Adapting to New Realities

There is one particular area where independent schools can play a large leadership role over the next generation.

Because they are less encumbered by the laws and mandates that public schools face, independent schools can more readily adapt their programs to meet the needs of 21st century learners, digital natives in the parlance of the field. The sooner schools realize that the unbridled access to information provided by 2009 technology, the sooner they can teach to this new reality.

But we don’t just need change, we need effective change. Applying a simple solution to a complicated need only creates greater problems. We should not simply drop more technology instruction into an already bulging curriculum.

This is where using the AKOM framework can be a big help – the evolution of teaching should examine and address the ongoing neurodevelopmental needs of children. Schools must look at their evolution to the digital age of literacy through a student-centered lens.

But it is difficult to create an evolution while at the same time managing the day-to-day realities of running a school.

Armed with a deep knowledge of the AKOM framework and the experience of working closely with today’s learners, I hope my role as a consultant can help provide independent schools with a perspective on how to proceed during these fascinating and uncertain times.

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Independent School Leadership

As noted in the last entry, an independent school’s administration plays a role in developing a climate that welcomes students with diverse learning needs. Most administrations probably fall into one of these three categories:

  • Willing and able – can promote an atmosphere welcoming to the needs of individual learners
  • Willing but unable – promotes the ideal of a comprehensive learning atmosphere but lacks the understanding of how to achieve it
  • Unwilling – recognize that the school’s mission is to serve a certain segment of the student population

As a solo practitioner, I love working with the first group, and appreciate the honesty and integrity of the third group.

The second group is most interesting, and where I find great opportunities for growth.  These administrators want what is best for all students, but have too often relied on a ‘one-size-fits all’ approach to learning interventions and missed out on opportunities to make a real difference for their students.

One size may fit most, but only guarantees that there will be students who fall through the cracks.  Often these students are bright, talented, and outstanding school citizens.

I welcome the opportunity to work with an administration that is open to learning more about how to serve all kinds of learners, for they will foster teacher growth and student achievement.

Consulting in Independent Schools

Many of the students I work with attend private, independent schools, and the Philadelphia area is blessed with a large variety of high-quality schools.

For students who learn differently, the atmosphere of the school they attend has much to do with their sense of success. It has been my observation that atmosphere is established in either a top-down or a bottom-up manner.

The students I currently work with are all in high school, and this is what I have observed about their teachers:

  • they have generally been open to ideas and suggestions for better serving struggling students;
  • at the secondary level, they typically have had interesting and enriching experiences with developing their abilities to teach content to students;
  • very often, they have had little training or sustained professional development about learning differences.

Sometimes, the experience of working with a struggling student has inspired teachers to promote greater faculty-wide understanding that how students learn is as important to consider as what students learn. These teacher-leaders are critical to creating the right atmosphere for students.

As a private tutor, it is gratifying to serve as a link in the chain. Consulting with a classroom teacher provides an opportunity to spread the credo that kids have ‘all kinds of minds’.

Next time, we’ll look at the role of a school’s administration.

AKOM and the Solo Practitioner

There are many roles an educator can play. For years I was blessed to work at the Center School, an independent school outside of Philadelphia. During my years there, our faculty completed the Schools Attuned Generalist Course, and another teacher and I trained to become course facilitators.

The school was a perfect setting for using a neurodevelopmental lens to develop my understanding of how kids learn – a common mission, supportive colleagues, and families who were committed to finding ways to better understand how their child learned. It is not surprising that my involvement with AKOM has deepened since my initial introduction years ago.

But now I find myself in a new role – reading specialist-at-large.

As a private practitioner, I perform many duties with students in a variety of schools, including tutoring, assessment, academic coaching and advising. The tutoring relationship lends itself to demystifying students and helping them to develop and implement workable management plans. In my experience, students are hungry to better understand themselves, and appreciate the opportunity to take ownership of their learning.

But working independently also presents challenges I never faced in my years at Center School. The biggest is forging a relationship with the teachers my clients have so that they can better understand the learning needs of their (and my) students.

Over the coming weeks in this space, I will be processing out loud some of the challenges that educators face when they are providing ancillary, rather than primary support to students.