Specialists ~ nealsonline.org

    Celebrating 20 years of learning specialists creating community through collaboration, support, and advocacy 

  • 1 Jun 2019 3:45 PM | Anonymous

    NEALS celebrated their 20th anniversary with a wonderful two-day conference and gala at the Westford Regency Inn and Conference Center in Westford, MA on April 3-5th. Over 100 guests, including independent school learning specialists, psychologists, therapists, educational consultants, and scholars, attended throughout the two days and the feedback on the event has been extremely positive.

    The event kicked off Wednesday night with a board meeting and dinner with invited guests. Attendees were the first to try the NEALS signature teal green cocktails and ensured that every folder was stuffed, name badge was made, and vendor booth was set up before the conference festivities began on Thursday morning.

    Thursday was a jam-packed day that started with an uplifting and motivating speech by NEALS President Susan Cole Ross. Suz reminded us of NEALS’ humble roots that started when a small band of learning specialists, led by the legendary Dr. Barbara Kenefick, gathered at Hotchkiss for the first time twenty years ago. She noted, “The evolution of NEALS reflects the growing recognition that smart, capable and successful people can have learning disabilities, and that underrepresented students benefit tremendously from individualized teaching by a learning specialist, and the world reaps the rewards.” Board of Directors Treasurer and Secretary, Melissa Rubin and Elizabeth Radday, honored the work Susan has done as President of NEALS since 2011 with the Barbara Kenefick Service Award. They noted that Susan was the fearless leader and driving force behind the recently completed five-year strategic plan and the lead organizer of the 20th anniversary conference and gala.

    Dr. George McCloskey took the stage and gave the first keynote, entitled “Improving Executive Capacities at Multiple Levels.” Dr. McCloskey shared tips and tools for working with students with executive function weaknesses. His afternoon breakout session followed up his morning presentation with in-depth case studies of students with whom he has worked. Also on Thursday afternoon, Sharon Plante offered a break out session on “Technol-O.G.: Enhancing Structural Literacy Instruction with Educational Technology.” Everyone enjoyed a much-needed brain break Thursday afternoon with camaraderie, yoga, a walk, a swim, or just a rest before the gala later that evening.

    The 20th Anniversary Gala celebration kicked off with an entertaining and delicious cocktail hour with live entertainment from bassist Bruce Gertz and pianist Phil Wilson, an internationally renowned jazz performer who has dyslexia. On behalf of the Board, Susan Ross honored founding member Joanne Hayhurst with the Founders’ Award and shared more of the history of the founding of NEALS and its 20 years hence (history available on the NEALS website.) NEALS also debuted its original film Reservation with You, which Ross notes was “created as an entertaining, poignant, and lasting gift in return for all the sacrifices learning specialists make for students in need.” Colleagues had opportunities to mingle with friends, old and new, make new professional connections, and share their passion for teaching students with learning differences. 

    Friday was another busy day with a keynote from Nanci Shepardson and afternoon break-out sessions. Shepherdson spoke brilliantly about “Assistive Technology: What the Research Says About Which Technologies Support Skill Acquisition.” Her engaging talk also allowed time for attendees to test out different assistive technology platforms and apps. In the afternoon Sharon Plante, Noel Foy, and Melissa Garner offered sessions on Technology for Executive Functions, Tips and Tools for Managing Anxiety, and Learning Disabilities versus Literacy Deficits, respectively. 

    The entire conference was an uplifting celebration of the work of learning specialists as well as an engaging two-days of professional learning opportunities. The expertise of the speakers as well as others in the room results in an event that will ultimately impact over 8,000 students whom NEALS members serve in their classrooms and practices.

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