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.

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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.

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.

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

AKOM at Purnell School

We are pleased to be the July bloggers for AKOM. We have actively implemented the Schools Attuned program since 2004; all of our students get demystified during their first year at Purnell, all teachers are trained, and AKOM strategies and terminology are utilized in and outside of class. As a small girls boarding school, we at Purnell have the unique opportunity to implement the All Kinds Of Minds Program in many aspects of academic and residential life. As the Affinities Coordinator at Purnell School, I would love to open up a dialog or answer any questions about the implementation and/or effectiveness of the program in a boarding school situation. As we progress through the month, more of our faculty will chime in.

“The Language”

Since our intensive training in the Schools Attuned Program, Subject Specialist Path, which earned faculty a certificate two summers ago, all Learning Specialists at Forman School now use the neurodevelopmental terms in the Learning Profile write-ups which they compose for each of their students before classes begin. This one page Learning Profile provides a “snapshot” of the student that includes his/her learning strengths, challenges, affinities, and necessary accommodations. These profile pages are given to parents, classroom teachers, college advising staff, and other professionals who need access to this information. Learning Specialists are also asking that students use the neurodevelopmental terminology when articulating their learning needs. As a faculty, we are making a conscientious effort to include this specific language in the comments we write home to parents each term. The problem we are facing is that oftentimes parents and educators do not fully understand what is written in the learning profiles because they never had the All Kinds of Minds training. Students are also experiencing difficulty learning the terminology. Forman is a high school which specializes in teaching only those students having learning differences. Do you believe using this technical language makes our reports more accurate, or should we write in layman’s terms?