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  • 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.

  • 5 Apr 2019 3:55 PM | Anonymous

    NorthEast Association of Learning Specialists (NEALS) Celebrates with 20th Anniversary Members’ Conference 


    Rye, NH - The NorthEast Association of Learning Specialists (NEALS), the premier professional development organization for learning specialists, held its 20th Anniversary Members’ Conference and Celebration April 3-5, 2019 at the Westford Regency Inn and Conference Center in Westford, MA.  The two-day conference, exclusive to members and invited guests, was significant for NEALS as its membership celebrates remarkable growth and twenty years of service to students with learning disabilities. The conference included a ticketed dinner and gala on Thursday evening to honor NEALS mentors and a new generation of learning specialists, educators who tirelessly help students with learning challenges and disabilities to realize their full potential. 


    Of note, keynote speakers Dr. George McCloskey and Nanci Shepardson presented at the conference on Improving Executive Capacities at Multiple Levels and Assistive Technology: What the Research Says About Which Technologies Support Skill Acquisition, respectively. Sharon Plante also spoke both days about the latest technologies available to students with learning disabilities.  Phil Wilson, internationally renowned jazz performer who has dyslexia, performed Thursday evening at the gala dinner.  NEALS also debuted its original film Reservation with You, which president Susan Cole Ross notes was “created as an entertaining, poignant, and lasting gift in return for all the sacrifices learning specialists make for students in need.”  Ross remarks that the conference attracted over one hundred academic support professionals, including psychologists, therapists, educational consultants, and scholars, whose collaboration at the conference stands to impact thousands of students in independent schools.  

  • 16 Mar 2019 3:57 PM | Anonymous

    Welcome to NEALS’ 20th Anniversary Celebration!


    Foremost, we celebrate you, our members, because you are the greatest value offered by NEALS. With our online discussions, at our regional meetings, and at this conference you bring your wisdom, your creativity, and your support to hundreds of fellow learning specialists. That support in turn brings innovative professionalism, refreshed teaching, and cutting edge services to thousands of students with learning challenges: a sustainable gift to the world. 


    To such lofty goals, please make the most of this year’s two day opportunity to enjoy camaraderie, networking, learning, retreat activities, and great food!  We are so excited to hear from our keynote speakers, Dr. George McCloskey and Nanci Shepardson, on some of our most compelling issues in their talks on Improving Executive Capacities at Multiple Levels and Assistive Technology: What the Research Says About Which Technologies Support Skill Acquisition, respectively. In additionSharon Plante has so generously offered to speak to us on both days, as she has on our online discussions, about the latest technologies available to make our students as literate, creatively effective and educationally included as possible. 


    Be sure to join us Thursday evening, with Phil Wilson, internationally renowned jazz performer, who also has dyslexia, in celebrating our milestone and the work that you do every day.  We will be debuting Reservation with You, a special film we have created, that I am sure you will receive as a poignant and lasting gift in return for all the sacrifices you make for students in need. 


    I recently spoke with Rick Lavoie, author of the groundbreaking film How Difficult Can This Be? and book The Motivation Breakthrough, who congratulates us on NEALS’ 20th, noting how remarkable it has been for our nonprofit to thrive over the last 20 years.  NEALS has survived the recession, grown at a time when so many nonprofits have crumbled, and added value to your members each year. We’re excited about the 20th, but most excited about the added value that NEALS has come to offer.  We are eager for your ideas to expand the benefits of membership further. We hope that NEALS’ 30th celebration will look back with pride at how far we’ve come from here!




  • 24 Feb 2019 8:33 PM | Laura Foody (Administrator)

    By Chris Ouellette

    We have found that there is one support tool that is necessary to have before you implement any other tool or resource with a student. The first tool we are sharing with you is yourself and the ability to really know your student

    There I was, fresh out of my degree program, with all of the latest programs and resources to support students diagnosed with learning disabilities. I was assigned Student Y who could benefit greatly from what I learned in my degree program. I was scheduled with the student for second block of the day. This was it, the moment had come, I even had on my favorite shirt. The student came into my space, took one look at me, screamed and ran out refusing to meet. I peeked my head out of the room in time to see other heads staring down at me quizzically.  I asked myself “how could this go so wrong when we have all of this training?!?” As it turned out, if I had done some initial digging, I would have discovered that Student Y had a prominent aversion to the color yellow. I bet you can guess what color my favorite shirt was.

    While this is an extreme example, I am positive that I would have worn a different color shirt had I been privy to that piece of prior knowledge about the student. The number of hats that we wear; teacher; coach; advisor; counselor; dorm parent; etc., allows us to develop deep and meaningful connections with our students. These connections are what allow us to serve our students to the best of our abilities. These relationships allow us to praise students during their great moments; and allow us to really lean in to the discomfort with our students during their difficult times. More importantly, it is these relationships that help our students lean into the vulnerability needed to receive specialized support for a learning disability. Knowing your student works well on the individual level, but how about within the overall climate of the school? 

    When referring to school climate, Dr. Bill Preble of New England College said, “students just can’t learn when their pants are on fire,” meaning that in order to provide optimal learning conditions, we need to help students feel safe in the environment. Preble and Taylor (2009) state “When teachers or principals perceive their schools to be safe and respectful places, they may be blind to problems going on right under their noses.” Battling those blind spots becomes much easier when the faculty and staff at the school really know their students. This is where learning specialists play a critical role as we are often the only adults sitting down with a student one on one every week. If each student has at least one adult that truly knows them, the odds are increased that these students will share both the good and the bad. When students are sharing with us, when we truly have a pulse on the school, we are better able to create the positive school climates that our students need to thrive in education. 

    We are fortunate to be able to continue fostering the relationships with the students that we know well already. My challenge to you is to get to know some students that you don’t know well already. How you might ask? You could throw up an extra high-five in the hallway, or invite in the whole group of students who drop by your office with your student. It makes such a difference to a child, away from home when a learning specialist goes to an extra home game, or congratulates them on their recently won award, whether you are close to them or not. Thank you, because no matter how you choose to get to know your students, you are helping to provide a learning environment where they can thrive. 

    That’s it for today, and I will leave you with the wise words of the Blue Scholars, “in each mind resides a potential so potent”.



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