Common Language with SA

Among our faculty at Wasatch Academy (WA), we benefit from a common language learned through SA certification. This is a major advantage for our staff which enhances the already-embedded philosophy of wanting to collaboratively help our students achieve through learning.

Last week I spoke with Suzanne, one of our math teachers, who said she’s more excited for this, her second year at Wasatch, knowing how well everyone worked collaboratively last year. “We’re just going to add to what we did last year and make it even better,” Suzanne commented.

I agree. The SA shared lingo was a major part of the success among our faculty last year. This week Max and Chris are training newbies to WA in SA so new faculty and staff will be privy to our common language and philosophy as well. It should be a great year of collaboration thanks to SA.

Continuing to ride the Wasatch Academy Bandwagon

When I arrived at Wasatch Academy (WA) last year, Max Roach trained I and all newbies in SA. What I found fascinating, as a master in special education, was the excitement the WA faculty possessed in working together for the benefit of our students. This positive mind-set for collaboration was a major contrast to the experience I had in the public school system.

The other remarkable event was that these faculty members backed their words through their actions during the school year. When a student had a difficulty (or two, or three) we used SA methods to pinpoint the issue, then implemented either appropriate interventions or accommodations. Sometimes we succeeded, sometimes we didn’t, but we always worked well together in trying to figure out a solution.

I feel fortunate to teach in an environment where educators are so willing to collaborate enthusiastically for the welfare of our students. With the combined efforts of our new team, headed by Max and including Chris English and myself, I’m excited for this new year.

Schools Attuned at Wasatch Academy

The integration of Schools Attuned principles, philosophy, and practices can look very different from school to school and educator to educator. Each individual and each institution can find ways to blend the Schools Attuned program with the work they are currently doing. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I have been working in both academic and therapeutic settings. My work with Schools Attuned as a participant and a facilitator has given me further insight into the unique neurodevelopmental profiles of students. Conflicts may arise when students find themselves in environments that place demands where they are weakest or limit their affinities.

At Wasatch Academy, my primary responsibility is to help meet the needs of students who would benefit from private counseling. Although this is not academic counseling, I am in a position to notice how emotional difficulties are often caused by stressors in the classroom. Difficulties with attention and completing assignments can lead to feelings of failure. Problems with memory and recalling information for tests may lead to anxiety or feelings of inadequacy. Poor social cognition can make group projects difficult and lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness. Although Schools Attuned is not a program for dealing with the emotional needs of students, there is a strong connection between academic success and failure and a students emotional state. Student cannot be present cognitively if they are consumed by personal/social/emotional issues.

I was hired by Wasatch Academy, in large part, due to my familiarity with Schools Attuned and the ways in which I have integrated it into my professional practice. The school works to meet the academic, residential, and recreational needs of every student. My counseling practice is yet another aspect of student life at Wasatch Academy that is guided by the All Kinds of Mind principles. Even though I am primarily concerned with the emotional needs of a student, I am able to suggest accommodations and modifications in the classroom and dormitory that while academic in nature, may work to ease emotional stress as well.

As a professional, I am curious about ways in which other counselors are integrating Schools Attuned into their practice. How are other educators who are not primarily classroom teachers integrating Schools Attuned?

-Lori English

Faculty Support

I am currently working on a Masters in Ed. which specifically deals with how Wasatch Academy is integrating Schools Attuned. There are so many factors that impact the degree and quality of Schools Attuned integration that I find my thesis work quite fascinating! I guess that makes me an official Schools Attuned nerd… – That’s OK though; I’ve been called much worse! 😉

I have recently shifted from Heading the Learning Strategies Department to Being the Schools Attuned Administrator in the Department of Teaching and Learning. What this means is that my work-focus has shifted to training and supporting teachers as they work with differences in learning. So I am interested in picking peoples’ brains about how they are working with teachers.

Here are some starter questions. Feel free to respond outside of them.

1. How is your school supporting teachers (in integrating Schools Attuned) during the school year?

2. What exactly are the expectations for Schools Attuned integration in your school and how do you assess your teachers? Formal? Informal?

3. Is Schools Attuned integration tied to contract renewal at your school? How so?

4. What tricks have worked for encouraging the occasional, “reluctant teacher” to integrate their training into their professional practices? – As we all know, teacher trainings often collect dust on the bookshelves of teachers.

Commmunity-Wide Integration

Wasatch Academy has been integrating Schools Attuned since 2004. The school has seen many changes in how it supports teachers in integrating the principles and processes. As with many schools, initial trainees came away overwhelmed by the prospect of integrating Schools Attuned at the student, classroom, and school levels. – And integration at one level can be complicated by the lack of support for integration at the other levels.

The process of trial and error has not dissuaded Mr. Loftin, our Headmaster. On the contrary, Wasatch Academy is reaching new heights by training all of its teachers. As of last year, Wasatch also began requiring Schools Attuned certification of its dorm parents. Dorm parents are a critical link and, in the unique boarding school environment of Wasatch Academy, hold the potential to make a critical difference in the success of our students. Schools Attuned training now serves as a bridge between teachers and dorm parents. Using a shared vocabulary, tools, and philosophy, the entire community works toward supporting students using Schools Attuned. It is an exciting and heartening time here. New connections and levels of participation/ integration help to define educational excellence for Wasatch Academy.

As our community proceeds with training a new batch of teachers and dorm parents, I am excited to support more outstanding teachers and dorm parents. My job is to train and support our employees in integrating Schools Attuned into their professional practices. But by no means do I think I have it, “all figured out.” The truth is that I am still trying new things and eagerly seeking new ideas. So here are my questions for readers:

1. How are you supporting integration at the school/ community levels? Has it worked? Why or why Not?

2. Has your school trained non-teaching personnel? How did it go? Did it actually help foster collaboration in how, where, and when to use Schools Attuned?

Implementing SA at WA

Since Max has taken the time to introduce you to the school, I’ll take a moment to introduce myself. My name is Chris English. I am in my ninth year as an educator, and will be starting my first year at Wasatch Academy this month. I have a MA in English, and have been working in North Carolina Public Schools until this summer.

My wife, Lori, and I were first introduced to Schools Attuned (SA) while working for Edenton-Chowan Schools. After completing our initial SA course, we were asked to attend Schools Attuned Facilitator Development Academy (SAFDA) to become facilitators for North Carolina Schools Attuned. We met Max at SAFDA, where we quickly became friends.

Since SAFDA, I have facilitated several courses in NC, and have become a member of the Schools Attuned Facilitator Advisory Board.

Here at Wasatch Academy, I will continue to teach Advanced Placement English courses, something that I truly love, but will also be working in another capacity as a Learning Strategies teacher. In this role, I will work closely with small classes of students (class limit is 6) to help them understand their own neurodevelopmental profile, the neurodevelopmental demands of their classes and assignments, their personal affinities, and the modifications and accommodations that will allow their affinities to overcome any learning difficulties.

Sounds challenging, but it is one of the many ways that Wasatch Academy in integrating Schools Attuned.

Please understand, this is not a replacement for EC services, the Learning Strategies Course is open to students who desire/need a better understanding of their own learning.

As I am preparing for this school year, I was asked to place my courses on the school’s Atlas Curriculum map. Some of you may be using this in your school. I had plenty of experience with it in Edenton-Chowan Schools. One of the interesting things that Wasatch Academy has done with the Curriculum map is adding a section on neurodevelopmental demands. This allowed me to post the neurodevelopmental demands for each unit, and even assignment types, in my course.

Is anyone else implementing SA into curriculum mapping? What do you think the advantages and disadvantages may be if you were required to include neurodevelopmental demands in the descriptions of courses, units, or assignments?

-Chris English

Wasatch Academy Background Info.

A theme that has emerged in my work with teachers, administrators, and various institutions is that integrating Schools Attuned comprehensively at various levels can be challenging. As the SA program is designed specifically to include tools for integration at the student, classroom, and school levels, many participants leave their core course feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of immediate integration… Let alone at what level. Wasatch academy has developed a unique approach to Schools Attuned training, professional practice integration, and teacher collaboration/ support. My hope is that by sharing some of what we have done, others may benefit. And yes, I also hope to get some good ideas from those who respond to this blog. I will start several blogs with this, an overview of the school, and what I believe makes it a prime environment for school-wide Schools Attuned integration.

First it may be helpful to offer readers some historical background information about Wasatch Academy. This post will be a precursor to future contributions that will hopefully get to the “nitty gritty,” of Schools Attuned integration.

Wasatch Academy, a private co-educational college preparatory boarding school, is entering its 133rd year. It is nestled in the pastoral mountains of central Utah. Yes, Utah. Originally founded by a Presbetarian Minister to teach (and maybe convert) the Mormon population in the surrounding areas, it has evolved into an independent liberal arts school. It holds no religious affiliation, however students do attend non-denominational weekly “chapel” sessions that offer a variety of religious viewpoints ranging from Tibetan Monks, to Southern Baptist Ministers. The philosophy of Wasatch Academy’s chapel program is that people benefit from knowledge of and respect for viewpoints that differ from their own.

Clearly the school has expanded its approach to religion and philosophy since its early Presbyterian-supported days. But the school has also grown in nearly every other way too. No longer is it the mission to serve the local Central Utah population alone (although it still loves and honors its local students and patrons). It is currently attended by students from all over the world (22 countries) and has a reputation for maintaining its decidedly academic college-prep mission, while committing to supporting learners of various profiles. Wasatch Academy is not a therapeutic, academic remediation, or second-chance school. Yet it opens its doors to all students who are committed to college entry and excellence in education.

This is NOT to say that our school sends all of its students to Harvard, although it does send some. On the contrary, Wasatch Academy students go on to attend colleges ranging from Cornell to Columbia, to Seattle Community College. And we (faculty and administration) are proud of all of these students equally, celebrating their unique gifts and supporting them as they find their niche. Wasatch Academy is truly a remarkable institution nestled in the high mountains of this often overlooked state.

OK, so having expressed my love of the school, I should admit my bias as the result of my own experiences here. I was a student at Wasatch Academy for four years. As a scholarship student, I found that the school embraced me despite my difficult childhood circumstances and inspired me to become a lover of learning. Now, I am fortunate enough to come back and be of service to this school; a place that is dear to my heart. I rejoice as I watch my children grow in this small quiet town nestled in the high mountains. The community is something really special here. Anyone who comes can see it right away. The diversity and sense community are inspiring. The school embraced diversity of all kinds when I attended as a student, and continues to do so today. Now, however, I grow even more excited by the progress we are making in integrating Schools Attuned at various levels within our little community (200 students and about 50 teachers).

The faculty at this school are outstanding. Nearly all hold advanced degrees in their field of expertise. We have highly trained dorm “parents,” who look after the students residential needs as a full time position. This is not unique among the private college prep schools though. One of the things that makes our school so unique is its commitment to the promotion of understanding and sensitivity to differences in learning. In short, we wholeheartedly prescribe to the mission of the All Kinds of Minds institute. We require that all teachers, student advisers, dorm faculty and many administrators are certified in the Schools Attuned program. This gives us a shared vocabulary, philosophy, and useful tools as we support our students. Our academic interventions are all based on our Schools Attuned training and commitment to its principles. Teachers are recruited, hired and trained based specifically on their predisposition to the principles and philosophies of All Kinds of Minds. The Headmaster is fully committed to making Wasatch Academy a model school, where Schools Attuned is a major defining factor in contributing to the professional culture of the school.

With that background, I hope to engage some conversations centering around schools Attuned integration at the student, classroom, and school levels. We are doing some exciting and innovative things here and I look forward to sharing them with others. I have also asked a few of my teachers to add their commentaries to the blog. Their perspective will undoubtedly add to the quality and dynamic of the conversations. Cheers.